Laguna Beach City Council to mull raises for elected, appointed officials

The Laguna Beach City Council and city staffers pose for a photo at the Promenade on Forest on June 15. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The Laguna Beach City Council will consider Tuesday whether to give its members raises, including an option that would bump their monthly compensation to nearly $1,000.

Councilmembers currently earn $908 per month and haven’t seen an increase in their pay since July 2018, according to a staff report.

The proposed options include increasing compensation based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index, which is 5%; match the raises for city employees over the last two years, which is 2.5%; increase it by 10%, which is the maximum allowed per state law; or offer no increase.

Under state law, any raises wouldn’t take effect until Dec. 8—the state date of new terms for councilmembers who are elected in the November election.

The City Council will also mull similar hikes to the compensation for the Planning Commission, Design Review Board, and Arts Commission. These raises could take effect Nov. 1.

Planning commissioners and design review board members currently make $392 per month. Art commissioners earn $137 per month.

If councilmembers go with the most generous raises for themselves and commissioners, the annual cost to taxpayers would be as much as $11,800, according to the staff report.

The vote on pay raises for Laguna Beach’s elected and appointed officials arrives at a politically sensitive time.

Mayor Bob Whalen and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow are in the middle of reelection bids.

The Orange County Registrar of Voters reported a 451% increase over 2016 in the number of mail-in ballots already ready returned by Oct. 10 at this same period in the election. It’s unclear whether Laguna Beach councilmembers’ decision on whether to raise their own compensation—with less than a month before the election—would have changed the minds’ of voters who already completed their ballot.

In September, Laguna Beach reported that revenues were down $7.4 million across all city funds compared to what had been anticipated for March to June 30. This is a better result than the $12 million budget shortfall the City Council planned for back in April.

However, the city’s financial planning is based on many Laguna Beach hotels making good on the local transient occupancy tax deferral program, which delayed collection until Nov. 1 because of the pandemic’s strain on the hospitality industry. City staffers are expecting about $1 million to arrive by this deadline.

To prepare for a steep decrease in anticipated hotel and sales revenues, city employee unions and managers forfeited 2.5% raises they were promised to help Laguna Beach weather the pandemic’s economic fallout.

“The uncertainty surrounding the spread of the coronavirus as businesses and schools reopen, the flu season, a potential vaccine, recession, and pre-coronavirus pressures on retail make the remainder of this final year nearly impossible to predict,” wrote Gavin Curran, director of administrative services.


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