Officer keeps command pay for closed helicopter program

He will handle day-to-day management of the helicopters, including looking for the best way to sell them, according to Costa Mesa city manager.

July 28, 2011|By Joseph Serna,

COSTA MESA — The head of Costa Mesa's police helicopter program will continue receiving extra pay to oversee the program's dismantling, city officials said Thursday.

AirBorne Law Enforcement commander Sgt. Tim Starn's pay this year is budgeted at $150,116, thanks to specialty pay for being the ABLE commander, a helicopter sergeant and having certification by the state's Police Officer Standards and Training, or POST, commission.

He earns about $12,510 a month, or about $1,900 more than a top-tier sergeant in the normal department organization who also has a POST certificate.


Records show Starn's total compensation — with specialty pay, overtime, medical benefits and pension — was $241,000 in 2010.

His salary, however, will be reduced about $22,436 annually without the commander and helicopter sergeant pay increases, said assistant finance director Colleen O'Donoghue.

Starn's pay is split equally between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach while ABLE is still in existence. However, when the equipment is ultimately sold and the agency is dissolved, Starn will be folded back into normal department operations and will have to take a pay cut.

Costa Mesa will have to pick up Newport's half of Starn's salary once that happens.

The 10% POST bonus will remain. Many sworn officers in the department have POST certificates and get a similar pay increase, department officials said.

Even though there are no pilots to supervise or calls to which he must respond to, that doesn't mean he's not working, said city Chief Executive Tom Hatch.

"In terms of what he's doing now, [they are] day-to-day management of the helicopters, paying bills, documenting and filing appropriately, administrative work," Hatch said. "It's been a program for so many years.

"There's document imaging to be done, paperwork to keep track of. The helicopters are valuable pieces of equipment that need to be flown to be sharp. He's exploring what's the best way to sell helicopters and coming up with options."

Hatch added, "Will he be doing that for the entire year? I highly doubt it."

The Costa Mesa City Council voted earlier this year to close the ABLE program, arguing that it was too costly. The city is expected to save up to $1 million a year in annual costs, and receive up to $2 million this year from unspent cash in the program's reserves.

The helicopter service was grounded July 1.

Starn will likely be put on patrol when ABLE is dissolved, said Sgt. Zack Hoferitza.

There are no openings in the department's detective or special enforcement detail, he said.

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