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Our View: PCWA pay hike doesn’t hold water

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In a time of continued slow economic growth that requires many of us to watch every nickel and dime spent, local public entities continue to open their wallets at the most inopportune moments. The Placer County Water Agency’s recent 2 percent pay increase to its employees sends the message that these groups are out of touch with the current economic picture and the struggles rate payers are going through. Now is not the time for pay raises. While the PCWA says this increase won’t affect water rates, it’s hard to see how it won’t, and regardless, it simply seems wrong when many families are struggling. The 2 percent bump will increase the water agency’s payout to workers by $329,000 according to recent Journal reports. Where is that extra money coming from if it’s not coming from water rate increases? Does the PCWA have so much extra capital lying around that it can simply eat the cost of this expenditure? Was this budgeted in during previous rate increases? The bottom line here is the agency’s budget, which was $87 million last year, is getting bigger, and it will have to be balanced somehow. The argument can definitely be made that rate increases could be just the elixir to do that. The powers that be at PCWA say that the salaries were needed at this time to improve employees’ morale, because they haven’t received a raise since 2009. This can come across as insulting to those who haven’t seen a wage increase since 2006 or earlier, and have watched their wages stay the same as everything from clothing to gas has gone up. Another interesting note to this situation is that this isn’t the only pay increase PCWA employees have received. Many long-time workers have been getting increases prior to this recent adjustment thanks to longevity pay bumps. Work at PCWA for 10 years, get a 2.5 percent bump in pay. Stay with PCWA for 20 and get another 2.5 percent bump up. So just for showing up over a period of time you can increase your income by 5 percent. Everyone across the board, minus general manager David Breninger (who is not taking the 2 percent increase but is making $216,172), is getting a bump up, from canal workers all the way up to directors, who were all making six-figure salaries before the increase. What does this do to the state pension system by increasing these salaries? And what about the extra compensation from the county? Now is not the time. One other defense for the raises has been employee retention. It’s a fairly safe bet that if an employee leaves, there will be a large pool of highly qualified candidates hungry for the chance to be in the working world again. The retention argument doesn’t carry much water. In the almost rubber-stamp-like approval of these pay increases by the Placer County Water Agency Board, there is once voice of reason — board director Ben Mavy. In an earlier interview with the Journal, Mavy was quoted as saying, “This is not the time to be handing out raises. People are on the verge of losing their businesses. Others are working longer hours and making less money. It’s callous and cruel to hand out raises at this time.” It’s surprising that only one board member shares this thought process, or is it because they are already benefiting from the system? “I was with the county for 24 years and get a very good pension — I’m pleased. And it looks like things are turning around.” This statement comes courtesy of PCWA director Alex Ferreira. Fairly comfortable pay with quality benefits and built-in pay increases for loyalty should be enough for employees to stay in a tough economy. A 2 percent pay increase and a possible rate hire to pay for it just leaves rate payers boiling.