The dam has broken on a perennial Mammoth issue. Transient Occupancy Tax compliance has veered out of control, and Mammoth’s Lodging Association doesn’t want to put up with it any longer, especially now that the Town of Mammoth Lakes wants to audit them.
The problem is simple, but enforcement is not. Some condo and home owners in Mammoth rent out their living quarters on their own rather than going through a rental agency, and they do not pay TOT taxes on these rentals. These private owners charge less, leaving official lodging with a business decline, according to local rental agent Judy Farnetti. The lodging associations may also face an audit by the Town.
“Why are you going to punish those who are compliant?” asked Cheryl Witherill, General Manager of 1849 and Snowbird Condominiums speaking to the Tourism and Recreation Commission Tuesday night on behalf of the Association. “Shouldn’t the funding be spent on tracking those who don’t comply?”
Town Finance Director Brad Koehn explained that the audit was an “on again, off again process,” depending on budget appropriations, that usually brings in about $30,000 from delinquent TOT remittance. Local business owner Steve Schwind pointed out that going after TOT enforcement could potentially bring in $260,000.
Commissioner Ruth Harrell suggested that if the audit is on again, off again, it should be shouldered for now, especially with the economic hardships many businesses are experiencing with shortened staff and time.
The rest of the Commission agreed with Harrell and is expected to recommended to the Town Council at their meeting that the audit be put on hold for now, that staff proceed with a sting program with the police department to crack down on enforcement, that staff prepare compliance notices to inform property owners of current requirements, and that they prepare an ordinance requiring new property owners and buyers to sign a disclosure of their knowledge of the TOT ordinance.