The Mammoth Lakes Town Council talks a good game when it comes to making good on transient occupancy taxes.
But when push comes to shove, the majority of the council showed this past week that it can roll over like so many submissive puppies.
Faced with its first high-profile, public TOT case, council members Rick Wood, Jo Bacon, and John Eastman voted to let property owners Kevin and Carolynn Cozen get away with no penalties or fines for illegally renting their single-family home on Hillside Drive.
In doing so, the council laid out a perfectly clear blueprint on how to beat the tax that it swore so fervently to strengthen.
It’s easy, as it turns out.
If someone has been illegally renting a single-family home and is hoping to go undetected, all they have to do, once caught, is plead ignorance that we have a law outlawing single-family home rentals and we have taxes on visitors.
That notion is preposterous.
First of all, any cursory due diligence would show such a law banning single-family home rentals exists. Secondly, it renders meaningless the town staff’s great effort at notifying any and all property owners in Mammoth that we have such a law. It also means that the town staff’s effort in educating property owners how the transient occupancy tax works was a waste of time.
Finally, once the town identifies someone who may, in fact, be ignorant of the laws, the town holds off on any action until the property owner can make good, and in good faith.
Only after all that does the hammer come down.
But there is more to fixing the game, and the Cozens played the council like a drum.
It goes like this:
An alleged tax scofflaw expresses a lifelong and undying love for Mammoth. That plays directly to our vain heartstrings. Nice touch for a town that has a history of inferiority complexes.
Next, the property owners claim that some unnamed person in the town offices said there is no such tax that would apply to the situation.
That would force the council into buying the notion that we have a bunch of lunkheads in the Town Offices, even though the council knows that people like Finance Manager Cyndi Myrold wear their integrity on their sleeves and strictly educate their staffs on what to say to people like the Cozens when (or in this case, if) they call.
To complete the process, the property tax holder insists that he or she wanted to pay the tax all along, and promise to pay the back taxes on the aforementioned illegal single-family home rental, and insist all along that the penalties are unfair, too harsh and blah-blah-blah.
Just like that, it’s a done deal.
Mammoth Mayor Matthew Lehman didn’t buy that, and neither did council member Michael Raimondo.
None of it, Lehman said, made any sense, from the due diligence aspect, to the supposed ignorance of our laws, to the shady “unnamed” staffer and, finally, to the council’s 3-2 decision.
It doesn’t make sense to us, either.
In May 2011, the town made a great show of its commitment to the enforcement of transient occupancy taxes, acknowledging along the way that Mammoth over the years has done itself a disservice by being too lax on enforcement.
Since then, the result is over $550,000 in new money to the general fund, at a time when Mammoth is in dire need of revenue infusions.
By voting the way it did, the Town Council effectively turned back the clock, set a foul precedent and basically folded up like a lawn chair.