After seven years of negotiations, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and Mono County have agreed to an assessed value for the ski area—$263 million.
“After days of intense deliberation, the parties agreed to $263 million,” Mono County Assessor Jody Henning told the board Tuesday.
The agreement will allow property taxes held in a trust fund pending this agreement to funnel into the county’s general fund and to its fire, school, and other “special districts” coffers—a much anticipated event that will allow the districts and county to solidify budgets that have been operating without concrete numbers from Mammoth Mountain’s tax revenues for many years.
“We would just like to know how much money we will be getting as soon as possible and how much we might have to pay back,” said Mammoth Lakes Fire Chief Brent Harper, who added that he was considering letting a He noted that while the fire district—like all the county’s special districts—received some of the money it was owed from Mammoth Mountain while it was on a payment plan, Harper did not know how much was still to come and how much the fire district might have been overpaid for past years.
His words were echoed by Eastern Sierra Unified School District financial analyst Mollie Nugent who said she had recently received word from the county that she might have to repay about $250,000, something that would cause undeniable hardship at her small district with its annual budget of under $11 million.
Henning said the $263 million will give the county about $1.24 million (estimate) a year more in property tax revenues from Mammoth Mountain than had been collected prior to the Mountain’s sale, given that the Mountain was assessed for about $118 million more than it had been when it was sold. And while the final agreed-upon settlement was about $44 million lower than the county’s initial assessed value of $307 million, the negotiations to arrive at this lower number allowed the county and the Mountain to forgo any more changes or appeals to the values set for most of the years in question, saving money in attorney fees and reassessment costs.
But not everyone was happy with the county’s performance.
Although he didn’t quibble with the final number Henning and MMSA agreed to, Supervisor Hap Hazard had some sharp words for the county’s assessor and auditor.
“I don’t care bout how hard it is for you to finally get these numbers out to them (the special districts), I want you to work until the sun goes down to get this done,” he said.
He then looked to County Administrative Officer (CAO) Jim Arkens and said, “Jim, I assume you know how important this is?”
“I’ll get it done,” said Arkens.
Supervisors Byng Hunt and Vikki Bauer said the confusion and the slow pace of getting the numbers out was understandable.
“Normally, these kinds of reassessments don’t involve such big numbers,” Bauer said. “You don’t sell a ski area every day. I can’t fault Henning after I heard her reasons for how this happened. I think there has been a communication issue between the county’s departments and that’s what needs to change so this can get resolved as soon as possible.”
Arkens said Thursday that the county auditor, Roberta Reed, will meet with the special districts next week to give each district manager “rough numbers” as to what will be allocated to them.
“We will then give a full report to the board on Feb. 21 to solidify this,” he said.
A weekly report to the board to update the board is also on the agenda.
What happened in 2005?
When Mammoth Mountain Ski Area sold for $365 million in 2005, Mono County rejoiced knowing that it was only a matter of time before the property taxes from the newly assessed ski area started filtering into the county’s hungry coffers.
The ski area properties constitute about 4.2 percent of all the county’s incoming property tax revenues—no small potatoes for a county with fire, school, and water districts that all get a piece of the county’s total tax revenues.
But it was too soon to celebrate.
Within a short time, the ski area challenged and appealed the county’s assessed value of its property. The ski area enrolled in a payment plan as required by law to make sure it didn’t get behind on its taxes and money from this was put into a trust fund for future distribution. Some money flowed into the county’s coffers during this time and was distributed to the fire, school, and water districts of the county.
But the process of agreeing on a final value for the ski area dragged on as both sides sought a number beneficial to itself. Two county assessors came and went during the first years, and a third one—Henning—took on the project in 2008 when she was elected.
Henning and her staff eventually arrived at a number she believed the property was worth: $307 million. But the Mountain’s appraiser said it was much lower—around $168 million.
The last several years have been spent arriving at a final number; the $263 million noted above.
This year, the Mountain will be reviewed for a decline in value reduction to reflect market conditions, Henning said Friday.