In a move I wholeheartedly endorse, Colton considering cost of disbanding fire department, contracting out.

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.

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.

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.)”

Highland, which has a population of about 52,000, roughly the same as Colton, budgeted about $4.2 million for its fire and paramedic contract with CalFire in this fiscal year.

One by one, cities ought to contract out fire department services. If unions want the job, they can lower their cost. It is that simple, at least it should be.

All it takes is one major city to do the right thing to cause a nice cascade. Colton isn’t huge, but at 48,000 population or so, it is not “tinytown, population 1,800” either. Trends have to start somewhere. Let’s hope Colton follows through given that it did waste $187,570 of taxpayer money when the solution should have been obvious.

By the way, the best solution is to have volunteer fire departments, but any step towards that end is a step in the right direction.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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