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Big pushback on Town Council TOT decision

March 7, 2013

 

Wood explains action; Bacon and Eastman silent

Seething members of Mammoth’s Lodging community let their frustrations into the open this past week, taking the Town Council to the woodshed for a controversial TOT decision two weeks previously.

They aimed their vitriol at the council on Wednesday, March 6, for the council’s split-vote decision to forgive a Santa Monica couple’s penalties and interest for an illegally rented, single-family home on Hillside Drive.

“To say we’re disappointed and amazed is an understatement,” said Tom Smith, who manages the Juniper Springs Lodge for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. “It was just baffling.”

Teri Stehlik, who manages a condo project in town, turned caustic at the end of her remarks.

“I would like to thank our wonderful guests who keep coming back to this beautiful place that we live in, despite the fact that we keep tripping all over ourselves.”

Others lined up behind Smith and Stehlik, including Cheryl Witherill (1849 Condos) and John Morris, who manages Snowcreek.

No one came to the support of the council, which voted, 3-2, in favor of lifting the late fees and penalties for the owners of the illegally rented property.

The vote, supported by Jo Bacon, John Eastman, and Rick Wood, came over the objections of Mayor Matthew Lehman and council member Michael Raimondo.

Neither Eastman nor Bacon offered to explain their vote, but Wood did, at length.

In a 16-minute, 49-second speech from the dais, Wood characterized the council’s action as “distasteful,” but said the council was in no position to take a prosecutorial stand.

Rather, Wood said, the council sat as jury and judge in a “quasi-judicial” hearing, and was in no position to challenge claims made by Kevin and Carolynn Cozen—that its decision should be based on the evidence presented by the Cozens on the one hand, and by town staff on the other.

Wood said the Cozens did not “beat the tax,” however. They merely beat the penalties and interest attached to the rental, as a consequence of no rebuttal testimony.

In the end, Wood said, the town achieved a victory.

“We collected the tax,” Wood said. “At the same time we put an illegal rental out of business and pulled it off the market.”

The public’s pushback, along with Wood’s explanation of his prior decision, occurred in a meeting in which another TOT case came before it.

This one was brought forward by Joe Mueller of the Austria Hof hotel, who asked to be forgiven $157.03 in penalties and interest for turning in his taxes a day late over the New Year’s holiday.

Mueller said he was unaware that the Town Offices would close at noon on New Year’s Eve, nor was he aware that the U.S. Postal Service would shut down also at noon.

Having missed both deadlines, Mueller said he handed a check to council member Michael Raimondo instead. But that didn’t wash with the council, which voted unanimously, (including Raimondo) to reject Mueller’s request.

Wood, a lawyer who had done legal work for Mueller, recused himself.

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