Arroyo Grande Council cashing in on benefits

November 18, 2019


The Arroyo Grande City Council voted to increase their monthly stipends by sixty percent! On top of that, they agreed to award the mayor an additional $150 per month. It is their intention that these increases will begin just after the Nov. 2020 election for the “new” council. Mayor, Caren Ray Russom, Mayor Pro Tem, Kristen Barneich and recently appointed, Lan George are all up for election.

The public will not get to vote on these increases, yet they could — if the council wanted to — put the mayor’s $1,800 annual increase on the ballot.

The public is invited to attend the two upcoming city council meetings where the ordinance that is being prepared for the council to cement their decision will be heard. Become informed by subscribing to the city’s eNotification list by simply logging on to the city’s website, agenda’s will be posted with at least 72 hours’ notice. Keep an eye out for these public hearings so you can attend and make your thoughts known.

The council’s Nov. 12 decision to increase their stipend came on a night they had scheduled a discussion on upcoming water and sewer rate increases and moving drainage expenses to the county tax rolls. They chose to make this $16,380 addition to the city’s annual budget ahead of finding ways to fund important infrastructure related increases.

The council had this “difficult conversation” without the meat of the matter in front of them.

What does the city already pay out and which council members are benefiting the most?

Since being sworn in to serve the city on Dec. 11, 2018 when Ray Russom became mayor and Keith Storton and Jimmy Paulding joined Barneich on the council they have each received $5,265.00 as a stipend ($405 per month). Appointed councilwoman George began collecting in January, to date, she has received $4,455.00.

A stipend is distinct from an income or a salary because it does not necessarily represent payment for work performed; instead it represents a payment that enables somebody to be exempt partly or wholly from waged or salaried employment in order to undertake a role that is normally unpaid or voluntary, it cannot be measured in terms of a task.

What also wasn’t discussed or presented fully was the cost to the city associated with council member fringe benefits. In addition to the stipend, the city pays its council members and mayors medical insurance, dental and vision along with a small monthly set aside for Public Agency Retirement Services.

Over the same period of time, the total paid out in fringe benefits to council members is staggering in a city that is struggling to stay afloat.

George $563.44
Ray Russom $1,579.48
Paulding $17,181.41
Storton $20,960.48
Barneich $23,762.80

The inequity in benefits hinges on the benefit packages chosen by each council member and the coverage for their families. Other’s healthcare benefits are provided for by their ‘day jobs, or coverage from their spouses employment. In the case of Mayor Pro Tem Barneich, her husband works for the City of Santa Maria and is allowed to take a cash equivalent from that city for the benefits he refuses – burdening two sets of taxpayers.

In the case of Mayor Ray Russom, she’s employed by the Santa Maria school district which is the same insurance company as the city, the school district requires her to insure at least herself, so she was unable to cash out as Barneich does.

Councilman Storton is retired from the City of San Luis Obispo; he has a very nice pension, but chooses to take advantage of Arroyo Grande’s health benefits and in some cases, council members employers provide better benefits and choose to opt out of the city’s benefit packages.

Unfortunately, due to the contracts with the vision and dental providers “all city employees” must be covered and council members and employees cannot opt out of those benefits even if they are already covered by another plan.

Over the last two years the city has struggled to generate additional revenue to remain in the Five Cities Fire Authority, and cover other city services. As it grapples with cut-backs in services, encouraging retirements, laying-off staff, closing City Hall on Friday’s, and threatening to cancel the Halloween in the Village tradition. The council has also increased city fees across the board and is considering an increase in sales tax, too.

All tolled nearly $90,000 in stipends and benefits have been paid to this council in just one year of service. That kind of money could go a long way toward defraying city expenses. A selfless city council should put service back in public service.




So pray tell – what is so different between what AG mayor and council are doing than what Trump is doing? Other than on scale – both basically boil down to the idea that politicians can do whatever they want to do – voters be damned. Be it at the local level or at the national level – with all of the decisiveness and rancor that exists today – is any surprise that things like this are done?

When elected officials know they can do things like this, with very little chance of being held accountable, then why not do it?

Basically these things happen because of a vastly uninformed electorate. This leads to politicians saying one thing and then doing something else.

I will bet that all those up for re-election will have a very different ‘song and dance’ by next August and will be saying how much they have sacrificed and how much they have done for the citizens of AG, etc., etc., etc. But none will mention the fact that they feed at the trough and like the little piggys they are – they always want more and more and more.

The answer so simple, it is almost laughable – just vote them out.


What’s wrong with looting and voting for a payday? When did this become a problem?


After it’s too late?


It is noteworthy that there is nothing available for 2018 as the rest of municipalities listed. Also the top several highest paid employees are in recreation.

Why is that?

Never thought that I would agree with a Godless Heathen, being an Infidel myself. Thank you Julie Tacker.


Check out Cal Polys football coaches salaries and benefits. And by recreation, you can say college sports. And the players, minus a scholarship; which is awesome, don’t get paid!.


Cal Poly is a state scheme.

Arroyo Grande is different…


How are public servants paid more and have better benefits and double dipping benefits than people with real jobs?


It’s called the privileged class.


With votes.



I AGREE with Mrs. Julie Tacker!

I think, by now, most of us understand that Caren Ray Rossum & Co. are corrupt and using our local government as a piggy bank, and we must replace public officials who do not work to provide government services efficiently and at a cost affordable to taxpayers.

Additionally, Caren Ray Rossum ran a dirty, negative campaign for mayor, and one of her best friends and campaign volunteers was indicted for several felonies as a result of her work on behalf of Ray Rossum. Is this the kind of person we want as a leader?

I say let’s dump Caren Ray Rossum and elect a leader we can respect and trust.


AG had a leader to respect but voted him out. No sympathy here.


If enough citizens care and can remember why they should vote.


Oh look Julie has another issue to work your neighbors up about.

As I tell my kids; anyone can identify a problem – I would rather you come with a solution.

Problematic Op-Ed’s write themselves. Solution oriented ones are harder to come by.


Where’s yours?


It’s pretty clear what the solution is.

Eliminate. The. Benefits.


The ultimate solution rests with voters.

Educated voters make smart choices.

Godless Heathen

Politicians are like childern who never learned how to play nice. They need their hands slapped everytime they reach for the cookie jar that belongs to all of us. They need constant supervision. Thank you Julie Tacker.


I expected nothing less from Mayor Ray and Council Member Barneich, their Yes votes were guaranteed. Council Member Storton surprised me most, he talked as though he was firm on waiting until 2022 and then all of sudden lost his backbone. Speaking during his Yes votes he talked about “just getting this issue done so the council can move on to more important issues”, I have news for you Mr. Storton this is an important issue and hopefully you are now a one term council member. You should be ashamed of yourself Mr. Storton.


Totally agree with you, Kayaknut. Given their ‘we’re all for the community’ posturing, I would have expected Storton or someone else on the council to stand up to Russom to not agree to enter into this pay raise discussion in the first place. Let’s thank Paulding and George who stayed true to their community service by not going along with the YES members. AG Residents need to step up next year and VOTE. RAY RUSSOM and her YES people need to leave.