Citizens To Water District: Time For Cuts

HELIX WATER DISTRICT – The board that oversees delivery of water to most homes in East County met Thursday and heard from a few of their customers who have been complaining about employee benefits offered by the district.

Russell Buckley, David Smyle and David Stanley – three La Mesa residents – each told the board in their own ways that it was time to start cutting back on benefits that they believe now clearly exceed standards.

Buckley, Smyle and Stanley all cited pension benefits that don’t require employee contribution and health benefits that cover employees and their families without employee contribution.

The board listened politely but because the board is currently in negotiations with the employee unions left it to Mark Weston, general manager of the district, to respond to the citizens concerns.

Weston acknowledged the challenging economic times and said the district has been responding by looking for every way possible to cut costs. He listed savings of $5.6 million last year and $4.5 million this year. He also pointed to the fact that Helix Water’s rates are the lowest in the metropolitan area “which suggests we’re doing some good things here,’’ he said. He praised the district employees as among the best in the business and said they are considered leaders in the region.

But Weston also acknowledged that the downturn in the economy in 2008 changed things. In 2008, he said, it had been routine among water districts to offer full-paid pension and health benefits to attract the best talent and keep the crucial water systems running at peak efficiency.

But the economic downturn and decreased water consumption had changed the district’s revenue picture.
Weston and board members could not discuss current on-going negotiations with their employees but presumably the issues Buckley and company brought up are on the table as they have been in cities and municipal board contract negotiations across the state.

“These are different times now,’’ was all Weston could say. “Your comments don’t fall on deaf ears.’’
The board did acknowledge the need to conserve in defeating a proposal to donate $1,000 to the East County Chamber of Commerce, saying it must limit spending to purely water-related matters these days.

The board then adjourned to executive session to discuss the negotiations aimed at developing a memorandum of understanding with its unions for when the current contract ends in July.

Here is the text of Buckley’s statement to the board: HWD%20Meeting%20Feb.%2016%2C%20by%20Russell%20Buckley.pdf.

Here is a link to Stanley’s account of the meeting: http://www.lamesatoday.com/profiles/blogs/pebbles-against-the-stone....

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Tags: David Smyle, David Stanley, Government, Helix Water District, Mark Weston, Russell Buckley

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Comment by David Stanley on February 19, 2011 at 4:51am
"If I cant have it no one else can either". I'm sorry but I cant let this pass. It sounds as though Miss Parker is accusing those of us who are willing to stand up and actually say something of fostering the socialist line of thinking, like that of Obama, Marx and seemingly every other Democrat in our country. Those listed espouse similar ideas in that all should suffer equally, except of course the ruling elite, in this case the Progressive Socialist Democrats and those stupid enough to mindlessly follow their Pied Piper lead. I was a forced member of a Public Employees union for 33 years and watched as they, along with the other two unions in the City, gradually wrested control from the City. Oh, the City bragged how they were the tough ones but in fact the unions continued to creep further "under the tent" each year. A few of us continually urged our union reps not to shout and demonstrate for ever larger raises, etc., realizing the "Golden Goose" effects. We also watched as the City just stopped paying into the retirement fund, rather electing to channel designated monies toward profit making investments for themselves. Thus the massive retirement deficit faced now by San Diego. No, we do not subscribe to nor do we seek, as you say, "If I cant, they cant". Rather, we, those few of us who will stand and speak, seek relief from rate hikes which in turn tender swell benefits for union employees but deeper hardships for rate payers and citizens, of which YOU are one as well. I/we are sorry you cannot spare the time to address the issue but we shall continue, even though, as I stated before, its exactly like "Tossing Pebbles Against A Stone Wall". David Stanley
Comment by David Smyle on February 17, 2011 at 10:07pm

Miss Parker:

 

Not sure if you are a public employee enjoying some of the spoils of war or in this case lousy negotiations but thanks to our very trustworthy (I use the term very loosely) policiticans like Pete Wilson and Gray Davis among others, La Mesa had to increase it's sales tax by .75% to survive, El Cajon by 1.25%, the county by .5% and of course the state by 1% and all of them are still in the crapper because of excessive pension benefits, one sided calculations of losses and gains and over the top other benefits.  Who allowed this to get to this point?  Who was negotiating on behalf of the taxpayers during these past negotiations? The people who allowed public employees to have such a lavish pension plan and to keep adding on to it through the years as if public employees deserved to be treated better than most everyone else in the working world and yes, employee beneifts are also part of it, should have been fired on the spot.  For a non-management employee to be given 4.8 weeks of paid time off after the first year of employment and have 12 paid holidays and have 100% of medical premiums paid for while contributing absolutely nothing to their own retirement is ludirous while the company also voluntarily also pays into the socisal security system for the employee and add $500 more in defined contribution payments.  Even for a higher degreed management employee, most of the benefits are still excessive. Most private companies have tiered vacation benefits for newer versus seasoned employees but the vacation time starts at 10 days and sick time at 3-5.  IT IS also about the employee benefits in addition to pensions.  I am not jealous, but I can choose not to support a private company's policies if I feel I am paying too much for their product by not buying their product. I don't have a choice when it comes to water or city services so I can be more vocal about the expenditures of these agencies if I feel they are out of line compared to the

