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Issue Alert: County Offices in Mammoth

Issue Alert: County Office in Mammoth

Board of Supervisors Continues Analysis of Options in May 2018

What's the issue?
Mono County must secure a long-term solution for its offices in Mammoth Lakes. Options include building a new government facility near the town's new police station, attempting to purchase and renovate the Mammoth Mall, and continuing to lease office space.
This is obviously a major decision for the county, financially and organizationally. Whatever the Board of Supervisors decides, Mono County must continue to spend money on offices--right now, the county spends over $1 million per year on leases in Mammoth. 

What's the best thing to do? 
In order to answer that question, we have to remember what the need is at the heart of this big decision, and what goals and values are driving this decision. 
The main objective for our Mammoth Lakes offices is to secure a safe, comfortable, accessible place where the county can provide essential services to our residents, the majority of whom live in Mammoth Lakes and southern Mono County. This should be a long-term solution that consolidates county offices in one central location. The Board of Supervisors also has an obligation to taxpayers and all county resident to make a fiscally responsible choice.
Based on almost two years of research and deliberation on this issue, I believe the county and its residents would be best served by a new government center on the “McFlex” parcel (town-owned land behind the new police station, near the court house); cost is the biggest concern with this option, though, and if we move forward with this project, we must be able to stay on budget.
Purchasing Mammoth Mall is under consideration, but the county needs to further analyze renovation costs, viability of the space for county services, current leases, and parking solutions (there is not enough parking for tenants, and county clients and staff); another financial consideration is the fact that the county purchasing this multi-million dollar property would mean that it is taken off the tax rolls, resulting in less property tax revenue for the town, the schools, special districts, and the county itself. Additionally, use of ground floor space in Mammoth Mall for government offices doesn't fit the Town of Mammoth Lakes' current zoning or downtown planning. 
The county could continue to lease space in the two malls where its offices are currently housed. At current or higher lease rates, leasing will cost about the same as building over 20 years, according to the county's financial analysis. The lease option would not meet one of the primary goals for a long-term office solution: to consolidate space and provide services in one location. There are also accessibility issues at the current locations, and a need to improve conditions to meet basic standards. 
I see the tremendous value in the county owning a purpose-built, energy-efficient building with a 50-year (or more) life span, and generally in owning a building rather than continuing to lease.

Why Offices in Mammoth?
Providing mandated services (such as public health, social services, behavioral health, probation, district attorney, probation) costs money every year, much of which comes through the state and federal government; currently, the county spends over $1 million per year to lease office space at the Minaret and Sierra Center Malls, This isn’t a question of spending money on office versus providing services. Instead, this is a question about the wisest investment and the most efficient, effective way to provide county services. 

How would the county pay for this?
Per information from County Finance Director Janet Dutcher, the county would finance construction costs using Certificates of Participation (COP). COPs are a form of tax-exempt financing available to governmental entities, which allows for the sale of tax-exempt bonds, repayment of which is secured by a leasing arrangement between the governmental entity and a non-profit financing company, JPA or Authority. Financing cost is estimated at 3% of project costs. Interest is capitalized and included in the debt proceeds during the 18-month term of construction. Repayment is at approximately 4% over a repayment term of 35 years. 
The financing under consideration does not impose a direct tax burden on property owners the way a bond measure or parcel tax would. Since the county already spends money to lease office space in Mammoth, the same funds that are currently used on leases would cover the payments, and at the end of the term, the county owns the building. 
Additionally, there may be funding and financing opportunities available through the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.

What about all the empty office space in town?
Concern about empty commercial lease space in Mammoth is legitimate; but instead of looking to government to fill this space, there should be a concerted effort, supported and incentivized by government, to re-develop underused space in the commercial corridor as mixed-use residential and retail/commercial. This fits with the town’s zoning and with downtown planning efforts currently underway.

What happens next? 
On May 1, the Board of Supervisors had a confidential, closed session item about real estate negotiations regarding Mammoth Mall. Like any potential real estate deal, the county needs to make sure that this purchase is the right decision for the long term; and like any real estate deal, just because a buyer makes an offer or shows interest doesn't mean that a sale will happen. 
There will be a public meeting in late May or early June to present the results of 
Current county leases expire in late 2019. We need to make a decision about the future of county offices in Mammoth very soon, and I encourage anyone interested to get in touch with me. I'd be very happy to meet and discuss this issue. 

Where can I get more information? 
County staff put together numerous reports for meetings held in 2017 about this issue here. Note that Mammoth Mall purchase was not an option at that time:

https://monocounty.ca.gov/cao/page/south-county-facility
 


Re-Elect Corless
Mono County Supervisor
District 5 2018
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