Wu: What if we outsourced police, fire?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite comic books was "What If … "What If Phoenix Had Not Died?"?"

If you remember the movie "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006), you might recall that Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen) dies in the end. The comic book dealt with what would have happened if Phoenix had lived.

Long story short, her fury swallows up the entire universe.

With that in mind, I'd like to play, "What If …" with the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

"What if … Costa Mesa and Newport Beach outsourced their fire departments?"

Oh boy, right? Costa Mesa has already toyed with that idea for a minute or two, but backed off. Why?

But before I do that, let's examine the word "pride."

According to dictionary.com, pride is defined as, "a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc."

While the Bible, Proverbs 16:18 says that "pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall," and Dante called pride the "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor."

And of course pride is considered the original and the most serious of the seven deadly sins.

But on the positive side, there is national pride, especially when the United States wins a gold medal in the Olympics, or gay pride, ethnic pride and even city pride.

Costa Mesa and Newport Beach residents and their City Councils are very proud of the fact they have our own police and fire departments, regardless of cost. Costa Mesa and Newport Beach deserve it, and their residents are willing to pay more for it.

But "What If" you could get the same service, from the same people, at the same excellent level … for less, while ensuring that your former employees earn more than before?

More you say?

Would it matter that instead of the city of Newport logo on the fire truck, it said County of Orange?

The people on the trucks would be the same.

Consider the city of Santa Ana, where the 128-year-old Fire Department was just dissolved. The city now contracts with the Orange County Fire Authority, to the savings of almost $10 million.

The biggest uproar at first involved pride for Santa Ana having its own Fire Department, with its own firefighters, most of whom had served in the city for decades.

But hold your horses, because the OCFA offered all 192 firefighters employment, according to the Orange County Register, "contingent upon them passing a physical exam and background check."

So the firefighter saving lives in my neighborhood will potentially be the same guy, just in a different uniform?

Not only that, but as the Register reports, because the city's pensions are done through the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, while the county uses the Orange County Employees Retirement System, or OCERS, the new Orange County firefighters, who were collecting the 3 at 50 formula pension, could retire from CalPERS, start collecting their pension if they are 50 or older, while earning their salary with the county and working toward their additional OCERS pension.

Talk about double dipping, right?

So not only will Santa Ana be served by potentially the same firefighter, wearing a different uniform, but that firefighter could be earning a generous pension from Santa Ana while earning their salary from the county.

Why did Santa Ana swallow its pride and switch to the county?

Finances. Pure and simple.

Finances trumped city pride.

Santa Ana faced major budget deficits, plus major unfunded pension liabilities, and found that they could get the same level of service from potentially the same firefighters, all the while saving them almost $10 million.

Now, Newport Beach isn't nearly in the same boat. Not only are the budgets balanced, but in the 2011-12 fiscal year, the city will probably end it with $4.4-million surplus.

But year-over-year budget surpluses or deficits aren't the issue as both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach face more than $200 million in unfunded pension liabilities each.

So if part of the contract would be for the county to hire all the displaced Newport Beach and Costa Mesa firefighters, we would be getting the same service, from the same firefighters, but with a different logo on their trucks and uniforms, all the while saving millions in taxpayer dollars, while letting the firefighters double dip, why wouldn't the city councils be jumping at this?

Win-win for everyone involved, right?

Except there's the pride.

I'm proud to be a Newport Beach resident, with my Newport Beach-branded firefighters and police officers.

But "What if" the cities looked into this? "What if" they could save millions of tax payer dollars?

As an aside: HappyMother's Day(Yes, my mother is proud of me; a mother's love is blind indeed!)

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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