Member Buckley Says: Don't Be Fooled Again

Our Helix Water District Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on an 8.8% increase in water rates this Wednesday (August 18th). It seems like we are bombarded by tax and rate increases. For example, the recent State of California 1% sales tax increase; the recent City of La Mesa 0.75% sales tax increase; two recent increases in the City of El Cajon sales tax; the City of San Diego proposed 0.5% increase in sales tax; and the narrowly rejected 0.5% sales tax increase in Lemon Grove.

These seemingly small increases in our taxes, taken by them selves, will not send most of us to bankruptcy court. On the other hand, they are not nearly so innocuous - especially when taken together - as public employee unions and elected officials would have us believe.

Take, for example, the small (0.75%) Prop L sales tax increase in La Mesa. It was estimated that it would raise about $7 million - in fact the actual figure was closer to $6 million because of the slowdown. That $6 million comes from tax payers pockets. It equates to a little over $100 yearly from every resident (even the newest baby) of our city - $400 for a family of four. Those who favored the tax increase reminded us that if we wanted services (fending off gangs and fixing potholes) we had to pay for them. Nothing was said about the cost of the unreasonable pensions the public sector unions and the City Council had negotiated. A majority of us, good citizens all, voted to increase our sales tax.

As the Union Tribune pointed out before the election, reducing those overly generous La Mesa public sector pensions to a reasonable amount would have just about eliminated the need for the tax increase. Making pensions reasonable for State and City and District governments statewide can save an estimated $500 Billion over a 30-year period! That is enough to make a difference - even in California.

We face a similar (to the La Mesa tax increase) situation today. Our elected representatives - the Board of Directors at HWD - want to increase water rates to, at least in part, support pensions far more generous than those provided to most private sector workers.

I recently sent the HWD Board members a letter asking that pension costs be reduced before they vote to increase our water rates. I favor providing fair pensions for public sector employees. Pensions should be sufficient for a "full career" employee to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed while working. It is fundamentally unfair to ask the ratepayers to provide any more than that. I specifically asked that the Board make the following two reductions in pension costs before increasing water rates: (1) eliminate the requirement that ratepayers pay the "employee portion" of CalPers pension costs. Just like with Social Security, employees are supposed to pay part of CalPers pension costs. They need to start doing so - now! (2) offer new hires a less generous CalPers plan that is available for those who also receive Social Security. That plan will allow a full career employee, who is also receiving Social Security, to maintain pre retirement lifestyle. It will, at the same time, treat ratepayers fairly. A defined contribution plan is an acceptable alternative.

I ask those of you who agree with me come to the rate increase hearing at 2:00 p.m. next Wednesday and let the board know how you feel. We need to stop the madness in public sector pensions that is destroying the financial viability of virtually every public sector organization in our state.

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Tags: Government

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Comment by David Stanley on August 25, 2010 at 8:30pm
Mr. Kane, I have no interest in sitting on a "watchdog committee" and "watching" the theft continue. I would be willing to run for and take one of the seats away from the sitting thieves. That way someone could physically stare them in the eye and call them exactly what they are - Lackeys for employee unions and special interests. I have no need of their salaries or benefits so an unencumbered and cannot be bought!!!
Comment by Steven S. Kane on August 25, 2010 at 11:02am
David: I apologize for taking so long to respond to you. Your questions are fundamental to the process of political action. In these message exchanges I see the nucleus of a "watchdog" consumer group to be organized to supervise the decisions of the HWD board. This is what elected officials can expect when they show contempt for the opinions of voters. If changes in board membership are necessary, as I believe they are, that can become a goal of the group as well. Of course, this type of action is long-term and requires time, money and dedication on the part of the participants. I would be willing to participate if such a group is contemplated. I suggest that further messages on this subject be off the public comment board.
Comment by Steven S. Kane on August 24, 2010 at 3:05pm
From the East County Magazine article, it looks like we have two HWD board members who are representing the ratepayers and three who are representing the employees. An adjustment must be made. The contention that ratepayers must "just pay more" is unacceptable where there has not been a concerted effort to cut costs, mainly in the area of compensation.
Comment by Kristin Kjaero on August 24, 2010 at 1:55pm
You can read about the meeting at http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/4011 .
Comment by Russell Buckley on August 24, 2010 at 1:36pm
Hi Andy. In answer to your question: The meeting lasted for about two hours before the break when I left - and it was a week ago, so my memory of the specifics is a little fuzzy. But here are a couple of examples that that I remember pretty well: (1) The General Manager opined that pensions for HWD employees are about the norm - but he means the norm when compared to other water district employees, who, like almost every public sector employee in California are provided over the top pensions relative to the norm in the private sector. (2) Board member Charles Muse cited statistics I guess intended to show that pensions really aren't so bad. I believe he said that the average HWD pensioner receives only 64% of income at retirement. That may not sound excessive to you - but what Charles didn't mention is that the average HWD pensioner worked only 26 years to earn that amount - and doesn't contribute anything for it! (3) One of the Board mentioned that several neighboring cities have recently raised taxes - that is true, but the reason they needed to raise taxes at all is largely their excessive public pension costs. (4) One Board member tried to justify the increase by mentioning how much less public water costs than bottled water. So What! Public water was neither discovered by HWD or invented there. Water this country has always been inexpensive. I fail to see the connection between relatively inexpensive water and overblown pensions. Those are four that I remember. In the ongoing tug of war over the public's money, the employees do a very good job of speaking for themselves. We rate payers depend on the Board to speak for us. If those comments are indicative of the attitude of those speaking for us, we are in trouble!
Comment by David Stanley on August 24, 2010 at 10:25am
Mr. Kane. I am more than willing to do just this thing. Whom do I contact? Where must I go? You can rest assured that I would not smile and nod at any of these groups. I am self serving only in that I am sick of the ever rising taxes and fees only to support employees and unions!!!!!
Comment by Steven S. Kane on August 24, 2010 at 9:55am
David, thanks for your question and comments. The main qualification is the commitment to serve the public rather than any special interest and conduct an independent view and analysis of each issue that comes up. The responsibility of a board member is to serve the voters and ratepayers, not the employees, and, as we have seen demonstrated recently, these interests often do not correspond. Anyone who will consistently serve the public is qualified and will bring a great deal to the table. I urge you to get further involved and translate your enthusiasm into action.
Comment by David Stanley on August 24, 2010 at 7:19am
Mr. Kane, who is qualified and what does it take? If I thought I could bring something to the table I would consider running. If I could get on the board there would be at least one voice who would stand up against the spend crazy politicians running things!!! David
Comment by Andi Esposito on August 23, 2010 at 4:51pm
Will Russell be writing about what exactly happened at the water district meeting? I assume the rate increase was agreed to, but what about the discussion? Ratepayer in Massachusetts
Comment by Steven S. Kane on August 23, 2010 at 3:03pm
Well, elections do take time, but they come along and there is action that can be taken in the interim. Thanks for your attention and concern about these important issues which are almost completely ignored by citizens and voters. We should be looking for qualified, public-spirited citizens who are willing to run for the seats in question and establish a board that is responsive to the public.

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