From their position in the dark to the harsh glare of a new court fight, the Mammoth Lakes public woke up to the shock that negotiations over the huge debt that threatens their town have fallen through, and that Town finances have worsened.
Jay Becker of Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition pulled back the curtain of secrecy when he sent a letter to local media. Town officials finally revealed that they had made an offer to MLLA that the Town could not afford and withdrew it. Then they revealed that MLLA had gone back to court to demand the whole $42 million now. The public will have a first chance at comments and questions when the Town Council meets next Wednesday.
When the Town issued a press release Tuesday to deny MLLA’s claim that Mammoth had ceased negotiations and acted in bad faith, officials said they did have to withdraw an offer because of “worsened financial conditions.” What does that mean, and where does the Town stand? Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht said that in December officials “started to look at things” and saw a future shortfall of Transient Occupancy Tax, the main revenue for town government, and a softening of property tax revenue. He said this on top of a 4.5% employee raise coming up and more costs for rent, health care and retirements foretold a $1 million to $2 million shortfall this fiscal year going into next.
Wilbrecht said, “We realized we needed to look back at financial issues coming forward. We had to pull back and see what it all means.” He said the Town wanted to use January to reassess and get direction from the Town Council for another offer to MLLA. Wilbrecht said MLLA didn’t want to wait. He said that the Town did request another stay agreement which had kept MLLA from collection of the $42 million. Instead of approving more delay, MLLA went back to court to collect their money.
Now, the Town will have to pay more to respond to MLLA’s court action. Wilbrecht urged calmness and said he would meet with Town employees to show them no one’s in a panic. When asked how much money the Town had offered MLLA and how much MLLA had offered, Wilbrecht said that officials would reveal these figures if it would not jeopardize future negotiations.
Wilbrecht said that the Town continues to look at “what we can pay and maintain our resort status.” He confirmed that the Town Council will present an agenda item next Wednesday to accommodate public discussion of this issue. Wilbrecht said the item will take place immediately after the pledge of allegiance. The Town Council meeting takes place Wednesday, February 15th at 6pm in Suite Z.