Town events tap Measure U


‘We need a new app,” Rec Commissioner Sauser says

Having already dipped its toe in the untested waters of Measure U tax distribution, the Mammoth Lakes Recreation Commission this past week ventured into even murkier depths.

In a workshop on Tuesday morning, April 2, the five-member commission invited representatives of Mammoth’s various special events to a special conclave at the town offices.

Before the commission and the event organizers was the task of formulating rules by which special events organizers might appropriate some of the incoming $800,000 in annual Measure U tax funds, and under what rules.

“Special Events need to be looked at separately from other Measure U projects,” said commission chair Bill Sauser.

“We need a new app, and a new process.”

Measure U is the self-imposed tax that Mammoth voters approved in 2010, specifically designating funds for the promotion of projects relating to arts and culture, mobility and recreation.

It is a more open-ended tax than the other self-imposed tax, Measure R, which is earmarked specifically for new recreation facilities and programs.

Where “special events” fall into this matrix has yet to be determined, however.

It is just as complicated as it sounds.

Unlike the three-year-old Measure R funding, the “U” tax is just now starting to generate significant revenues—up to $800,000 annually, according to recreation manager Stuart Brown.

The funds are vetted first by a Measure U committee, charged with recommending to the Recreation Commission where the money should go. In its first iteration, the Town Council on Wednesday appropriated $484,635 of Measure U taxes to go to a plethora of projects.

However, when it comes to special events, that is, everything from established festivals such as the Jazz Jubilee, to all-new events, such as this spring’s “Mammoth-2-Bishop” bike ride and September’s planned “Kamikaze Bike Festival,” the rules are unclear.

Hence Tuesday’s conclave.

“We’re all in this together,” said commissioner Sean Turner, who also produces the wildly successful “Bluesapalooza and Festival of Beers” event in August. Turner’s wife, Joyce Turner, is on the Measure U committee but was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Turner, at the opening of the workshop, cautioned the events organizers to not fall into the trap of competing against each other, but in finding areas of agreement and cooperation.

“We’re talking about taking market share from Tahoe-Truckee, Telluride and even the beaches of Southern California,” he said. “A rising tide will lift all boats.”

Recreation Commissioner Pat Agnitch prefaced the meat-and-potatoes part of the discussion by also raising a note of caution.

“There are a lot of variables we need to consider,” she said.

Sandy Hogan, a citizen who leads the Measure U Committee, acknowledged that the waters are, in fact, murky.

“Measure U is still in its infancy,” she said.

As a starting point in terms of how special events fit into the Measure U equation, the commission said it is seeking answers to five specific questions:

1. If an event realizes a surplus, should the surplus funds or a portion of the surplus funds be returned to Measure R/U? And if so, what percentage of those funds should be returned?

2. Should there be two separate policies for nonprofit and for-profit organizations? And if so, what would the policies be? For example, in the case of for-profits, would a percentage of funds, equal to the percentage received from Measure U, be returned to the fund? And secondly, for nonprofit organizations, should the designated funds be restricted for a specific purpose?

3. Should the performance report provide greater transparency of event finances that specifically identifies how surplus funds where/will be used by the funding recipient?

4. Should the Town Council have oversight on how the surplus event funds be used for organizations?

5. Should a separate funding source such as incremental TOT revenue derived from special events be used to fund event organizers?

In attempting its first run at these thorny issues, the town’s staff collected more than 20 pages of suggestions and recommendations from members of the Mammoth Lakes Event Coalition members.

In addition, the town staff, led by recreation manager Brown, assembled data from three other communities that have similar systems in place. They are Telluride, Colo., Eagle (Vail) Colo., and Ventura in Southern California.

The commission took no action at its Tuesday meeting, nor could it, since it was designated as a “workshop” rather than a regular commission meeting.

The next time the recreation commission can actually take steps forward in resolving the questions is on Tuesday, April 9, when its next regular meeting is scheduled.

In the meantime, the event organizers, as well as the nonprofit groups, are lining up, as they did last Tuesday at the workshop.

Their first takes spanned the gamut of concerns.

Michael Ledesma, of Gomez’s, who with business partner Russ Squier pulled the successful Mammoth Tequila Festival out of their hats last summer, said he was concerned about the levels of bureaucracy that might hinder, rather than help, new events from getting off the ground.

Rebecca Hang, who with husband Brian Schuldt form the Chamber Music Unbound/Felici Trio and are heavily involved in music education in Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra, weighed in with a forceful admonition for the commission to keep its eye on the ball, so to speak.

“We are not fighting to keep anyone out,” she said. “We’re fighting to clarify things.”

To what degree that actually happened on Tuesday was debatable in itself.

“This talk this morning,” said Jazz Jubilee’s Flossie Coulter, “has muddied the waters.