Disappointing more than 200 people who packed the council chambers, the City Council postponed making a decision Tuesday night on a controversial, two-year, $21.2-million contract with city firefighters.
The council voted 4 to 1 to delay the vote until Oct. 26, citing a need for more information.
The council responded to concerns raised by the Orange Taxpayers Assn., which is pressing the city to study the feasibility of contracting with the county for fire services. The council directed City Manager William F. Cornett Jr. to provide a tentative timetable for the city to switch to county fire services, in case the council opts to contract. Cornett is to report within two weeks.
According to members of the taxpayers' group, contracting with the county for fire services could save the financially troubled city as much as $2 million per year. In spite of layoffs and service cutbacks, Orange faces a $2.1-million shortfall in its $47-million budget for the 1993-94 fiscal year.
"If you pass this contract," said taxpayer association member Alice Clark, "you'll close the door on real budget savings and ratify something that people think is very, very bad."
Councilwoman Joanne Coontz, who opposes the contract with the city's firefighters, cast the dissenting vote against putting off the decision. The councilwoman argued that contract information obtained in the next two weeks would be "superficial" at best.
But firefighters, who said they were baffled by the council's action Tuesday, pointed out that the proposed contract would save the city $1.8 million over the next two years. Before Tuesday night's meeting, representatives of the Orange City Firefighters Union were informed by city negotiators that the council would approve the contract.
"The city is getting a heck of a deal," said Richard Alarcon, president of the 116-member firefighters union. "Obviously, we aren't very happy about (postponement of the vote). I don't know what's going on."