Orange County Fire Authority officials say they can save Costa Mesa taxpayers more than $20 million over the next five years if the city disbands its fire department and signs on with the OCFA.
On Tuesday night, Costa Mesa firefighter union leaders and City Council members all began to publicly figure out what exactly that would mean for fire protection in their community.
The possible outsourcing of fire protection is just one part of an overall plan Costa Mesa officials are considering that calls for the outsourcing of a vast array of city services.
Mayor Gary Monahan wondered how fire inspections would work for business owners. Councilman Eric Bever wanted to know how mutual aid agreements would be impacted.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece asked how OCFA would deal with a city that still likes its fireworks sales during Fourth of July.
Councilman Jim Righeimer asked how paramedic services were handled at OCFA as well as how the switch would affect firefighter pay and retirement plans.
Councilman Steve Mensinger wanted to know more about the OCFA volunteer reserves as well as a comparison of the budgets for OCFA and the Costa Mesa Fire Department over the past decade.
Costa Mesa current spends about $20 million a year on fire services. OCFA has presented a tiered proposal to city officials offering a sliding scale of services that would run between $17 million and $18 million annually.
While Costa Mesa would still own it’s own fire stations, OCFA achieves large savings by paying lower wages and benefits as well as centralizing a series of services like human resources, IT services, dispatching and maintenance.
Costa Mesa Fire Captain Tim Vasin was visibly upset after the study session. As the president of the local firefighters association, he’s got many members who are facing a tough future because an OCFA transfer would mean lower salaries, less lucrative pension benefits and even some rank demotions.
But Vasin said his members are willing to sacrifice to help get through the budget crisis. However, because the OCFA proposal includes more paramedics, he wondered whether council members would still push for private paramedics, which he argues would trigger higher fees for residents.
“We want to make sure it’s the best for the community and provides services that won’t raise taxes or fees for citizens,” said Vasin.
Vasin said his union paid the $25,000 fee to OCFA for the needs assessment on fire protection as part of negotiations with city council members over the past year.
City CEO Tom Hatch told council members staff would begin researching all their questions and prepare responses within four to six weeks.
“This is just the start of it,” Hatch said.
— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.