Citizens and members of the Town Council expressed frustration at the fact that next fiscal year’s budget is some $562,000 short. Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez said the shortfall is not an emergency and that Town Staff needs credit for what they have done in the past couple of years.
Martinez had sent out the word about the shortfall about a week before the Town Council meeting. She explained that sales tax and franchise fees were lower than projected, Whitmore Pool was not funded, Airport revenues were lower and airport expenses were higher.
The Manager called all options to balance the budget “bad.” She said this is a structural problem and maybe next year will be better. Martinez also pointed out that the Town Council approved a five-year budget plan last year with the use of revenue projections. Some of those did not pan out.
Martinez suggested ways to balance the budget but left it up to the Town Council. She said the Council could delay hiring a Community and Economic Development Director, a budget management analyst, a TOT specialist and a new police officer. She also suggested shifting expenses for fishing enhancement, Fourth of July fireworks and Chamber of Commerce to Mammoth Lakes Tourism.
Director of that group, John Urdi, was clearly miffed by the suggestion. He stood up and said, “This frustrates me. Why is this coming down to an emergency. This should have been known earlier. This is a fire drill that could have been avoided.”
Manager Martinez said it’s not an emergency and the $1 million surplus in this fiscal year was a one-time surplus not to be applied to next fiscal year. Officials said it’s hard to predict sales tax when figures come out three months after the fact.
Councilman Michael Raimondo said he wants to be ready for development and not delay the Economic Development Director and the TOT specialist. Council member Jo Bacon also said she wants to find other things to cut. Councilman John Eastman said, “I am in the frustrated and confused category. Five months ago we had a five-year plan and a $1 million surplus. Now we have a shortfall.”
Eastman, known not to be a fan of the Town Manager, said, “I’m tired of the continued misjudgment of the budget – the cut, cut, cut and instability it’s creating in our organization.” He suggested no program cuts and instead reduction of road repairs and use of reserves.
Mayor Matthew Lehman said he shares the frustration. He blamed the lack of computer equipment that causes the inability to generate monthly revenue and expense reports. He also suggested that it might be time to bring Whitmore pool closer to town with a new facility. Lehman said he may want to look at the whole budget.
After the Council criticism, Manager Martinez said, “It’s time for us to say, ‘Give us credit on the progress we’ve made.’ Three years ago, you thought you had $14 million in the bank and you had only $1 million. There was a $2.7 million shortfall and now it is $562,000. Please give us credit for what we have done,” she said.
Mayor Lehman said there is a great level of appreciation. More budget hearings will take place May 15th, June 5th with a final decision planned for June 19th.