The thinned blue line
For over three years, Mammoth Lakes Police Department has not been able to afford to keep officers on duty 24 hours a day, and though hiring more officers is a “priority,” says Town Manager Dan Holler, there is currently no funding to do so.
Funding for the Police Department comes from the General Fund, which derives its money from Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue, property and sales tax revenue, and “charges and fees,” said Holler. However, after the Town of Mammoth Lakes reached a settlement in 2012 with jilted airport developer Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition that required the Town to pay $2 million per year to its largest creditor, the police force took one of the largest hits.
“Right after the lawsuit started, $2 million had to be cut out of the Town budget overall,” said Police Chief Al Davis. “So we went from 17 officers to, currently, 11, which includes me.” At the moment, two officers are on light duty, and Chief Davis is recovering from knee surgery, although he is working. Sergeant Marc Moscowitz is retiring in June, and MLPD is currently in the process of hiring one new officer. However, “hiring will just fill the vacancy,” that Moscowitz leaves, said Holler.
Davis said that two officers are staffed at all times except for a four-hour window each day when two officers are on-call only. “We have a county-wide two-man California Highway Patrol vehicle that’s out 24-7,” Davis said. Mono County has a total area of 3,132 square miles that encompasses seven major highways. However, Davis says, “They tend to kind of stick a little bit more towards Mammoth. There’s more action down this way.”
While the Town is struggling to fund officers, it is also in the process of building a new police station with construction costs currently totaling $2.4 million, said Holler. “Some folks have asked the question, ‘Well, if you have dollars to pay for a police station why don’t you use that to hire officers?’ But it’s dollars that are already being spent,” Holler explained, likening the Town’s funding of the police station to transferring a credit card balance or refinancing a home.
The Town has refinanced the Bell-Shaped Parcel and is counting on saving $65,000 per year on rent at the current police station and putting another $40,000 per year toward the new project that is currently allocated to CalTrans for an existing debt which will be paid in full this year.
“It’s like when you go from one credit card to another and get free interest, or you do something to lower your payment…from a big picture standpoint that’s what we’re doing,” said Holler. “We’re taking the existing dollars to be able to pay off our existing debt and build our police station.” Because the money is considered debt, it is not available to pay for more police officers.