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Chiefs propose money-saving measures

Newport's fire, police budget suggestions include outsourcing police helicopter, phasing out city rescue boat.

May 10, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

NEWPORT BEACH — The police and fire chiefs on Tuesday proposed a series of austerity measures to the City Council that would total up to $3.4 million combined.

If implemented, the departments' 2011-12 fiscal year budgets could outsource the city's police helicopter, eliminate or replace the school D.A.R.E. program, reduce the number of full-time lifeguards, and phase out one of the city's three rescue boats.

But even with the proposed $1.5 million in cuts to the Fire Department and $1.9 million to police, the city would add police officers to the street and would preserve all of the firefighter jobs through reorganization.

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"This plan will improve public safety," Police Chief Jay Johnson said at Tuesday's City Council study session.

He plans to move officers from desk jobs onto patrol, adding six people onto the streets now and six in the future. The Police Department is actually hiring.

In the Fire Department, Chief Mike Morgan proposed reducing the full-time lifeguard staff during the off-season by five — from 13 to eight — and laying off about five office workers in other parts of the department.

Lifeguards

The staffing, Morgan said, "needs to be able to move fluidly with ocean and weather conditions."

Morgan's proposal relies on some full-time lifeguards to stay on staff, but to work only during the peak warm months.

Mayor Mike Henn said he was concerned that the city wouldn't have someone with their level of experience to train the part-time guards.

Council members said they received many letters from people concerned that reducing the full-time lifeguards would compromise safety on the beaches or would hurt the Junior Lifeguard program.

Under Morgan's proposal, which City Manager Dave Kiff supports, the Fire Department's community volunteer trainer would fill one of the Junior Lifeguard positions previously filled by a full-time guard.

But Lifeguard Management Assn. President Brent Jacobsen said the volunteer coordinator wasn't qualified enough to train the Junior Guard staff.

"We're not going to have those outstanding Junior Lifeguard instructors," he said.

Morgan also proposed phasing out one of the three rescue boats that the city operates.

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Based on the reaction from the council members, Newport will likely continue some sort of helicopter patrols, but the program may not be owned and operated by the city.

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