You know you’re in Mono County when … a candidate wears a collared “In-N-Out” shirt to a candidate’s forum.
I attended last Friday’s forum at the Paradise Fire Station pitting two-term incumbent Hap Hazard versus challenger Fred Stump, the Long Valley Fire Chief. Among those in attendance were Mono County CAO Jim Arkens, County Finance Director Brian Muir and District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston.
Both candidates are 30+ year County residents and both have wives named Patti.
In a meandering introduction, Hazard’s main point was that with the byzantine nature of government and the fiscal uncertainty at the state level, you need someone with experience (i.e. the incumbent).
Stump said we need better government and less internecine bickering amongst Supervisors. A strategic plan developed by staff with as little political interference as possible will lead to better project prioritization and resource allocation for the county as a whole.
“Better planning is worth a try,” Stump said in a follow-up interview on Tuesday. “The current system [of governance] … can’t be sustained.” The promise of fewer resources will only lead to more bickering, he added.
In his own follow-up interview on Tuesday, Hazard said the County already has a capital improvement plan. He thinks this is less about planning and more about politics.
As Hazard said, when Johnston took office, he immediately wanted $750,000 to put into the airport access road. Other supervisors balked at the prospect of the airport road superseding other projects in their respective districts which had been patiently waiting their turn for years.
Point being, I suppose, is that “strategery” of the plan is in the eye of the beholder.
Stump said he would prioritize based upon three principal factors: ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance, critical maintenance and energy efficiency. His background as a Fire Chief appears to have inculcated a driving philosophy of reducing exposure to risk.
In regard to Mammoth Yosemite Airport, both candidates were lukewarm, at best, to the concept of subsidizing commercial air service.
Hazard said he supports air service, but not a subsidy. “This [Alaska Airlines] isn’t a failed company in need of a bailout,” he said.
Hazard also believes that Mammoth Mountain negotiated a bad contract. 62% is too high a number (for a seat guarantee), said Hazard. Other communities negotiate contracts with guaranteed load factors in the 50 to 55% range.
“I’d rather just put the money directly into our tourism budget,” he said.
Stump said the County’s got to put money into the airport access road, and that expenditure should be counted toward its support of the airport.
As to the subsidy, Stump wants to know whether or not air service creates a floor for property values. “Is there data to support this?” he asked.
One area in which Hazard and Stump appeared to have differences were in regard to County fees.
As Hazard explained, if you give a tax break to small business, for example, the larger tax base ultimately absorbs the hit.
He said when the County froze fees at the onset of the recession, it led to a $250,000 shortfall within six months which had to be backfilled by the General Fund.
Stump said the most recent draft report by the Sierra Business Council [SBC] shows that for Inyo and Mono counties over the past three years, median income is down, sole proprietor income is down, and yet … governmental fees are up. He pointed to one case in Crowley where a man wished to convert his garage into a residence – an improvement which would yield the County far more property tax revenue in the long term – but the planning fees may dissuade the man from moving forward. As Stump says, you can’t let the up-front fees kill an otherwise long-term gain.
Stump acknowledged at the Friday forum that he can’t touch Hazard on the Digital 395 issue, and it’s D395 which promises salvation for Eastern Sierra residents. As the SBC’s Steve Frisch told Stump, “D395 is the largest infrastructure project [undertaken in the Eastern Sierra] since the L.A. Aqueduct.”
Random extras: When Stump graduated from UC Davis with a degree in political science, he took one of those tests which is supposed to determine what sort of career field you would have an aptitude for. Conclusion: Stump would make an excellent general manager of a dude ranch. He went into firefighting instead.
Hazard was the one wearing the In-N-Out shirt.