Budget backlashes begin in Mammoth


The protests against Mammoth’s proposed budget reduction plan began Wednesday evening before the Town Council.

Police officer Luke Schwartzkopf, who has lived in town since the 1970s and joined the force after working with Dave McCoy at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, delivered the first volley.

High Sierra Energy chief Rick Phelps followed up later, harshly criticizing the plan to gut the town’s contribution to his budget.

Meanwhile, in the audience, Tourism Director John Urdi hugged his budget folder as if he were holding a newborn child, although he did not speak from the floor.

Other citizens, whose budgets lie beneath the guillotine, listened attentively, including Police Chief Dan Watson, whose budget faces severe cuts.

It is the proposed police cuts that spurred Officer Schwartzkopf to the podium.

Schwatzkopf represented no one but himself, he said.

“I’ve been a resident here since the late 70s,” he said. “I’ve raised my kids here, coached some of your kids in baseball, soccer, whatever.

“This is my home, I love this town, and following the last council meeting (May 8), I was a little taken by some of the closing comments that some of you made, and I just know from my heart I should say something.

“For the last 12 years I’ve worked as a police officer in the town, and I’ve been lucky to have my finger on the pulse of this town. I see people; I know people; I’ve worked with them.

“I’m saddened—saddened—by our situation. We’re looking at the fabric of our town being ripped out from underneath us by this judgement and by our budget problems. My heart goes out to you guys for what you have to make choices about.

“Some folks, some are in this room, I believe have let us down. They got us into this situation where we’re being improperly managed. As a civil servant, I feel like I’ve exchanged ‘X’ amount of dollars to the people who go out and make big sums of money, in exchange for job security.

“Right now it feels like I’m working in private enterprise and my job could be gone tomorrow. I’m hearing talk that some people think we’re paid too much. But we don’t really criticize realtors, lawyers, doctors and business people in the good times, when they’re making money, when they’re able to accept windfall profits and put money in the bank. During those times, when you’re a public servant, you’re just kind of sitting by the wayside, with envy, going, you know, I am not going to be a millionaire, but I’m going to serve the public. 

“I’m worried. I’m afraid you guys are going to make some decisions that will forever hurt the character of our town. Police officers are not in this for the money. It’s a calling. Our lives are shortened, our relationships suffer, our families suffer and we rarely receive praise.

“I just want to remind you that we can be a buzzkill, but I also believe that unchecked crime can be a bigger buzzkill.”

Under the budget reduction plan, which not only aims to balance a budget in spite of an estimated $2.8 million shortfall in 2012-13, but also takes into account payments on the $43 million Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition judgment, the town proposed cuts to the police department may result in the loss of at least two officers.

But that is not the only area that faces budget reductions.

One of them is the elimination of the $14,500 contract to the High Sierra Energy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving energy use in the Eastern Sierra.

“This function is to be carried out by Southern California Edison,” the budget reduction says.

That drew the ire of Phelps who argued that SCE is in no position to carry out his foundation’s mission. In addition, he said the cut represents only “decimals of decimals” in the town budget.

“We advise you that the ‘function’ of the High Sierra Energy Foundation cannot be carried out by Southern California Edison,” he said to the council, as well as in a follow-up email to government staff and media.

“The High Sierra Energy Foundation is an independent, nonprofit corporation,” Phelps said.

“Southern California Edison currently supports the High Sierra Energy Foundation’s energy efficiency initiatives through the end of 2012 but SCE cannot ‘carry out’ any Foundation activities related to geothermal development, advocacy, or education and outreach outside of those activities related to energy efficiency.”

The Town Council must come up with a balanced budget by July 1, according to state law.  

The budget reduction plan therefore is not cut in stone, but there is fairly obvious etching on the rock, with very little room for maneuver, said Marianna Marysheva-Martinez. 

For the town’s part, there was no variation of the plan that was revealed this past week, so the plan of May 8, remains, to the consternation of many.