In what was touted as a historic day, Santa Ana and Orange County Fire Authority leaders signed a contract to have the Fire Authority absorb the city’s 128-year-old fire department.
The contract signing, under the gaze of television cameras, was ceremonial, as authority and Santa Ana leaders have already approved the contract.
“We had a lot of soul-searching, a lot of figuring out: Is this the correct thing to do? At the end of the day I believe this is the right move,” said Mayor Miguel Pulido, who signed the contract along with authority board Chairman Mark Tettemer.
Outsourcing fire services is the biggest part of the city’s plan to climb out of a $30-million budget hole. It is expected to shave $10.5 million off the general fund budget going into next fiscal year and free money stored in internal service funds.
How much extra cash will be transferred into the general fund because of these savings is yet to be seen, but interim City Manager Paul Walters, who is also the city’s police chief, said he expects it to amount to several million dollars. “Now all of the sudden, next year your whole formula changes,” he said.
Council members reiterated their expectation that the authority will provide a level of service comparable to the Santa Ana Fire Department, which is seen as top-notch. “Whenever they [residents] call, they’re going to get the same service they’ve always gotten,” Pulido said.
The city’s fire service, however, will drop from a minimum staffing level of 63 firefighters at all times to the Fire Authority’s staffing model, which calls for 48 firefighters on duty in the city.
Under ratings issued by the Insurance Services Office, which rates fire agencies for the insurance industry, the Fire Authority ranks in most areas of the county as a class three agency, which is two notches below the Santa Ana Fire Department’s class one rating. That could mean higher property insurance rates for Santa Ana residents.