Cities agree to share choppers

Huntington Beach has entered a three-year agreement to share police helicopter services with Newport Beach, continuing a recent county trend of cities partnering with neighbors to cut costs.

The Huntington Beach City Council on Monday voted for the agreement following the dissolution of the AirBorne Law Enforcement (ABLE), a joint partnership between Costa Mesa and Newport.

At $700 an hour, the agreement is expected to generate $2.1 million for Huntington.

More sharing is expected, as Huntington officials are discussing the possibility of sharing other services with Newport and Costa Mesa, and fire services with Fountain Valley, said Huntington City Manager Fred Wilson.

"Cities are realizing that in some areas, it makes sense if they provide similar services to the public," Wilson said. "It's becoming more of a trend, especially during difficult budget times."

When ABLE was dissolved in June, Newport signed a two-month agreement with Huntington; the short-term contract was scheduled to expire Aug. 31. Costa Mesa also signed a six-month agreement for police helicopter service with Huntington. That agreement is expected to be up in December unless Costa Mesa extends it, Wilson said.

Newport City Manager Dave Kiff said his city will get the service it needs from Huntington — a maximum of 1,000 hours a year for both patrol and calls for service — and save money.

Newport paid $2 million a year for ABLE, Kiff said.

The contract with Huntington caps the amount at $700,000 a year.

It's hard to tell at this point whether Newport will continue to renew the service with Huntington, Kiff said.

"Certainly, we'll evaluate the service we're getting and evaluate other options beyond that," he said. "We might work out a private-sector model that would replace our contract with Huntington."

Both cities have 60 days to opt out, according to a Huntington city staff report.

Huntington Beach has three helicopters, but only one is usually up at a time, said Lt. Russell Reinhart.

His department will have to prioritize the response based on the urgency of the calls, he added.

There will be times, though, when two of the three will be up at the same time. That happened for a brief time on the Fourth of July, when Huntington was also providing helicopter service for Costa Mesa and Newport, he said.

Providing the service for neighbors might be challenging at times, but it's not unmanageable, Reinhart said.

The helicopter flies over Huntington for about 2,000 hours a year. The hours will be adjusted to provide services for both cities, and discussions of increasing the hours back to 3,000 a year are underway, Reinhart said. But a decision has yet to be made.

"For the helicopter, the huge advantage is we're neighboring cities," he said. "The helicopter doesn't get stuck at a red light or in traffic. If something happens, they can get there in a matter of seconds."

The money from Newport will go toward Huntington's general fund. The city will use no more than half of it toward supporting the Police Department, but it will be on an as-needed basis, Wilson said.

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