Police Pay Ratchets Up

Police took over the Cress Street beach access for a command post during a toxin scare.
Police took over the Cress Street beach access for a command post during a toxin scare.

Pay for Laguna Beach police employees now falls within the top third of similar departments within the county under a recently approved contract, according to the city manager and union representatives.

Under the 38 month contract, retroactively effective Nov. 7 and ending Dec. 31, 2019, the department’s 50 sworn officers will see cumulative pay raises of 12.5 percent, while the remaining 30 employees will see cumulative pay increases of 9.5 percent each year, says a staff report.

The pay boost and additional salary incentives for officers with advanced degrees, rising to 7.5 percent of salary from 1.5 percent over the life of the contract, should help the department recruit new hires and stem losses of veteran officers, said Zach Martinez, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employee Association.

“We have good cops. They want to stay,” said Martinez, who noted the recent departures of veteran officers of Jeff Irvine, Matt and Kevin Meadows and Detective Julia Bowman were largely due to better pay elsewhere.

Because state legislation in recent years required public employees increase their contribution towards their own retirement pay, Martinez claims department employees have not seen a net pay increase in eight years. “It’s a good start,” said Martinez, a 15-year Laguna Beach officer, who patrols the downtown. “We’re on the right track,” he said.

Over the last four years, police pay increased by 6 percent, but their individual contributions toward pensions amounted to 9 percent of pay, City Manager John Pietig said in an interview. Prior to the legislative change, the city had paid all employee pension contributions, he said.

By the expiration of the new contract, newly hired sworn officers will be contributing 12 percent of their salary towards retirement, though contributions of some hired earlier will remain at 5.75 percent of salary, a staff report says.

Fire department employees already are contributing 12 percent of their salary towards their retirement benefits, Pietig said. Other municipal employees contribute 8 percent of pay towards retirement, he said.

The contract received City Council approval without comment Tuesday, Nov. 22. Negotiations began in May. “They were more difficult because employees had a long time without their take home pay increasing,” said Pietig, who declined to discuss the specifics of initial proposals.

The pact will increase the department’s operating budget by $270,000 in the current fiscal year and add $350,000 annually over the term of the contract, says a report by Finance Director Gavin Curran. In the current budget, $400,000 had been set aside towards the anticipated impact of labor negotiations, the report says.

As part of the negotiations, the police employee union surveyed pay of 20 law enforcement agencies in the county in August, said association officer Darin Germaine.

Results showed that pay for Laguna’s sergeants and officers ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, among the survey group. The comparison excluded some benefits such as vacation-sick-holiday time and salary comparisons on longevity, bilingual skills, special assignments and shift differential, which probably presents Laguna’s ranking as higher than it should be, Germaine said.

Now, under the terms of the first year of the new contract, pay for Laguna sergeants and officers now ranks fifth and fourth, respectively, among the 20 agencies surveyed, he said.

“In the end we feel this contract is satisfactory and a good start towards recovering from eight years of status quo and negative contracts resulting in a net 3% loss to LBPEA members,” Germaine said.

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