November 2011 - Sierra Scoop Column

The final budget for Mono County came back in front of the Board of Supervisors on September 20th. The final budget can be found at www.monocounty.ca.gov/departments/auditor/auditor.html. Like every other government entity, Mono County is feeling the effects of this Country’s economy. This year’s budget has been reduced to $64.6 million from last year’s $71 million.

The County has had a general reserve fund (saving account) of several million dollars over the past several years. This account has been dwindling down for the past few years while they have tried to lessen the impacts of this economy. Last year the County used ~$2.2 million of the reserve, leaving ~$2.3 million for this year. After going through the budget process, the Supervisors found more places to spend the reserves thus leaving only ~$1.1 million in reserves this year. With no sight that the economy is turning around anytime soon, it will be quite interesting to see what happens to our reserve next year, or the year after.

For the past 2 years, the County has had to bail out the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund to the tune of millions. They have once again “loaned” an additional $750,000 to Solid Waste to fund the shortfall that occurred between the start of last fiscal year and the implementation of a tipping fee increase earlier this year. This increase was seen as higher prices at our local transfer stations, at the Benton Crossing landfill, and as an increase in your fees by local haulers such as Mammoth Disposal and D&S Waste. With the continued losses by Solid Waste and more to come, it is now time for the County to get out of the waste business and stop wasting the public’s money. Garbage can be a profitable business but not for the County! Unless of course, they want to continue to increase the fees which will cost each of us more at a time when we are all trying to cut back.

Speaking of the Mammoth Airport; how about the County spending $85,000 to guarantee Air service into the airport. You may ask yourself “Guarantee Air Service for what?” Along with Mammoth Mountain and the Town of Mammoth Lakes, Mono County pays Horizon Air essentially for empty seats. Horizon Air requires a minimum amount of seats to be booked on each flight for it to make a profit. These 3 entities together pay Horizon Air to guarantee them a profit on each of their flights. What I find really disturbing is when government uses public money to prop up private enterprise. In fact what the County is doing is guaranteeing a price for each seat and if Horizon Air chooses to discount a seat in order to fill it, no problem, the County will pay the difference.

Now there will be some that will argue that it helps the economy of the County or that it helps keep Mammoth property values high (trust me, these are only some of the non-sense arguments that I have heard). First off, it really only helps Mammoth Lakes’ economy as the rest of the county gets very little if anything from the service. And if it really helps property values than why do we continue to see declines? As a business owner myself, I say “where is mine?” I’ll offer rooms are $25/night if the County will guarantee the difference. And yes it will help our local economy by bringing in more people. But is this the best use for the public’s money? If any business cannot make a profit doing what it is doing, then maybe it needs to do something different!

While coming up with any reasonable budget can be difficult during good economic times, it is even more difficult during hard times. With property taxes down, the State cutting back on funding, the future does not look all that bright. And after months of negotiations with the various employee unions, these groups gave up step increases and cost of living increases while agreeing to pay additional amounts towards their benefits.  Thank you to each of them for doing their parts in these hard times. What really disappoints me though is that the Board of Supervisors, while asking everyone else to give up something, did not step up and show leadership by giving up something themselves.

Let your feelings be known to ALL Supervisors - District 1, Larry Johnson, ljohnston@mono.ca.gov. District 2, Hap Hazard, hap04@msn.com. District 3, Vikki Bauer, vbauer@mono.ca.gov. District 4, Tim Hansen, thansen@mono.ca.gov. District 5, Bing Hunt, bhunt@mono.ca.gov