Last week we pointed out that the La Mesa Spring Valley School District has an unfunded liability for retiree health care of almost $24,000,000. That amount of money should have been set aside to pay for promises to provide for health care after retirement - but it was not. We decided, in the interest of fairness and requested by some taxpayers, to look at two other local public sector employers - The City of La Mesa and Helix Water District - to see if they also have unfunded retiree health care liabilities.

     We are happy to report that the City of La Mesa does not have an unfunded liability for retiree health care. However Helix Water District (HWD) does, to the tune of almost $25 million. It is surprising that HWD has an unfunded liability greater than LMSV because their workforce (about 150) is so much smaller than that at LMSV (over 1,000). It is disappointing that HWD has any unfunded liability at all. Under the category of "better late than never" HWD is in the process of funding an account to pay for retiree health care.

    The estimated 2013/14 cost of this one benefit - retiree health care - is $2,582,092. Had the district been paying as they went along, that amount would have been "only" a little over $800,000. Think about it - rate-payers are paying $2,582,092 for retiree health care alone. The cost of other benefits, such as active employee health care and pensions, are much larger - and then there are salaries. Since the Board of Directors is unwilling to bring HWD benefits in line with those paid in the private sector, it is not difficult to see why water rate increases have become an annual event, nearly as predictable as the swallows’ yearly return to San Juan Capistrano. 

 

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Tags: City of La Mesa, Helix Water District, La Mesa Citizens Oversight Group, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District

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Comment by David Stanley on August 22, 2013 at 9:54am

"Nobody saw that coming"??  Are you kidding? Its expected and they almost always come through with those expected raises in rates. Any monopoly, when not challenged, will continue to do the same time after time and Helix, like SDG&E will never let you down.  And when you do challenge them you, the entire community is ignored and should a response be forthcoming it will always contain platitudes explaining the hard work of the employees, the great work of the employees, the grand service provided to the community and then, "Tough! Whatcha gonna do about it?". And the citizens and community roll over like puppies and break out the check books!

Comment by La Mesa Citizen Oversight Group on August 22, 2013 at 8:29am

Helix Water to raise rates for two years. Nobody saw that comming!

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/aug/21/helix-water-raise-rates/

Comment by David Stanley on August 21, 2013 at 5:50pm

I understand the feeling regarding Police and Fire. I held a commission with both the Monterey Police Dept. and the San Diego Police Dept. for over 33 years. I understand how the union works, demanding money rather than looking for the good of the community. I also understand how the citizens feel and react when the words of "layoff" and "cutting services" are uttered. That said, how can a confrontation be made with this Council and particularly THIS MAYOR? I study events and write about them but damned few even bother to read. My opinion pieces, I fear, only allow me to vent my frustration at most or all things governmental. Suggestions are certainly welcome. David

Comment by Kevin G George on August 21, 2013 at 4:53pm

Back at you David, you're welcome.

As for the Mayor and Council, Madrid and Ruth Sterling were in office when the disastrous public employee union contracts were negotiated and signed.

Your suggestions are great, but the chances of a 15% cut to do anything are those of a snowball under a blowtorch. They swear they have cut all they can cut. The only option is layoffs and cutting services.

The really bad thing is that there are still people out there who are unaware of this $31,000,000 liability, partly because City budgets across the State were not required to include these pension liabilities as a budget item, kicking them down the road for someone else to worry about. This year there is new legislation requiring them to do so, hopefully that will change things.

A while back I was at a Town Hall meeting put on by the City of La Mesa. At that meeting Russell Buckley, La Mesa's Citizen expert on the pension crisis, pointed out this problem to the Council and audience. When he concluded the crowd cheered him.

Shortly after that a woman stood to scold the audience for cheering about cutting police and fire benefits. She was insulted that we would want to do that to our dedicated employees. We all know that police and firefighters are necessary and we all appreciate what they do. But what is lost on this woman, and many others, is that this rollercoaster ride is coming to an abrupt halt. There is a point where the City of LM will have to remove police and firefighters from the payroll simply because there will be no funds to pay them, because we will be spending our tax money to pay the retired workers.

There is a mathematical end to all this and it is almost here.

Comment by David Stanley on August 21, 2013 at 4:03pm

Kevin, I returned to the piece and read, "...the City of La Mesa does not have a unfunded liability for retiree health care". I read the piece several times and just could not find mention of the "$31 million" for their pension fund. Perhaps this subject should have been covered as well. If the politicians of La Mesa, like San Diego, the HWD, teacher's unions etc. have allowed this monster to be born perhaps said politicians should, need to be, must be removed in favour of more responsible personnel? People that will actually address the matter rather than looking at and listening to the fluff regularly thrown at the Council by special interest groups? Each member of the Council should be made to explain their lack of action in allowing this $31 million debt to develop and then all should be removed and replaced. If I were a "citizen" of La Mesa I think this is something I would rather enjoy: standing in front of the City government and cutting 15% from EVERY budget and moving that money into that figure you quoted. What does your magnificent Mayor say in explanation, that is when he is town and not on his special junkets? By the way, thanks for letting me know about this issue. I appreciate it. David

Comment by midge hyde on August 21, 2013 at 3:52pm

It seems about time we all started to question these kinds of benefits for public employees.  I am constantly amazed at what is happening with public employees while the rest of us are struggling.   Where do these programs begin? Who is responsible for setting them up and enforcing them?

The water people all over California were briefly covered by the UT and I was doubly insensed. The Helix Water Dist. people are only the tip of the iceburg in this catagory.  Who do we complain to?

Comment by Kevin G George on August 21, 2013 at 2:56pm

David, if the City of La Mesa's $31,000,000 unfunded liability to Calpers pension system is one of the issues, I would say "being on top of it" has left the building. 

 

 

Comment by David Stanley on August 21, 2013 at 2:41pm

Kevin, I understand it is about health care but it would appear that La Mesa is at least making the effort to stay on top of the issues unlike many or most other cities. The key word here is "Liabilities".

Comment by Kevin G George on August 21, 2013 at 11:46am

David, don't get too carried away, this has nothing to do with pensions, this is about health care.

La Mesa still has a multimillion dollar unfunded pension liability problem.

Comment by David Stanley on August 21, 2013 at 7:30am

Having read this piece, I am very proud, once again, of our City/Village. Seems someone is doing something correctly in staying ahead of liabilities. Sadly, San Diego continues to teeter because they, in their towering wisdom, elected to actually steal pension monies owed and make losing investments. They then glossed over their stupity and CONTINUED to do the same thing again and again. Thank you La Mesa.  for not following San Diego's lead. Then there is the school district. Remember: "Its for the children"! Owing millions in liabilities, they are always quick to toss out pay raises and great benefit packets for Administrators and, of course, THE UNION!  Now! The Water Company. Having had some public dealings with these guys in the past and, like you, continuing to pay exorbitant and ever climbing rates and bills regularly, I  am never surprised at their arrogance and, "Whatcha gonna do about it" attitude. Running a monopoly is an extremely profitable  business - witness Helix Water. And they, like San Diego, are far smarter than the average household, forced to live within their means and maintain budgets, etc. Like San Diego, Helix Water steals the monies owed and "dabbles". Oh, and dont they post pretty brochures in our mail as they also announce their latest con to raise their rates yet again?

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