Comment by Russell Buckley on February 17, 2011 at 8:28pm
Miss Parker. It is about both fundamental fairness and affordability. The money paid to public sector workers in salary and benefits doesn't come from some inexhaustible source. Before money can be used to pay public sector workers, it must first be taken from tax/rate payers. Certainly, tax/rate payers should expect to pay a fair price for services received. So part of the issue is what are fair compensation and benefits - fair to both rate/tax payers and public sector employees. Right now, in almost every public sector agency in our state pensions far, far exceed those in the private sector. The majority of the cost of those pensions is paid by those in the private sector who stand to retire with much, much less. I think that unfair and that alone is enough for me to argue for lower pension costs to our rate/tax payers. But, a second reason to stop the excesses is that it is driving our state and almost every city in to financial distress. Good progressive programs are being defunded so that we can keep supporting gold plated pensions for public sector employees. The city of La Mesa's CalPers pension account is underfunded by $32 million! The HWD CalPers pension account is underfunded by about $13.5 million. Our State is billions of dollars away from balancing its budget. If we really did have an inexhaustible supply of money, I would like for all La Mesa residents to retire with the $12,000 a month that our recent fire chief did after 30 years of work. Unfortunately most will work much longer and pay much more for much less.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on February 17, 2011 at 2:16pm

Nice ad hominem (circumstantial) fallacy, Miss Parker.

Comment by Miss Parker on February 17, 2011 at 11:33am

At least Mr. Buckley admits that it IS all about the employee benefits. I can understand the “If I can’t have it no one else can either” mentality.

Comment by Russell Buckley on February 17, 2011 at 9:43am
Mr. Weston was apparently stung by some of the comments made and chose to "defend" the HWD and its employees. I certainly have no complaints about what they do. When I turn on my spigot, I always get a good flow of clean and safe water. That isn't the issue. Mark also pointed out efficiencies the district has implemented. I'll take his word for it - but that is what we should expect from our public sector employees. That isn't the issue either. What is the issue is the major disparity between public sector workers pensions and those that most private sector workers can anticipate. There is simply no justification for the enormous disparity. It is fundamentally unfair. It is also a major factor in the destruction of our state's finances. HWD has a 13.5 million dollar unfunded pension liability (La Mesas' is $32 million). A steadily increasing amount of your water fees goes to support pensions. Pensions are the issue. They need to reigned in in a meaningful way immediately.
Comment by Miss Parker on February 17, 2011 at 9:39am

Thank you for clarifying that it is only about the rates. I must say that the stories I have been reading here and on another related website are misleading in that regard since all they seem to be about is the employee benefits:

“Russell Buckley, David Smyle and David Stanley – three La Mesa residents – each told the board in their own ways that it was time to start cutting back on benefits that they believe now clearly exceed standards.”

“let the Board know their continued acceptance and promotion of these excessive employee beneifts EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PACKAGE are not acceptable”

“Three citizen activists spoke Wednesday at the Helix Water District board meeting, decrying what they called the unfair and inappropriate employee pension plan the district operates under.”

Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on February 17, 2011 at 9:35am

"Steadily creeping incrementalism"--that's how I've always thought of it, David.

Or, maybe, "the steady incrementalism of (bureaucratic) creeps?"

Comment by David Stanley on February 17, 2011 at 8:14am

Miss Parker, IF it were a matter of paying "about $1 a month" no one in the entire City would have any problem. If I/we thought THAT were the issue, hell, I would pay double, as the HWD provides excellent service and product. No, ITS THE RATES!  The HWD and every other business, particularly government, depends upon your attitude and lack of concern, "It isnt worth my time to go to these meetings to complain ...". Recall when gasoline prices were still somewhat reasonable? Also recall how the prices did not leap from $.50 a gallon to over $4 in a day, a week or even a month or even a year?  They inched up penny by penny, nickle by nickle. Look what is happening to them even

today: penny by penny, nickle by nickle. Prices for milk, bread, meat, clothing, utilities, literally everything. When confronted, businesses cite their own costs and taxes. If you are not aware of it, businesses DO NOT pay taxes - YOU DO in the form of higher prices. Some of us are privy to the really great benefits and income of the HWD employees. I/we do not necessarily fault them for these benefits because they won them through negotiation. That "Negotiation" is at issue here. If you are wealthy and comfortable then you certainly wont find it "worth your time" to "complain".  As  I look about the economic landscape I discover each business, company, government continues to "INCH' up their monetary demands. No one is the culprit.  The analogy to apply is "THE CAMEL STICKING HIS NOSE UNDER THE TENT". First the nose, then the neck, then the hump then he's sitting at your table, smoking a cigar and dealing cards, asking for another sandwich.  Get It? If someone, anyone can at least try to hold "The Camel" for atime it will benefit everyone. But, if its not "worth your effort" dont bother and continue to pay higher bills.  Some of us will keep trying.  David Stanley

Comment by Miss Parker on February 16, 2011 at 9:56pm

From what I understand, each ratepayer on average pays about $1 a month toward the HWD employee benefits. Doesn’t that mean that even if they take away all benefits from them that our rates will not change much and will continue to go up? You can complain about public employee pensions all you want but it won't change what you pay on your water bill I'm sure. It isn't worth my time to go to these meeting to complain about an extra $12 a year.

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