When times get tough and the money is tight, people get creative.
In the case of Police Chief Dan Watson, very creative.
Creative to the point where Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi might feel a wee bit threatened.
In a memo to Council, Watson suggested that it would make fiscal sense if the Town moved his department into MLT’s building next to the USFS Welcome Center along Hwy 203.
Under Watson’s proposal, Urdi’s organization could be moved to the former Finance Department offices (now vacant) on the second floor of the Minaret Mall.
Watson points out that the MLPD is paying about $60,000 annually for the privilege of operating out of its current rabbit warren on Old Mammoth Road.
The current department building “has been a short-term solution [for housing the department] for 27 years,” deadpanned Watson.
Meanwhile, the MLT building is paid for and MLT pays rent of just $1/year to the Inyo National Forest.
According to Watson, local Forest Supervisor Jon Regelbrugge said the building is required to be used for Town business according to the terms of the lease, and that a police station would be consistent with those terms.
“I fully expect John [Urdi] to object,” said Watson, “and two Councilmembers I’ve heard from so far don’t like the idea … but my responsibility is to make recommendations to Council … that are efficient, effective and save money.”
The Chief says the MLT’s building could accommodate a department of up to 30 personnel. “It’s large enough to house at least what we were before,” he said. And though not designed as a police building, Watson believes it could be converted relatively inexpensively.
When reached for comment, Urdi responded by saying “I’m opposed to it slightly … with every fiber of my being.”
Urdi said the funding that built his headquarters came from tourism dollars or grant dollars via tourism.
Mayor Matthew Lehman, who is opposed to the idea, believes moving MLT would constitute “an improper use of Measure A [tourism] dollars.”
“I respect the Chief [Watson] for coming forward,” added Lehman, “but I don’t think it’s an appropriate place [for the Police Dept.].Financially, he said, it also doesn’t make sense in the near term because the MLPD has four years left on its lease – so if you play musical chairs, you’re still left with space that’s still sitting fallow.
Councilmember Michael Raimondo, also against the idea, commented, “Having a police station as the first thing you see upon guest arrival doesn’t send the most welcoming message.”
He would rather see the Town sublease the former Finance Dept. space.