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Garden Grove May Cut Fire Dept. to Save Money

May 30, 1996|LORI HAYCOX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — Faced with a $7-million budget shortfall, the city is considering drastic cost-cutting measures that could include disbanding its 38-year-old Fire Department if the county can provide similar emergency services for less money.

The city's $48-million budget proposal, issued Wednesday, also calls for a $2-million cut in the Police Department's budget, though no specifics were released. Council members said they will seek alternatives to reducing public safety programs.

The council also directed City Manager George Tindall to notify 46 full-time and 26 part-time employees that their jobs may be eliminated through layoffs or attrition. Twenty-two of the full-time employees would be police officers.

Mayor Bruce A. Broadwater said the city is in such dire financial condition that all city departments will suffer budget cuts during the 1996-97 fiscal year, which begins July 1. But city officials say the Fire Department, which is already short-staffed due to cutbacks in recent years, can't take another hit without closing one of seven fire stations and significantly reducing the level of service it provides for Garden Grove's 154,000 residents.

During a special meeting Wednesday night, City Council members voted unanimously to seek an estimate from the Orange County Fire Authority on the cost of taking over fire protection and paramedic services in Garden Grove. The Authority provides those services for 19 other municipalities.

The council voted to pay the county $15,000 to do a comprehensive review of the department's equipment, staffing and fire stations to determine how they would fit in with other county fire stations in the vicinity. Some officials believe the county will charge less than the $10 million the city now pays to maintain its own department.

"It's the last thing in the world we want to do. We'll lose a certain amount of control and service," Broadwater said. "But I would say it will eventually happen."

Talk of eliminating the Garden Grove Fire Department has some of the city's 87 firefighters worried about the security of their jobs and retirement plans.

"Change is hard to take," said Capt. Dennis Standrod, vice president of the firefighters union. "We have a lot of apprehension. We've become a part of the city all these years. It's a feeling of betrayal that all of a sudden they don't need you anymore."

Standrod said the union will wait to see the county proposal before taking a formal position on the issue.

On Wednesday, the council also agreed to explore the possibility of turning over the management of its water utilities to a private company, which could save the city about $2 million a year.

"By providing to a large area, they can use the same trucks and the same personnel, so the savings are in that economy of scale," said Councilman Mark Leyes, who estimated the city could save $1.5 million to $2 million a year by contracting fire services with the county.

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