In TBID war, the battle is joined

First town council hearing draws critics, supporters

Critics of Mammoth’s proposed tourism-based business improvement district—the TBID—turned out in force this past week as the Town Council continued the process on giving its thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the proposal.

In the first of two scheduled “public comment” sessions, opponents showed up on Wednesday, June 5, at the council chambers, as did Mammoth Tourism Director John Urdi, the chief architect of the TBID measure.

The critics included business interests from across the board, from individual business owners and restaurateurs, to individual condo owners voicing skepticism over the proposed fee.

Urdi attempted to deflect the criticism, and said before the meeting began that many people were critical of the program because they simply did not understand it.

“I want people to understand this before they start throwing darts at it,” he said. 

However, Urdi acknowledged he has a lot of political work to do before the proposal comes before the council in a final vote, currently scheduled for July 3.

“It’s not huge opposition,” he insisted in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “My door has always been open, and I’m disappointed that those who are opposed to it have not been calling.

“I’ve been working on this for over a year, and it’s something I’ve talked about for three years. I think we may be at a point where things get into a paralysis by analysis.”

That’s not the way many of the pre-meeting critics have taken it, however.

In its agenda packet, council members received a raft of letters critical of the TBID.

“To impose this tax for marketing but not providing any certain and consistent means to pay the (MLLA) Judgment is simply irresponsible of our Town Council (which consistently seems to making poor decisions),” wrote A-Frame Liquor owner Gregg Martino.

Marcia Hansen, the owner of Mammoth Business Essentials, Inc., wrote,

“As a small business owner in Mammoth Lakes for the last 19 years, I have to say it has not been easy. Most small businesses in Mammoth struggle to survive. In the last 19 years we have seen more businesses close than I can count on two hands. This so-called “self-assessment” that you would propose will put a lot of businesses out of business. Most live day-to-day and cannot afford another tax.”

Under the plan, which would extend for five years beginning Aug. 1, lodging would contribute one percent of gross room revenue to the TBID.

Most retail stores within the district would contribute 1.5 percent of sales; the ski area would contribute two percent of lift ticket and ski school sales, and 1.5 percent of equipment rentals and retail revenues.

Restaurants that generate less than $150,000 in annual revenue or which do not receive at least 50 percent of their annual revenue from visitors as determined by credit card receipts, would pay $500 a year.

The proposed TBID would raise an estimated $4.7 million, according to the Mammoth Lakes TBID website that has been specifically set up to answer questions.

The biggest contributor would be Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, with an estimated annual contribution of $1.8 million. Retail businesses would contribute $1.35 million, lodging would chip in $800,000, and restaurants would contribute $750,000.

Of that total, $2.35 million would go toward sales, marketing and public relations; $2,012,000 would go toward air service subsidy marketing;  $141,000 would go toward administration, $94,000 would go to collection costs and another $94,000 would go to a “contingency” fund.

Many small business owners say they are having trouble in a number of areas, from things such as how the fee might show up on a restaurant receipt, to larger issues in understanding how the TBID would affect their bottom lines and their return on investments (ROI).

Others, such as Command Performance owner Robin Falkingham, a longtime Mammoth local, said in an interview last month that he is unsure that the town has explored all the options open to it in terms of generating revenue above and beyond the transient occupancy tax.