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More ‘fireworks’ at Crowley Lake

July 10, 2014

BRIDGEPORT—Fred Stump might have thought it was going to be a routine Fourth of July at Crowley Lake.

It wasn’t.

Stump, the supervisor representing South County and Crowley Lake, instead found himself in charge of a makeshift emergency command post after Mono County Sheriff Ralph Obenberger, citing budget concerns over overtime pay, held back the county’s mobile command post.

Stump, formerly the Chief of the Long Valley Fire District, said he got the word several days in advance of the event, and briefed other event organizers at the 4 p.m. pre-fireworks meeting as to what was afoot.

“We had a small rescue vehicle and radios, so I was a dispatcher that night,” he said from the dais at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, July 8.

Asked by other supervisors why the use of the mobile command post was withdrawn, Stump said, “Their reason was they could not afford the overtime.”

Obenberger confirmed his reasoning in an interview on Wednesday.

“My overtime budget is slated to be cut by 45 percent in the next year,” he said, “and that’s for the remaining six months of this year and the first six months of next year, so I have to manage my dollars as best I can.

“It would have cost dollars to bring [the command post] to Crowley from Bridgeport, and to staff it. I felt the event could have been handled by our main dispatch in Bridgeport.”

During a recess in the meeting, the affable Stump shrugged, and said the set-up worked just fine.

“Supervisors,” he said, “don’t get overtime, so I’m a rather inexpensive supervisor.”

Although Stump was good-natured about his unexpected call to service, Supervisor Tim Fesko did not see the humor in it, and while Stump spoke, Fesko grimaced visibly from his seat.

“I think that was a poor excuse,” he said afterward of Obenberger’s reasoning.

“This was a planned event for a long time, and he (Obenberger) should keep to his commitments.”

It was not as if the Mono County Sheriff’s Department was a no-show.

Deputies in squad cars were on the scene in Crowley to help with traffic control and to answer any calls for emergencies (there were none).

There was no mobile command post, though.

The mobile command post is a sophisticated trailer that can be set up at various spots in the county. It is usually staffed by at least one dispatcher.

At the Fireworks Show, the dispatcher is in touch with just about everyone, such as other law enforcement agencies, as well as event organizers from the Town of Mammoth Lakes, the Mammoth Lakes Police Department and the Public Works Department.

In the run-up to the Fourth of July event, nearly every department in the county went through a painful mid-year budget adjustment.

In the weeks since then, each department, including the Sheriff’s Department, has come under budgetary scrutiny as the supervisors try to balance an anticipated $4.7 million shortfall.

Overtime costs in particular have come under intense, microscopic review.

On July 1, the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year, the supervisors approved a rollover budget from last year. The new, streamlined budget must be approved by Oct. 1, according to state law.

Those circumstances did not mollify Fesko, however.

“He (Obenberger) reneged on his commitment, and I find that troubling,” Fesko said.

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