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Hard Day's Night for Town Council

June 17, 2011

Moments before the reorganized Mammoth Lakes Town Council began hacking away at the 2011-2012 budget, new mayor Jo Bacon gave outgoing skipper Skip Harvey a plaque for his service to the town.

Grim work on Town
finances cuts, and cuts, and cuts

There may as well have been blood in the streets.

The Mammoth Lakes Town Council, facing a shortfall budget of more than $2 million and a deadline of June 22 for a reckoning, took out its machetes on Wednesday night and got to work on the finances.

Three police officers will have to go. Any improvements to the town’s dilapidated police station are a ha-ha-ha.

At least one staffer – maybe more – will have to leave Public Works.

“I don’t know what effect there’s going to be,” said Public Works Director Ray Jarvis. “Everybody’s under water already with the work processes that have to be done.

“I don’t know what position this would be. Is it me?”

Town employees will have to deal with multiple “furlough days” – at least twice a month. The town government will simply shut down on those days.

The Recreation Department will lose out, too.

So will Community Development, which deals with permit applications, among a million other things.

Oh, but there was so much more.

Mammoth Lakes Housing will take a hit.

Contributions to the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District will take a 10 percent hit; the High Sierra Energy Foundation will lose 15 percent; fishing enhancement – 10 percent; road rehabilitation, 42.9 percent; Sherwin Street culvert rehab, no chance at all.

On and on it went, item by item, and this wasn’t even counting the 800-pound gorilla hanging out in the back of the room in the form of the $30-$40 million judgment against the town from the Hot Creek litigation. That axe will fall soon, and require a further budget re-examination.

It was an ugly meeting all around – the first under new mayor Jo Bacon, who replaced Skip Harvey right on schedule.

By the time the town council was done, dangerously close to the 10:30 cut-off time, it was still about $200,000 shy of meeting the shortfall.

Now it will be up to the town staff to re-jigger what’s left, which ain’t much. The council must pass a new budget by its next meeting, and it must be a balanced budget.

Some of the budget shortfall will come from moving items from one fund to another – a kind of shuffle around the shuffle.

Measure R monies, and the impending Measure U funds, might have to be re-thought as to how that money might be used – a political minefield, to say the least.

But the biggest wound of all may have been to the Police Department.
After working so hard to reorganize his department, Chief Dan Watson stands to lose three positions.

It will save the town $470,000. Still, the chief stood before the council on Wednesday night, in full uniform, and spilled his thoughts.

“I look at what we have to do,” he said. “I’ve been in the business for 38 years. It’s a paramilitary organization, so I totally understand the chain of command and where I stand and where all the officers stand in these difficult decisions.

“We’re legally required to patrol roads; we need to have an adequate number of people. We have to have a detective; we have to have a records function, an evidence function; we need an administrative function for our commanding officer. We do have three positions that are not fully mandated.

“That doesn’t mean they’re not critical to public safety; they’re essential to public safety.

“I think there are people in town who think we are staffed with the number of personnel to police a city of 25,000 or 30,000 people, because that’s what we have on busy weekends.

“We don’t.”

“Sierra Madre in Los Angeles County has 10,000 people. It’s a bedroom community; there’s no business; nobody coming in. They’re surrounded by three cities; when they have a problem, they can pick up the phone and have 20 or 30 officers there in a matter of 10 minutes.

“They don’t have bars, they don’t have bears. They don’t have nearly the level of issues that we do, and certainly they don’t have the tourists.

“They have the same number of personnel that we currently have now.

“So I just want to make it clear that we are not a big police department. We’re a police department for a town of about 10,000 people, without the ability to get us assistance quickly.

“Eliminating positions outside patrol will have an impact on our patrol.“

With that, Watson sat down, but his demeanor suggested he was severely shaken.

Everyone was severely shaken.

It might have been the ugliest town council meeting of all time.

Until the next one.

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