Unsure what to say over the past many months of secret negotiations, the people of Mammoth Lakes found their voice at Wednesday night’s meeting. Citizens stood up and clearly spoke out against the cuts of Whitmore Park and Pool and cuts of Mammoth Police Officers. Some also objected to more rentals of single family homes. All this, to raise money to pay off the big lawsuit judgment.
Ten people stood up to strongly oppose reductions in the Mammoth Police force. First, Police Chief Dan Watson laid out the expected impacts from a loss of 46% of his men – a loss of MONET and the School Resource Officer, many shifts with only one officer. The Chief said, “I believe this level of staffing poses a genuine risk to our residents, visitors and officers. Safety would be jeopardized.” He also quoted District Attorney Tim Kendall as concerned about fewer police and a lack of follow-up on crimes leading to more unsolved crimes.
The impacts do not end there. Chief Watson named traffic safety and quality of life services. The Chief pointed to an analysis by the Peace Officers Standards and Training, POST, which he had asked for in January of 2011 and which arrived in recent days. That report says Mammoth should not go below the current 17 sworn officers and should plan for more. Chief Watson showed willingness to include a reserve officer program and certain volunteers.
Watson pointed to the isolation of Mammoth with no nearby law enforcement to help. He said he does not advocate a contract with the Mono Sheriff’s Office but said the Town should at least ask for a proposal.
Councilman Rick Wood said public safety is obviously a priority, but he said it is $4.5 million of the budget. Wood said some citizens believe officers are paid too much. This, he said, needs to be part of the dialogue.
Ten people stood up on this issue, and all of them supported a strong police department. Many simply said “no cuts.” One local man stood up to say he is a convict and he knows how important it is to have policemen in town. He said, “Things will get ten times worse if you make these cuts.”
Kate Page, long-time Mammoth resident said simply of the police cuts, “Don’t do it. It would be a short-sighted move not in the best interest of the Town.” Page said the police are “silent supporters for tourism.” She said to the Council, “If you do this experiment to cut officers, visitors and residents will not be safe. You would be taking a huge gamble,” she said.
Mammoth Fire Chief Brent Harper also voiced concern for safety if there are police cuts. He said that late at night a police ride along gives you an education. “There are a lot of drunks and fights. This could escalate.”
Earlier, about a dozen more stepped up to the podium to oppose the closure of Whitmore Park and Pool. Some suggested a combination of new taxes and cuts – perhaps an increased sales tax, said one woman. Another brought up the so far unspoken – why not use Tax Measure R to save Whitmore.
Councilman Rick Wood said that voters approved Tax Measures A, A, T,
R and U – a total of some $5 million per year. He said these monies were specifically or generally meant for other uses. Wood said, “I want to hear from the public if these dollars should be touched. We need a community-wide debate. Tell the Town Council.”
Earlier this week, Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht said he expected the public to ask that police officers be saved and that Measures A and T dollars be used.
On another issue, should more single family homes be rented out to generate more transient occupancy tax? No one favored that idea. Bill Taylor did ask the Council to consider that work force housing is still a critical need in Mammoth. He said if the community becomes successful again, “we will need housing.”
At the start of the discussion, Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez said the idea is to find a way to deliver services “in a different manner including volunteers and outsourcing.” She also said, “We do need to cut.” Martinez said public discussions on cuts will continue through November. By early December, she said the Town Council will decide on cuts and implement them January 1. More at the regular Town Council meeting October 17.