Town to cut 13 jobs, slice $1.9 million a year to pay for MLLA settlement; Police could lose nearly half its force, Watson takes big pay cut

The Mammoth Lakes Town Council on Thursday put the town’s police department on the chopping block, proposing deep cuts as a result of the $29.5 million settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition, Inc.

In addition to losing seven of its 17 officers, the council also proposed slicing Police Chief Dan Watson’s compensation package by $25,000 this year and $50,000 in the 2013 budget year.

The cuts to the police force were part of an austerity proposal that also would affect other departments.

In total, the town’s first round of austerity proposals would slice 13 jobs from the Mammoth payroll, reducing the town’s workforce from 130 at its peak three years ago to just 70.

“This is a very, very tight presentation,” said Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht during an extraordinary special Town Council meeting Thursday night. “The town now is probably as precarious as it’s ever been.”

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in the Town Council Chambers, Wilbrecht laid out the first outlines of a plan by which the town could meet an obligation of $2 million a year over the next 23 years.

Left untouched in the plan were tourism, transit, and housing.

Nor was the plan a final version.

Over the course of the next two to three months, the community will join with the town’s administration in fine-tuning a five-year budget plan.

“It's very, very, very thin,” Wilbrecht said of the town’s margin for error, “and it's going to take a sense of discipline. It's going to have to be debated.

“But my advice to the community and to the council that once that debate is over, we're going to take a very hard and firm approach to keep this thing on a target for a long time.”

On the proposed hit list is one position from the finance department and the elimination of a full time information systems specialist. All information systems duties (computers, networking, etc.) would be handled by an outside contractor as needed.

The town’s recreation department would lose one full-time and one part-time position.

In public works, which would be merged with the parks department, the council proposed a cut of one full-time and one part-time position, while at the airport, the proposal calls for the elimination of three full-time positions and one part-time spot.

In all, the proposal would shave $988,361 from the current 2012 fiscal year and $1,889,418 from the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins next July 1.

Also on the chopping block were the Whitmore Pool and the Whitmore Park, both of which would close under the proposed austerity measures.

Watson, meanwhile, would take a big hit in accepting salary and benefit cuts from his $183,547-a-year base salary and $304,842-a-year total compensation package.

Wilbrecht said Watson was close to quitting earlier in the week, but pulled back later on.

“When I first mentioned that we were going to go through some very difficult times the next year or two years,” Wilbrecht said, his first thoughts were, ‘I don't know if I can do what you're asking me to do. This goes against my training, my professionalism; this is not the way I've done my busines in the past. I don't know if I can do this.’

“I interpreted that as ‘Maybe he's going to go.’ These things happen in life. Since then, he's had a chance to think about this, and he said, ‘You know, Dave, these are difficult decisions and difficult processes. I’ve got a wonderful working group; this is a great community. I want to stay and work through this thing.’

“So we had a choice. We could either take that reduction out, or we could leave it in and I thought we'd leave it in.”