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WESTMINSTER : City to Study Ways to Cut Firefighting Costs

The City Council today will consider ways to cut the cost for fire services, including possibly contracting with the county or joining other cities in a joint fire authority.

Private contractors also would be sought to provide fire services as an alternative to maintaining a fire department, City Manager Bill Smith said.

Smith said contracting with the county could save the city about $1.3 million a year. The Fire Department’s $7-million 1994-95 budget represents about 17% of the city’s $41.1-million operating budget, he said.

“The city’s financial position requires that we also consider service alternatives, including contracting,” Smith said in a report to the council. “We plan to bring proposals . . . (that) can provide the same quality of service at lower cost.”

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The council will consider Smith’s request for $15,000 to pay for a county study on the city’s fires services needs. If the city eventually signs a contract with the county, the money will be reimbursed, he said.

Buena Park and San Clemente recently disbanded their fire departments and contracted with the county, which provides fire services to 18 cities.

“It behooves us to check that out for the community,” Mayor Charles V. Smith said. “The feedback we got (from other cities) is that they’re happy with the service and it’s very cost-effective.”

Smith said the plan to contract with the county “has nothing to do” with continued labor problems with the Westminster Firefighters Assn., whose members have been working without a contract for the past three years.

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In June, the firefighters led an unsuccessful recall drive against Smith and three other council members over budget cuts that included laying off five firefighters. Five top union leaders, including its president, Paul Gilbrook, has since been fired, following allegations of payroll fraud uncovered in an audit last year by the accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick.

The firefighters answered with a civil rights suit against the city. The case is pending in U.S. District Court. The city and the firefighters union also have agreed to non-binding arbitration on the firing of union leaders. But no decision has been reached.


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