Like all the City of Morro Bay’s employees, its contracted law firm will be getting a modest raise in rates under the latest amendment of the firm’s contract.

The City Council approved the fifth contract amendment for Aleshire & Wynder, LLP, the law firm the City hired on an interim basis in March 2014. By the end of that year, A&W had become the permanent city attorneys and has represented the City since then in all legal matters through a team of attorneys and office help.

The new contract is also a “Thank You” to the firm for cutting its rates last year to help the City with its coronavirus pandemic financial crisis.
“From March 2020 through December 2020,” reads a report by City Manager Scott Collins, “understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the community and City and participating in the Rock Solid Together financial and economic recovery plan, the A&W volunteered a rate reduction and write-offs to

City totaling a 10% discount on the invoices during that period of time, saving the City over $60,000 in legal fees.”
A&W hasn’t gotten a rate increase since 2018, when the various rates were hiked $10 an hour.
Collins proposed a $5 an hour increase for A&W, plus “a limited travel reimbursement of no more than 3 hours,” together they add up to about 7%. That’s how much City employees had their salaries increased — 2% in 2019 and 5% with the latest budget.

The new rates are:
• First 50 hours of general services — $180/hour;
• Hours over 50 for general services — $200/hr.;
• Special services — $220;
• Insurance defense — $165;
• Private party reimbursement — $265;
• Paralegals/law clerks — $135; and,
• Document clerks — $75.

Collins said the rates are comparable to what other firms charge their municipal clients, which can range from $150-$321 an hour for general legal services. In 2018, when the City put the contract out for bids, Collins said the average bid for a senior attorney doing general services was $244 an hour, making A&W a real bargain.

In the Fiscal Year 2021/22 budget, Collins said, they budgeted for $483,823 for general legal services and $356,000 for the Water Reclamation Facility project. Costs can add up fast and sometimes seem to be wasted.

Indeed, the City spent some $250,000 on a lawsuit against Vistra Energy, owners of the Morro Bay Power Plant, filing an eminent domain case for the first time in town history. The suit was seeking to force the company to grant two utility easements through the plant property as part of the WRF.

The City offered $200,000 and Vistra wanted $6 million. The case was eventually settled out of court for $1.
Collins said the budgeted $483,000 is enough. “Based on hours billed in FY 2020/21,” he said, “the proposed FY 2021/22 budget would adequately fund the $5 per hour addition and the proposed travel reimbursement.”