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County supes vote against Mammoth Mountain funding of ‘peer resort’ trip

February 15, 2013

 

‘I don’t want it to look like a junket,’ Fesko says

It didn’t take long for the Mono County supervisors to figure out Tuesday that allowing Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to pay for travel expenses for the supervisors on a “peer resorts” tour was a bad idea.

Not that the supervisors thought the tour itself was a bad idea, although some had reservations. The tour—to visit four family-friendly mid-level resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire later this month with the idea that such resorts could provide an example for the future of June Mountain Ski Area—was first proposed by MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory.

Attendees were supposed to include two county supervisors, several June Lake community members, several Mammoth Mountain officials, including Gregory for at least part of the trip, and two county tourism staff members.

But at Tuesday’s board meeting, several supervisors, verbalized most clearly by District 4’s Tim Fesko, balked at what they thought would be an almost inevitable conflict, should county staff and/or county supervisors take any MMSA money for the trip.

“I don’t want it to look like a junket,” Fesko said. “And I’m not sure it will guarantee, going on this trip, that Rusty Gregory ever does anything with June Mountain. They are, if their reports are correct, losing $500,000 a year. They can say anything, but it’s going to take a lot to invest in that mountain and get June moving again.”

It’s not that he was opposed to the idea of some county staff and supervisors attending the trip, he said. But if they did, they would all have to make sure they went in with their eyes wide open—and the county would need to pay for its own costs.

“I (also) think sending four people is overkill,” Fesko said, referring to the two supervisors, Larry Johnston and Tim Alpers, and two top county tourism officials who were planning to go.

Alpers from the start has said he would pay for all his own expenses, but Johnston asked the county to pay for his travel expenses out of the board of supervisors’ travel expense account.

“You all know I don’t drink Kool-Aide easily,” Johnston said. “I’m going with my eyes wide open. I question the interests here. I’ve been involved in the Rodeo Grounds for a long time. I want to glean what I can from this but I want the full amount so I am not subsidized.”

In the end, the majority of the supervisors agreed to use its travel budget to pay for Johnston’s travel expenses, and, to require the county staff to tap its own tourism department budget to pay for staff travel expenses.

After the meeting, county tourism director Alicia Vennos, one of the staff members planning on attending the trip, said she was fine with that solution and that the tourism department would pay for both her and another county staff’s expenses.

Supervisor Byng Hunt urged caution.

“I’ve seen trips like these be very useful, and I’ve seen them become junkets,” he said, referring to similar trips the Mammoth Lakes Town Council and Town staff made in the 1990s in preparation for The Village development proposals.

The four resorts in Vermont selected for their family-oriented marketing plans, their family-oriented amenities, and their management styles. According to Alpers, the trip is an invaluable opportunity to learn from other resorts how to make June Mountain Ski Area sustainable and desirable to families, especially those in the Southern California market.

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