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Placer County Water Agency 2 percent pay hike first since 2009

Dissenting board member wants more open discussion on wages
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A 2 percent raise will be increasing the Placer County Water Agency payout to workers for salaries by $329,000 this year. While one board member is saying the pay raise question should have been given a more open public forum, other officials say employees were due their first raise since January 2009 and the increase in salaries will help maintain morale. The agency, which has a total cash payout to employees of about $21.3 million a year, has 180 employees. Its overall budget for 2011 was $87 million. The water agency posts salary ranges for all its job positions on its website. The Journal requested a more detailed look at compensation, including several numbers not included in the agency figure to arrive at a figure for total compensation. A Canal Operator 1 with six years experience for instance, is receiving an annual salary increase from $48,283 to $49,248. Benefits of $37,938, bring total compensation to $87,187. For an Office Assistant II, with five years experience, a 2 percent pay raise means an annual increase from $45,984 to $46,904. Benefits increase total costs to $67,098. David Breninger, general manager of the water agency for the past 20 years, is the highest-paid and compensated water agency employee. He was the lone employee not to take a 2 percent hike. Compensation figures provided by the agency after a Journal request showed Breninger’s current base salary is $216,172. That’s the figure posted on the water agency’s website but doesn’t include vehicle allowance or longevity pay. The agency recognizes long-term employees with a 2.5 percent raise after 10 years of service and another 2.5–percent adjustment after 20 years. With those two additions, Breninger’s 2012 compensation rises to $234,015. Like other managers and employees, Breninger also receives a variety of benefits, including health, dental, vision, group life, long-term disability and workers compensation insurance. The agency also pays for pension costs to the California Public Employee Retirement System. For Breninger, the agency pays a total of $67,257 to CalPERS this year. All told, Breninger’s projected pay, compensation and benefits will total $330,084 this year. The agency’s other seven top-level managers received a 2-percent pay increase that will boost their salaries but also, correspondingly, increase their total compensation. The numbers are: - Director of Administrative Services Mike Wilihnganz - $145,154 annual salary, with vehicle allowance. Total salary, compensation and benefits is $205,269. - Director of Customer Services Matt Young $118,769 ($179,677) - Director of Field Services Mike Nichol $153,706 ($231,868) - Director of Financial Services Joseph Parker $155,058 ($219,071) - Director of Power Systems Generation Jay L’Estrange $146,025 ($217,315) - Director of Technical Services Brian Martin $169,027 ($242,652) - Director of Strategic Affairs Einar Maisch $196,818 ($279,046) Mavy said after the Jan. 19 meeting that he voted against the raises because of current economic conditions. “This is not the time to be handing out raises,” Mavy said after the meeting. “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.” But more recently, Mavy said that he’s concentrating on trying to bring any salary consideration into open discussion and reform the pension system. “I’m for whatever it takes to retain competent employees but we have to know what we’re paying,” Mavy said. “With pensions, you won’t know for years and years.” On Jan. 19, the agency board went into closed session at 3:25 p.m. and returned at 3:51 p.m. for a report from the closed session. It adjourned five minutes later. During those five minutes, the meeting record show s Wilihnganz reported that the last cost-of-living adjustment employees received was on Jan. 1, 2009. The memorandums of understanding included a wage reopener clause, which noted that if the consumer price index for the period Nov. 2010 through Oct. 2011 exceeded 2.5 percent, both sides agreed to negotiate a potential wage adjustment, Wilihnganz said. The consumer price index for the period was actually 3.7 percent, directors were told. Wilihnganz bargained with three units – power, water and confidential – and reached an agreement for a 2 percent raise effective Jan. 1. In addition, all three units agreed to extend their current memorandum of understanding for one full calendar year through Dec. 31, 2013. The management team was also recommended for the raise. Director Gray Allen of Roseville made a motion to grant the 2 percent raise, and all supervisors excluding Mavy, voted in favor of it. Director Lowell Jarvis suggested giving Breninger the 2 percent raise but the memorandum stated Breninger discouraged them from doing so. Staff retention a raise reason Wilihnganz said the decision on recommending a raise was based on needing to retain staff, having a stable work force and continuing to provide good service. Negotiations with labor unions were positive and collaborative, he said. “They felt 2 percent was more than fair,” Wilihnganz said. “It maintains morale and maintains a stable work force. By and large, employees look forward to coming to work here every day.” Director Alex Ferreira of Lincoln said that the board did have an open discussion “but not much” with a final decision made in open session. “We should try to be fair if we can to employees,” Ferreira said. “They agreed to take the 2 percent and nothing more.” Mavy described the state pension plan the agency is involved in as “a racket,” with PERS promising a benefit but local governments paying more if the pension plan’s investments don’t reach their goals. “There’s no way of knowing how to fund it,” Mavy said. “It’s unfair to future generations.” Ferreira, who collects a Placer County PERS pension for his service as a supervisor, took a more optimistic stance, noting how the pension provides a financial cushion for him and many other retirees. He added that Cal PERS investments are starting to look better. “I was with the county for 24 years and get a very good pension – I’m pleased,” he said. “And it looks like things are turning around.” Auburn resident Stuart Dodge said he attended an agency meeting and became concerned about the water provider’s stance on ballooning pension costs. Dodge said he questioned whether the agency’s dependence on a formula that predicted 7 percent returns on CalPERS investments was sustainable. “The way they’re going to have to do it is keep raising rates,” Dodge said. “The board members are all fine people but they’re caught in a time warp and not seeing it.” Both Parker and Director Mike Lee have said that there are no plans to raise rates.