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Council approves consultant funds to restructure city departments

Up to $200,000 will go toward an outsider who will try to help the city save money and close the budget deficit.

February 15, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

Editor's note: This clarifies that the City Council wants to hire multiple people for consulting services.

COSTA MESA — In an attempt to spend money to save money, the Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday approved with a 4-1 vote to spend up to $200,000 to hire outside consultants to help restructure city departments.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissented.

Several residents spoke against bringing in outside help, telling the council its members were elected to make these decisions and that it doesn't make sense to hire others to figure out how to restructure the city amid its $1.4-million budget shortfall.

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Councilman Jim Righeimer reminded the public that many of the decisions Tuesday night are not just about saving the city money this year, but in the coming years as the city is expected to contribute more and more to employee pensions.

Hiring consultants to help the soon-to-be city manager, Tom Hatch, and the city staff figure out how to restructure areas like the fire and police departments is necessary, Righeimer said.

The City Council also considered dissolving its police helicopter program shared with Newport Beach. The move would save the city more than $1 million in annual expenses, but also cost four police officers their jobs.

Costa Mesa Police Assn. President Jason Chamness tried to persuade the council early in the meeting to keep the AirBorne Law Enforcement program. He introduced the four young officers on the chopping block if the city grounds ABLE.

The four men are a mixture of college graduates and military veterans, all hired in 2008, Chamness said. Because they're on the bottom of the seniority totem pole, if ABLE closes, its pilots and engineers will be folded back into normal department operations and displace these four, he said.

The council had not made a decision on the program as of press time.

The move was only one cost-saving step the council was faced with Tuesday.

In an additional 4-1 vote, this time with Councilman Eric Bever dissenting, the council approved contracts with several city employee associations. City firefighters and police officers will now contribute to their own pensions instead of having the city covering the cost, saving the city about $1.1 million this fiscal year and more than $6 million in the following two years.

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