As water agency prepares for financial windfall, grand jury expresses planning concerns

Panel praises water provider for lean, efficient organization
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
A grand jury report is recommending the Placer County Water Agency plan more for the future, including how to spend the tens of millions of dollars in profits it may be earning annually from the Middle Fork Project. The agency is working toward assuming control over the Middle Fork Project’s series of revenue-generating reservoirs and power plants in 2013. But a report recently issued by the Placer County grand jury, is expressing concern over how the Water Agency will use its share of what could turn out to be as much as $20 million a year in total net revenues just more than a decade after the 2013 relicensing date. The report notes that the agency board of directors recently approved a resolution indicating what types of projects could be funded by the expected additional revenue from the sale of power from the Middle Fork Project. The list includes water rights protection, supply development, conservation, recycling, groundwater management, replacing aging infrastructure and development of extensions to serve existing neighborhoods. “This is an excellent start but the list is so broad it provides little guidance to PCWA staff,” the grand jury said. The grand jury said that interviews with management and leaders of organizations dealing with the agency indicate that the water provider – one of the largest special districts in the county – is an “efficient, lean organization” with a stable work force. While it didn’t delve into pay to employees, the agency has recently started posting salaries on its Web site. The top pay level, for example, for the agency’s Director of Strategic Affairs Einar Maisch is between $177,500 annually. For Director of Technical Services Brian Martin $157,081 and Director of Financial Services Joe Parker $145,211. General Manager Dave Breninger’s annual pay is set by the board at $216,172. Wally Reemelin, president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, said that the grand jury is on the right track by recommending more specific planning by the Water Agency for Middle Fork Project revenues. “There will be a lot of money so plans need to be formulated,” Reemelin said. On the grand jury’s conclusion that the agency is a “lean” organization, Reemelin said that water rates could be lower. Reemelin added that Breninger’s salary seems to be “a bit high for what he’s doing.” “The governor only gets $179,000 a year and he has more responsibility,” Reemelin said. The report stated that Placer County’s population increased 14 percent between 2004 and 2009, while revenues, expenses and capital assets with the Water Agency increased by 30 percent, 54 percent and 95 percent respectively – and staff increased by only 7 percent. Breninger said that the grand jury input is always welcome. “We’re always pleased to have the grand jury take a look and we’re diligently looking at responses now,” Breninger said. “I think they’re helping us to look several more horizons ahead. We’re in a position for great opportunities many local governments don’t have.” Recommendations by the grand jury include: n Establishing an ongoing process to prioritize and rank proposed projects that will be funded from the additional revenue expected from the sale of Middle Fork Project power n Increase staff within the agency’s strategic affairs division to provide backup and continuity for key positions and ensure all issues are getting the required attention n Develop formalized plan to develop internal candidates and outside sources for key staff and management positions The report said that the workforce has been stable, with most of the management having worked together as a team for several years. “However its workforce is aging, with most of management being eligible to retire now,” the grand jury said. It’s recommending a better succession plan for replacing key positions within the agency, particularly Maisch’s and Breninger’s. For the agency’s eight top executive and management positions, the grand jury found an average age of 57 and average length of service of 24 years. Breninger told board members that grand jurors and staff met March 1 to discuss the report again, with a focus on its recommendations. A response to the recommendations is due with the grand jury by May 17.