Contract could save city up to $2.9M


COSTA MESA — The city could save $412,000 to $2.9 million over the next five years if it contracts out fire and paramedic services to the Orange County Fire Authority, according to a study released Friday by the city.

Initially, implementing the plan could require a $729,844 to $816,106 investment, but the report’s three outlined options project the city potentially saving millions.

In addition to the startup costs, Costa Mesa would have to pay an estimated $750,000 in transition costs during the first two years of contracting with OCFA. The transitional startup costs from the city’s Fire Department to OCFA were incorporated in the first year’s projected cost to the city.

The plan has the support of firefighters, who believe that the reduced cost and maintained level of service would be a boon for Costa Mesa.

“We feel that under the circumstances we have … O.C. Fire Authority provides professional service … at significant cost savings,” said Tim Vasin, president of the Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn.

The Fire Authority pledged not to cut any sworn firefighters from the city’s Fire Department, if the transition were adopted.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said he has yet to take a close look at the numbers, but wants to remain open-minded about outsourcing options.

“We’re open to look at what’s best for the community,” Righeimer said. “We’re open to all ideas.”

If adopted with 4.5% contract increases, option No. 1 in the study could leave the city in the red, with costs to the OCFA exceeding those for the Fire Department.

Currently the department has 29 personnel working per shift at six stations, with of 10 of those positions being paramedics.

If the city partnered with the Fire Authority, whichever fire stations remain open would be staffed with 23 to 25 personnel, 11 or 12 of them being paramedics.

There are 88 authorized, sworn firefighter positions in the Fire Department.

One of the three options for consideration would affect about 30 to 35 calls a year coming from areas near John Wayne Airport, and extend the five-minute response time by about 35 seconds.

Other options include closing fire station No. 6, at 3350 Sakioka Drive, near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Another option looks at the possibility of closing the city’s aging fire station No. 2 at 800 Baker St., which would soon need renovation and cost the city more money, the report said.

The study included total salary and benefit compensation, which found that Fire Authority firefighters, medics, engineers, captains and battalion chiefs make thousands less in total compensation than Costa Mesa firefighters.

The one field where Fire Authority firefighters consistently made more than those in Costa Mesa was in health benefits. Battalion chiefs and firefighters for the Fire Authority also have more generous retirement plans.

The OCFA would require that any contract with the city be for the long term, preferably 20 years, the study said.

The city would need to give the Fire Authority two years’ notice to end the service.

Costa Mesa’s City Council is scheduled to review the report at its July 19 meeting.