Mark Magit (with wife Dory) was sworn in as Mono County Superior Court Judge on Tuesday. (Photo: Geisel)
Tim Fesko may have lost the November election for District 4 Supervisor, but he’s far from done participating in county government, taking on something of a watchdog role when it comes to spending.
During public comment at the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Fesko broached a subject he’s been keeping a close eye on for months, alerting the Mono County Board of Supervisors and County staff to what he suggested could be overspending on a couple of key projects: modifications to the Walker Ballfield and Auchberry Pit near Coleville.
As to the Walker Ballfield, according to Fesko’s research, in August 2007, the County was asked for $140,000 to fund “proposed improvements” to the ballpark. (The Coleville Boosters kicked in $15,000 and labor, and the U.S. Marines contributed labor and equipment.) After several problems, an additional $52,000 was approved one year later in November 2008 to finish the job. Further, an additional $18,000 contingency was approved, the amount to be used only if it was required, accompanied by a report for the Board on why it was needed. Fesko said he was unaware that any such report was ever presented.
He added that according to financial records, the total cost of the project has topped $400,000, which he said was $260,000 more than the original budget and $208,000 more than any additional amounts approved by the Board.
Lesser in terms of dollars — but not importance — is the Auchberry Pit risk management project.
The Auchberry Pit isn’t so much a pit as it is a hillside, private property near the Marine base housing that was deeded to the County for use as a rock and soil quarry.
In August 2009 during a special meeting in Walker, then Public Works Director Evan Nikirk presented the Board with two options to address safety concerns. The first proposal was a simple, inexpensive fence that would be installed along the top edge at an approximate cost of between $4,000 and $4,700. A second, larger-scale idea was to grade the pit’s face into a gentler slope, which would be a “more permanent” solution, but cost a bit more, roughly $15,000. The project was to take about 2 weeks to complete.
It was started in late 2009, and after a long winter that Fesko said included “multiple breakdowns and 16+ weeks of actual labor, the project is still not complete.” He also put the cost to date at more than $135,000. “Of course, you don’t see this number anywhere, because as far as the County is concerned, the cost of the road crew, all machinery and breakage, does not count towards the $15,000 approved by the Board,” Fesko stated.
And, of the $15,000 that was approved, Fesko said the current budget, as he reads it, shows roughly $3,000 of charges against that amount. “If you can do that project for that amount of money, I’ve got a lot of work for you,” Fesko remarked.
Fesko stopped short of pointing fingers at any specific persons or staff, and avoided being otherwise accusatory, and in fact prefaced his remarks by saying that he respects staff and the work they do. He nonetheless asked for an investigation into the figures, suggesting such exorbitant overages would never have been approved, and that there are more pressing problems that could use such funds. Since it was not a formal agenda item, County staff did not respond to the comments and the Board was prohibited from entering into any sort of discussion on the matter, but did direct staff and counsel to look into the remarks and return with an agendized report on their findings.
Meanwhile, Fesko also used his time to chide the Board for overspending almost $11,000 more than what was thought to be a hard, fast limit of $92,000 for non-County agencies and organizations’ fund requests. In November, on a 3-1 voted (Hap Hazard dissenting) the Board funded $102,800, almost 12% over what was budgeted. Fesko called the expense “fiscally unsound and irresponsible.” He pointed to the approximate $3 million increase in the County’s budget “while our property tax revenues are decreasing,” and also what he said was a “faltering Solid Waste fund that is losing tens of thousands of dollars each week.”
County Briefs …
The peaceful transition of power occurred Tuesday. Hap Hazard was elected Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and Vikki Bauer as Vice Chairman. Former Chair Byng Hunt was presented with a plaque for recognition of his service. Hunt took over as Chair following the sudden passing of District 4 Supervisor Bill Reid in late 2009, and said he was thankful for all the support and teamwork from the Board in the wake of Reid’s passing.
Larry Johnston was sworn in as District 1 supervisor. He bookended his remarks with quotes from Yogi Berra (“Thank you for making this day necessary”/“The future ain’t what it used to be”) and Thomas Jefferson. He thanked the late Bill Reid for guidance and praised the 16 years served by Tom Farnetti, whose District 1 seat Johnston won by just 5 votes in November.
Johnston espoused his wishes to work on behalf of lower fees and less government, as well as improving what he assessed as a somewhat disparaged image of those working in public service.
Farnetti was given a standing ovation, and afterward pointed out that he won his first term by just 5 votes also, adding, “Tread lightly during your first term!”
Minutes later, across the hall in Courtroom 1, retired Superior Court Judge Ed Forstenzer, who supported Mark Magit during his campaign for Forstenzer’s open seat on the bench, was on hand as Magit was sworn in as Mono County’s new Superior Court Judge. Forstenzer presented Magit with a large, ceremonial gavel, and told him to use it on attorneys and quote Clint Eastwood (presumably “Go ahead, make my day”) as needed. He also presented Magit with his robe before Judge Stan Eller administered the oath of office. Numerous public figures were present for both Johnston and Magit’s ceremonies, including members of the June Lake Citizens Advisory Committee, Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson and Sheriff Rick Scholl, as well as many private and public attorneys and counselors, among them Public Defender Randall Gephart, who lost to Magit in the November election.
In fact, Gephart was the first attorney who appeared before Magit as he took the bench.
Conway Ranch was victimized by the recent bout of weather that pummeled Mono County. Sometime during the past couple of weeks, a major water diversion that feeds Tim Alpers’ Conway Ranch facility filled with snow and subsequently froze over. The water backed up and flowed back into Wilson Creek. The lack of water to the ranch caused the loss of all cutthroats and 8,000 pounds of rainbows. Mono County Economic Development Director Dan Lyster said that Alpers estimated the loss at $70,000, and did not have insurance on the stock because he couldn’t afford it.
Alpers is reportedly still evaluating the damage and what can be done to bring in replacement breeding stock.
“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly a setback for Conway,” added Lyster. Supervisor Tim Hansen said he’d like to see the County move forward on the proposed pipeline to the Ranch as soon as possible. County Counsel Marshall Rudolph reminded the Board that the pipeline is waiting on approval from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Lyster added said he’ll continue leaning on his DWP contacts as much as possible.
Finally, during its Jan. 18 meeting, the Board will discuss a return to holding every third meeting of the month in Mammoth Lakes. The concept was tried last year for several weeks, and may be back, along with real-time streaming Internet video.