First published in the Dec. 24 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
By Alexandra Applegate
Thanks to a unanimous vote at the last City Council meeting of the year, a number of municipal employees will be granted one-time inflation relief and a medical stipend, while a handful of Glendale Water & Power mechanics will receive a one-time retention stipend.
This comes as many employees have reported challenges over salaries’ failure to keep pace with the cost of living, with recruiting and retaining much-needed talent in Glendale, and over a decline in morale. Currently, the city has more than 200 vacant positions, a situation that has forced staff members to take on additional work and undertake projects with smaller budgets.
“I’m very proud of our dedicated staff across all the departments who have been working hard to maintain existing service levels without impact to the quality and the level of service they provide,” said City Manager Roubik Golanian.
More than 1,300 full-time salaried and 115 full-time hourly city employees will receive a one-time payment of $3,500 to offset some of the financial repercussions from steep inflation rates seen across the country.
An estimated 730 employees will also collect a one-time medical premium stipend to make up for the large cost increase that employees saw as part of the city’s health plans. Premiums more than tripled — from around $90 a month to $330 a month this year — costing employees around $1.7 million in out-of-pocket costs.
“My understanding is that across the board, we’re not competitive with other cities when it comes to pay,” said Councilwoman Elen Asatryan. “We need to look at taking care of our employees in a way where they’re actually able to put food on the table without having two or three jobs to do so.”
The Finance Department guessed these payments will cost around $6.9 million, with $4.7 million of that coming from the city’s General Fund. This fund makes up the bulk of Glendale’s budget and is used to pay for many of the core functions of a local municipality, including keeping the water running or filling potholes.
Director of Finance and Internet Technology Jason Bradford said the General Fund’s revenue from the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, finished better than officials had anticipated. This was largely due to residents’ spending, which generated almost $4.5 million more in sales taxes than expected as local businesses continued to recover from the pandemic. The city will use some of this excess cash to provide the one-time payments to its employees.
“We have this budget savings, and a big part of that is that staff has been doing more with less,” said Councilman Daniel Brotman. “They’ve been underspending. In a sense, what we’re doing is thanking them for that and returning some of that to them because they’ve all been working so hard.”
Additionally, 13 GWP employees will obtain a one-time retention payment of $7,500 to incentivize them to stay in Glendale. The pay will specifically go to electric line mechanics who maintain the electric grid; they will be even more valuable to the city as it moves toward 100% clean energy electrification. Those funds, which will total $97,500, will be absorbed into the GWP electric budget.
Golanian said GWP has experienced “major challenges in attraction and retention” because employees are leaving Glendale for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power or private contractors for the signing bonuses and higher compensation they offer.
“We normally have 25 linemen. Now, we’re down to five,” said GWP General Manager Mark Young. “Nobody will come to Glendale because they’re extremely underpaid [here].”
Further, the council also approved the creation of two new mid-management staff classifications and added two new positions to the city roster. The new staff classifications include a principal electrical service planner, who will coordinate with municipal departments and GWP as the city transitions to clean energy, as well as a claims analyst, who will work in the City Attorney Department.
The other two new positions will both reside in the Community Development Department and include an inspector II and a building code specialist III to offset the increased workload from planning applications and inspections. None of these changes require additional funds, as those salaries will be soaked up by their respective departments’ budgets.
Finally, six current employee classifications will see salary bumps to bring them into alignment with the current labor market. As part of an annual review, the Human Resources Department requested that any electrical engineering assistants, utility locators, senior utility locators, custodial supervisors, employee health coordinators, police records administrators and the police chief all see salary increases.
Though the discussion ended on a positive note, council members also observed that future budget talks may be more difficult and less optimistic. The federal government’s pandemic relief funds, or the American Rescue Plan Act, were a one-time gift and will leave a hole in the city’s budget once those funds dry up in two years. Talks will begin in April to cement the next fiscal year’s budget.