Supes question high cost of Sheriff’s program

The Mono County Sheriff’s Department has the largest budget in Mono County and as such, the Mono County Board of Supervisors requested a look at the overtime costs associated with the program at its Oct. 15 board meeting.

After examining his budget, Sheriff Ralph Obenberger found that it would cost the county more to hire new staff than it does to pay current officers overtime.

“Our office has very few personnel,” Sheriff Obenberger said, “and everyone has multiple responsibilities and will inevitably have to work overtime, sometimes when it is not even wanted.”

Mono County Sheriff’s Department  overtime costs are about 10.38 percent of employee compensation, Obenberger said. Removing overtime costs associated with grant programs such as snowmobile and boat patrols, that percentage would drop to about 7.04 percent, he said.

Obenberger said other local law enforcement agencies checked in with similar approximate overtime percentages: Mammoth Lakes Police Department at 10 percent; Bishop Police Department also at 10 percent; and Inyo Sheriff’s Department at 6.7 percent.

“I sense that there’s a nice little deal going on with the sheriffs that they can have overtime whenever they want,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston, pointing out that the Grand Jury said the department was understaffed at times, and had recommended a part time cook to alleviate overtime costs.

“I don’t mind providing the county services that are needed,” Johnston said, “but we’re spending $400,000 on overtime where an employee would cost $100,000. I think the status quo doesn’t fly with today’s economy.”

“But,” Obenberger said, “if I spend $100,000 and save $50,000 in overtime expenditure, I’m still spending more.”

In regards to vacation protocols and overtime pay, Supervisor Tim Fesko said, “if I knew policies were being followed, I wouldn’t be concerned, but I have a feeling that’s not the case.”

 When Sheriff Obenberger asked where he got that idea, Fesko replied, “from comments I’ve heard.”

Some of the cost of overtime pay is covered by grant money for specific programs such as snowmobile and boat patrols, Sheriff Obenberger explained.

“We could cut grants and save $130,000 in overtime,” he said, but the county would lose more in revenue than it would be saving.

Obenberger said he was concerned about what would happen to a new employee if and when any of those grants expired.

He also said it would be difficult to find a part-time cook or a part-time deputy sheriff.

Reserve deputies are a viable option, he said, but only Level 1 Reserves, with the same amount of training as a full time deputy, can work alone. Levels 2 and 3 must have a sworn deputy sitting with them in the vehicle.

“The Sheriff’s office has the largest budget in all of Mono County,” Obenberger said, “and with that our overtime budget is also higher than others.  

“The Sheriff’s office has to maintain staffing levels to ensure the safety of Mono County residents and visitors, and our employees, not to mention the safety of our inmates.”