By Deb Murphy
The Eastern Sierra Council of Governments started down the path toward a Joint Powers Authority last October. At ESCOG’s early February meeting, the four entities’ representatives got a reality check.
Here’s the background: ESCOG, made up of elected officials from Mono and Inyo counties as well as the cities of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, takes on regional issues that impact all four. One of its notable successes is the formation of the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority. Last year, the Council decided to put more meat on its bones in order to serve as the financial entity to apply for and manage grants. There was some reluctance from the four governing bodies centered on advantages only to specific constituencies and a disdain for “another layer of government.” But, all four agreed to take the first JPA step.
Mammoth’s Town Manager Dan Holler opened the discussion with a run-down of potential expenses depending on the scope and size of the JPA.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” he said. Does ESCOG want to get the structure in place to deal with all those unknowns? “I want you to go into this with your eyes wide open,” Holler explained. His rough estimate of initial costs ranged from $15,000 to $50,000.
The details that make up that structure would include paying for necessary services, like grant writing, hiring staff at some point in the future and legal counsel.
Inyo’s CAO Clint Quilter reminded the board no money is available for grants that are not successful and a formal arrangement had to be in place for legal counsel.
While ESTA is a good model for successful, free-standing JPAs, Holler pointed out the distinctions: ESTA has a specific function and its own income stream. The function of the proposed JPA has centered on sustainable recreation. Mammoth Town Council member John Wentworth said that concept includes everything from housing to forest health to air service—all the ingredients of a tourist-based economy.
The consensus of ESCOG’s members was cautious optimism. “There are 90 JPAs across the state,” Mono Supervisor Bob Gardner reminded the board. “Collaboration works.”
Inyo Supervisor Jeff Griffiths favored a minimal, scalable approach. “Our primary goal is to have a tool available to apply for grants with regional impact,” he said.
Mono Supervisor Stacy Corless suggested a strategic planning session to set a five-year road map for the Council. Wentworth agreed. “We can make this more manageable by setting a series of milestones that would be digestible for the four agencies.”
ESCOG members agreed issues of staffing and finances be incorporated into the JPA. Quilter suggested participants in the JPA committee sit down with the four entities’ administrative staffs to work through the logistics.
Gardner had the last word: “A painful birth doesn’t make the baby any less beautiful.”