Irvine’s City Council has directed city staff to explore the possibility of leaving the Orange County Fire Authority in 2020. The Council wants to find a more cost effective way to provide fire protection services to city residents. If Irvine can find an alternative that constrains firefighter compensation – especially overtime pay– it may be on the right track. Hundreds of firefighters working for the OC Fire Authority receive $200,000 or more in total comp, largely as a result of generous overtime and pension benefits.

As with most cities participating in OC Fire, Irvine property taxpayers fund OC Fire through a portion of their 1% ad valorem tax. According to the Authority’s most recent budget, OC Fire receives 11 cents of every property tax dollar and Irvine property was assessed at a total of $61 billion. This implies that Irvine property taxpayers are paying $67 million annually for fire protection. That amount is roughly equivalent to cost of Irvine’s city police. Since police forces typically have more headcount than fire departments, it is reasonable to think that the city could handle the job of fighting fires more economically.

Having determined that Irvine is the nation’s most fiscally fit large city, I thought I would check out OC Fire Authority’s finances to see how they compare. The Authority’s financial statements, while reasonably healthy, are not nearly as robust as those of the city’s – and its difficulties are mostly attributable to high pension costs.

OC Fire’s actuarially required pension contributions have doubled from $33.8 million in 2007 to $67.3 million in 2016 – and now account for 19% of its total revenue. To the authority’s credit, it has paid more that its actuarially required contribution to OCERS for each of the last three years, thereby preventing a deterioration in the funded ratio of its pension plan – which was most recently reported to be 68.90%.

One driver of the Fire Authority’s retirement costs is employee overtime. Under the firefighter’s union contract, pensions are based on “final compensation”, defined as the average compensation for any three calendar years chosen by each retiree (presumably his or her three highest paying years).

And OC Fire pays a lot of overtime. In 2016, overtime costs increased by $6.3 million over 2015. Overall, budgeted overtime in 2017 is $45.4 million. OC Fire – or a successor agency – can limit spending over the long term by reducing overtime overall and severely restricting the amount of overtime available to higher paid personnel.

3 Responses to Orange County Fire Authority’s Hefty Overtime Bill a Bad Deal for Irvine Taxpayers

  1. Tough Love says:

    Short of a hard freeze (ZERO future growth) of the DB Plans of all CURRENT Public Sector workers, OUTSOURCING is indeed the logical alternative.

    When “employment” ends, so does all future growth in their pensions …. and likely any obligation for retiree healthcare benefits as well.

    Public Sector workers are NOT “special” and entitled to greater pensions and better benefits …. on the Taxpayers’ dime.

    The decades-long financial mugging of Private Sector Taxpayers by the insatiably greedy Public Sector Unions/workers, and enabled by Elected Officials whose favorable votes on Public Sector pay, pensions, and benefits were BOUGHT with Union BRIBES disguised as campaign contributions and election support must end …. now.

    Taxpayers …. get OFF your duff and DEMAND CHANGE !

  2. Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

    I would eliminate OT, or cut their base salary in HALF. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, CPA and so forth are “exempt” employees, yet they make :LESS than the average CA FF. Eoither exempt FF or cut their base salary in half, then they can have all the OT they want.

    • KenCoop says:

      That’s not true. Doctors (depending upon their specialty) make significantly more than FF.

      That’s a myth you’ve been pushing for years any place someone will listen to you.

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