Costa Mesa Police helicopter cut – what next for ABLE?

Costa Mesa Police helicopter cut – what next for ABLE?

16-Feb-2011 Source:

Late Tuesday evening, the Costa Mesa city council voted 4 to 1 in favour of cutting its “Eagle One” police helicopter program and eliminating two jobs which paid a total of almost $275,000.  Costa Mesa has been one of the two major partners with Newport Beach in the ABLE “AirBorne Law Enforcement” program, which operated three Eurocopter EC120s.  The city of Santa Ana was the third, and lowest contributing, city in this California group.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece voted against the move, wanting to allow more time for discussion and exploring alternatives.  The helicopter program had already been cut back at the start of this fiscal year, with plans to fly 1,500 hours this year, half last year’s figure.

Costa Mesa must notify Newport Beach and Santa Ana officials by March 1 about ending the program, according to a police memo.  There’s no early termination clause in the lease for the helicopter’s hangar though – the contract there runs through April 1, 2012, and will cost another $119,000 next year, even if the program is disbanded before the July start of the next fiscal year.

If the whole ABLE program is shut down, some of the program’s $4 million reserve (much of it for engine overhauls) would return to Costa Mesa city funds – at a time when it is predicting a $1.4 million budget shortfall this year.

The helicopter sergeant and three pilots are among Costa Mesa’s best-paid employees. All earn packages of over $180,000 with Sergeant Timothy Starn reported to be among the department’s top six earners.

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