Savings could be significant

Some of the contract savings will not be realized until the city of Costa Mesa hires new firefighters, so it is hard to gauge long-term benefits. In the near term, officials have identified $420,000 annually from current employee pension contributions.

If interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold implements his restructuring plan, the city could operate with six fewer firefighter positions, bringing annual savings of about $1 million, city Finance Director Bobby Young said.

Also, the new firefighters' pension plan could save the city $400,000 annually, according to the California Public Employees' Retirement System, Young said. New firefighters will have to pay their full pension contribution — 9% of their compensation — and they will have less generous pensions. Young made the caveat that CalPERS payments are hard to forecast, and could actually increase if the system's investments lose value.

The projected savings do not include the cost of new equipment — which is estimated to run in the millions — or the financial impact of closing Fire Station 6, as Arnold has proposed.

If the City Council decides Costa Mesa should take over the billing of ambulance services — another one of Arnold's proposals — it could bring in significant annual revenue.

Some of those future decisions are politically fraught, city officials acknowledge.

"We have a concept that we feel pretty comfortable with," city CEO Tom Hatch said, "but we don't have all the details ironed out."

— Mike Reicher and Lauren Williams

Twitter: @mreicher and @lawilliams30

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