Laguna Beach approves $125-million budget for upcoming fiscal year

Laguna Beach City Hall.
Laguna Beach City Hall as shown on Aug. 12, 2021.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach put the finishing touches on its budget talks, approving a $125-million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Some budget revisions addressed public safety and quality of life issues.

The council approved a couple of one-time expenditures with respect to wildfire mitigation and fire safety, a subject that has been the talk of the town following the Emerald and Coastal fires.

A total of $285,000 was set aside for expansions of the city’s emergency outdoor warning system in Bluebird Canyon and other Laguna Beach neighborhoods deemed to be within the very high fire hazard severity zone. Associated projects include the placement of speakers on Morningside and Bluebird Canyon drives.

An allocation of $210,000 will go toward the acquisition of three patrol vehicles for the police department, and another $75,000 will pay for a new vehicle for incoming Fire Chief Niko King, the hiring of whom city officials announced last week. King, who was a deputy fire chief in Sacramento, will begin serving in the role on July 5, following the retirement of Mike Garcia.

Mayor Sue Kempf and Councilman Peter Blake backed funding for the local radio station, KX FM 104.7, as an asset in relaying information to the community, especially in the event of an emergency. The comments came as the council discussed money awarded through the community assistance grants program. The recommendation for the radio station sat at $15,000.

“I’m not taking a penny from the radio station, and that’s hardly enough money to support all of their staff,” Blake said. “… As far as the radio station goes, not only is it a cultural outlet for us, but it’s also a safety situation. In the event of a major fire, that’s the only way that we can communicate with each other is through that radio station.”

No Square Theater and Laguna Beach Community Clinic ($25,000 each), Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach ($20,000), and Laguna Beach Seniors and Laguna Beach Live ($18,000 each) were among the organizations to receive the most support.

Seeking to provide some financial assistance to a few organizations that may not be able to put on major fundraising events, Councilwoman Toni Iseman appealed to her colleagues on the dais to pull some money from the general fund balance to help.

Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center (LBCAC), Seaside Legal Services and Protecting Unwanted Pets (PUP) Laguna Beach benefited from $10,000 moved from the general fund. LBCAC saw its community assistance grant amount doubled to $10,000, while the other two organizations split the remainder down the middle.

The council unanimously approved raises for the city clerk, Ann Marie McKay, and the city treasurer, Laura Parisi. The panel increased the salary of the city clerk by 9%, while the city treasurer received a 4% raise, plus a 5% bonus for exceptional performance.

While the city could not provide specific salary details by deadline, numbers shown on the city’s salary schedule placed the ranges for the elected positions at $9,120 through $13,676 for the city clerk and $5,527 through $8,683 for the city treasurer. Those ranges reflect monthly salaries.

Laguna Beach will continue to have Rutan & Tucker, LLP provide attorney services for the city. The updated contract increased the monthly retainer fee from $12,000 to $15,000.

The city has introduced a neighborhood trolley program, but it does not currently service neighborhoods off Laguna Canyon Road. In an effort to assist residents in that part of town, the council authorized the use of $13,000 from the parking fund to purchase up to 200 Orange County Transportation Authority Route 89 bus passes for residents living off El Toro Road.

City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said OCTA is running a promotion to allow those under the age of 18 to ride for free during the summer. Looking to gauge demand, city officials requested the passes be acquired in sets of 50.

Laguna Beach will also have an additional parking services officer, as the council gave its consent to create the position and make a full-time hire.

Gavin Curran, the city’s director of administrative services, said adding a full-time parking services officer would cost about $95,000. Council members approved the new position, calling it a benefit to residents and to police department operations.

“Our parking people not only write parking citations as the primary task, but they also assist with traffic control,” Civilian Services Administrator Jim Beres said. “Not only downtown but at accidents or special events.”

Beres added that a parking services officer can assist with accident investigations, allowing sworn officers to focus on other duties such as traffic enforcement for issues such as speeding and loud exhaust violations.

“A civilian employee can do accident investigation, but they can’t do traffic enforcement,” Beres said. “Only sworn police officers can do that.”

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