Mix Red and Blue, Get Savings

Los Angeles is looking at a $200+ million deficit this year, and nearly $500 million in deficits for fiscal 2010-2011, so Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to cut costs.  The LA Times reports today that he has proposed combining the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment with the Community Development Department in order to save around $2 million. 

Really.  Don’t laugh.  Cry instead, since they’ll probably spend $3 million in attorney fees to decide the issue. 

(To be fair, Mayor Villaraigosa tried to lay off 1,000 city workers, but has been thwarted so far by the City Council.)

How about consolidating police and fire departments to save some real money?  Having separate public safety organizations just duplicates resources (raising costs, reducing the ratio of field personnel to support personnel), and creates coordination problems ranging from conflicting command hierarchies and emergency procedures down to incompatible radio systems.

Even if the mayor doesn’t feel like pushing two powerful unions under a single roof, there are other ways to stretch public safety dollars.  The City of Beaufort, SC, has hired a consultant to look at combining the city’s police and fire departments.  The consultant immediately pointed out that, since fire department employees spend only 5-10% of their time responding to emergencies, there is plenty of time during their 24-hour shifts for firefighters to do the work of other city departments.

Beaufort’s consultant might call Utica, NY, fire chief Russell Brooks, who favors combining Utica’s fire department with its department of building codes. Brooks thinks the combined departments might lead to more consistent code enforcement, since one department would enforce code standards and bear the consequences if those standards aren’t followed.

Villaraigosa could try a combination – combine police and fire, and then give the firemen clerical work to do while they are not fighting fires or posing for calendars – to bring LA’s budget down.  Of course, he might find out quickly how limited is the benevolence of the Police Benevolent Association.

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