Elected Libertarian Mayor Jeffrey Hewitt, the Region Four representative to the Libertarian National Committee, has taken a bold step toward shrinking big government in his city of Calimesa, Calif. He has led the charge to replace the town’s dependence on the expanding state fire-protection bureaucracy with its own new fire department, enabling his city to fend off the spiraling pension costs that affect many California communities.
The move was lauded as a “model for the state” in an Orange County Register op-ed by the R Street Institute’s Steven Greenhut, author of Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives, and Bankrupting the Nation. The following are highlights from the Jan. 6 article, “Tiny Calimesa’s firefighter changes should be model for state”:
Mayor Jeff Hewitt led the city to curtail its contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and create its own fire department. The main reason is to get out from under the union contracts that make it impossible to shave costs and innovate.
Specifically, the new department will be free to determine its own staffing levels on fire trucks. It will also enable the city to switch from a “3 percent at 50” pension deal that lets firefighters retire at age 50 with at least 90 percent of their…pay and move to a cost-effective 401(k)-style retirement plan that’s common in the private sector.
“In 2012, Riverside County adopted a policy requiring all contract fire service cities to pay for three-person engine companies, despite the already high-quality level of service provided under the previous arrangement,” Hewitt explained. “Calimesa was never asked if there was an actual need for increased staffing, and never agreed to upgrade because the associated costs were simply unsustainable.” Hewitt feared his city was being pushed toward bankruptcy.
By taking control of fire services, and starting fresh with a new department, the city can get its cost under control and actually expand the level of service—including building a new fire station to serve the western neighborhoods and purchasing a new fire truck.