For two months, they had talked about elimination of seven police officers, but last night three Mammoth Town Councilmen said they really meant a cut in the police budget – a $1.1 million cut.
After more than three hours of talk Wednesday night, the Mammoth Lakes Town Council did approve their government restructuring plan which calls for elimination of positions from town government – including seven police officers as stated in the plan – keeps Whitmore Pool open, backs off from outsourcing IT services, and restores some night time transit service. The plan does not raise taxes or transfer revenue from already approved taxes.
Councilmen Rick Wood, John Eastman and Mayor Matthew Lehman backed off of the position that they specifically wanted to cut seven police positions even though they’ve said that was their proposal for the last two months.
In what appeared to be a way to shift the blame to the police themselves, Eastman said, “We’re not necessarily asking to reduce seven officers.” He said $1.1 million needs to be cut from the department somehow. Mayor Lehman agreed. He said, “Departments have to come up with the solutions.”
Wood said, “My view is that we are providing funding to a department and charging the department to come up with a different, not a lower, level of service. Peoples’ views are if the organization is not the same, it will suffer in some calamitous way. It’s a budget discussion.” Wood said the average police officer costs the Town $192,000. He said he didn’t begrudge the cost. Wood said, “The Town can’t afford it.”
Until last night, council members and management stated plainly that the proposal was to cut seven police officers. Their re-structuring plan still says that but also asks the Police Officers Association to “help maintain the existing level of service by reducing the per-officer cost for officers, including salaries, retirement, medical and other benefits.” That would amount to roughly a $65,000 per officer cut to make up $1.1 million.
Community criticism has hit the Council and staff over the police issue. The Town’s own survey indicated some 65% of those questioned did not support police cuts.
Wednesday night, Fire Chief Brent Harper was one of those. He made it clear he and his department oppose the “big law enforcement cuts.” He pointed out that the schedule proposed would mean no police from 3am to 7am. Chief Harper said when paramedics and firefighters have to respond to calls all night long, they will have no law enforcement back-up. He called for 24-hour coverage.
Rich McAteer, retired School Superintendent and citizen, opposed the police reduction. Said McAteer, “Your function is to provide public safety. I realize your budget is unsustainable, but I disagree with slashing the police department.”
On other issues, Bill Cockroft of Mammoth Mountain told the Council that cuts in transit would mean no night bus service during important holidays and week-ends. Ultimately, the Council decided to use $25,000 set aside to train volunteers for transit instead and look for a way to pay that back later.
The Council debated the transient occupancy tax increase estimate in the plan which is 14%. Council member Jo Bacon said previous assumptions were more like 5%. Marysheva-Martinez said this was not a conservative revenue estimate but that the staff “feels comfortable with it.” Mayor Lehman agreed with Bacon. In fact, through the evening, the Mayor objected to shifting money around and not facing the need to pay as you go with conservative revenue projections.
Lehman favored temporary use of Measure R money to keep Whitmore Pool open, but in the end they all spent around $90,000 of road maintenance money for this year to keep Whitmore open. They’ll re-consider the future of the facility in a few months.
Councilman John Eastman once more blamed the courts for the decision that forced the Town to pay off the big lawsuit debt. He said that’s why “the Town Council has no choice but to make cuts.” He said a new tax or new revenue would be the only other option.
Rick Wood said he would not sponsor a new tax. He said the community could bring tax proposals forward, but this would not be considered at the meeting. Jo Bacon agreed. All five voted in favor of the restructuring plan.
More meetings lie ahead on what officials call alternative service delivery models. Outsourcing is one of those alternatives. The meetings start January 2nd.