Huntington Beach council cuts expenses, health benefits

The Huntington Beach City Council voted Monday to cut its expense allowances and eliminate its health benefits.

The move is expected to save the city $17,279 to $26,554 per council member annually and well into the six figures over the years from medical cost savings.

The city pays each council member a $175 monthly stipend, in addition to $1,700 for each council member and $2,900 for the mayor annually. The compensation is paid to them for attending meetings or conferences, none of which will be reduced with the new changes.

The changes, however, will drastically reduce the monthly expense allowance from $1,758 for the mayor and about $1,200 per council member to just $125 for everyone.

The cuts will only affect new members elected to the council starting in November. The benefits of those who are currently serving, including Councilman Devin Dwyer, who is seeking reelection in November, will not be affected by the changes.

New council members will also not be able to get medical coverage from the city. The city spends about $30,000 a year on council members who opt into medical coverage, Councilman Keith Bohr, who pushed for the cuts, has said.

The council voted 4-2 in favor of reducing the council members' benefits, with Councilmen Joe Carchio and Joe Shaw opposed. Councilwoman Connie Boardman was absent.

The council voted with no discussion or comments, but two people spoke in opposition to the cuts, saying they aren't fair to newcomers and that the council shouldn't assume that everyone getting elected is financially well off.

"Don't vote on it if you don't want it or won't accept it yourself," said resident Pam Vallot. "Otherwise, you may find yourself with the label of royal hypocrites."

The city attorney's office advised the council that under state law, they are not allowed to change their own benefits, only the ones of future council members.

Carchio said Tuesday that he voted against the cuts because they're unfair.

"I just didn't feel like it was the right thing to do, and it doesn't affect me," he said. "I just felt it was eliminating a whole section of people that would run."

Carchio added that he would have probably been fine if only the health benefits were eliminated, but didn't think cutting the expenses was fair.

Council members have to pay their way to attend community events. Eliminating their ability to be reimbursed could lead some to be not as involved with the community as they could be, Carchio said.

Bohr has said the council members should lead by example and reduce their budget just like the city staff has done.

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