Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/02/2010 06:23:20 PM PST
COLTON – In the latest effort to find better – and cheaper – ways of operating, Colton officials are exploring the possibility of disbanding the city fire department and contracting with an outside agency.
The City Council unanimously approved contracts totaling $187,570 with San Francisco-based consulting firm Harvey M. Rose Associates, LLC to perform “operational performance audits” of the Fire Department and Colton Electric Utility.
A work plan for the fire audit states auditors will evaluate alternatives for paramedic services, such as “private and/or public service providers.”
The costs and benefits to contract with CalFire, the state’s fire agency, the San Bernardino County Fire Department and nearby cities will be analyzed, the plan states.
“I’m going to have to look at all the options here very close,” said Councilman David Toro. “The people of Colton are going to expect that same level of service. If there’s a cheaper way of doing it, that may be an alternative we’re going to have to take a good look at.”
The city’s fiscal woes are well known. The recession has forced the closure of many businesses, resulting in huge drops in sales tax, the city’s top income source.
State adjustments have further dwindled sales tax income. Some residents and council members say mismanagement by former top administrators has exacerbated financial troubles.
Over the past 12 months, the city’s work force has been slashed to deal with multi-million dollar deficits. About 90 employees were laid off or had their contracts severed and 16 employees have accepted early retirement offers to save the city money.
The city’s fire union and other employee groups have accepted pay cuts and other salary and benefit concessions to cut costs.
New City Manager Rod Foster, who began his tenure in December, proposed the audits so an unbiased outside source could evaluate the fire and electric departments for efficiency and provide recommendations for increasing revenue to help fund city services. Both audits will begin this week and should be completed within three months, Foster said.
The hope is that the audits will provide several recommendations that will save money to help close a $950,000 deficit city officials have projected at the onset of the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Business owner Gary Grossich says Colton pays too much for its fire services. If faced with companies that provide the same product, it’s common business sense to go with the one that charges the least, he said.
“It only makes sense to get the same service for less money,” Grossich said. “I think that’s what (the audit is) going to show. They’re going to find out that we’re paying substantially more than other cities our size in our area that have contracted out (fire services.)”
Colton budgeted about $10.2 million to pay for its fire and paramedic services in the fiscal year ending June 30, although that figure has likely dropped due to three employees in the department who were laid-off late last year.
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