More Questions About Public Pensions -- At Helix Water

The Saturday edition of the U/T reported a planned 8.8% hike in water rates for the Helix Water District (HWD). This outrageous action is another instance of our elected representatives putting the well being of public sector employees above their constituents.
While the HWD Board asks ratepayers for more money, they continue to pay outrageous benefits to their employees. You may remember that only a few months ago the Metropolitan Water District attempted to increase pensions. That action raised such a chorus of outrage that they backed down. Do you know that our very own HWD has more generous pensions than MWD! It appears to me that HWD Board members feel they can continue to "fly under the radar" and raid our pocketbooks as necessary to provide lavish compensation to their employees.
Pensions, in particular, are excessive - maybe obscene is a better description. HWD employees are on a 2.5% at 55 program. An HWD employee who starts work after high school at age 18 can retire at 55, with 92.5% of salary guaranteed for life. When Social Security kicks in the percent will increase by (an estimated) 35% to 127.5% of salary! An employee who started after College at age 22 and retired at age 59 would receive similar percentages of final years salary. As a reminder, full Social Security age is 67 - and it is likely to increase.
Amazingly, employees pay nothing for these generous pensions. HWD ratepayers, courtesy of our Board of Directors, continue to pay the employee portion of pension costs - as well as the employer portion. Pensions are guaranteed to the employee forever - ratepayers take 100% of the risk of underperforming investments. HWD pensions are based on highest single year of salary, which means they are fraught with opportunity for spiking (unethical increases in amount). On top of their generous pensions, HWD employees receive Social Security (with a small offset). Medical insurance is totally paid for life.
Most financial planners will tell you that somewhere around 75% of final salary is enough to maintain one's previous lifestyle. Being guaranteed that amount for as long as one lives sounds pretty fair to me. Why is the HWD Board of Directors forcing ratepayers to provide HWD workers so much more than that? Most ratepayers, unless they are also government workers, don't have nearly so generous a retirement plan?
The HWD Board will undoubtedly argue that they can't reduce the outrageous pensions until next employee contract negotiations come around. They had the opportunity to right things at the last contract negotiations and didn't. I say change the contracts first and then give the ratepayers the full salary and benefit details before even thinking about a rate increase. The only way to make our Board discharge its responsibility to the public is to withhold the money. If they have it, they will spend it - on their buddies at HWD.
The problem of elected officials looking out for employees at the expense of taxpayers/ratepayers is endemic in almost every public sector organization in California. It is the main reason we are a financial basket case. We must take a stand now. Show up on August 18th to tell the HWD Board that we want them to represent the ratepayers too. Tell them that we are sick and tired of public sector workers being treated like a privileged class.

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Tags: Government

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Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on July 7, 2010 at 11:06am
Welcome back, Russell. Hope you had a nice trip. And thank you for another illuminating contribution. Certainly if these obscenely high pension rates aren't indicative of government's incestuous, self-perpetuating relationship with itself, then nothing is. Unqualified union support may do wonders for an incumbent's longevity in office, but it almost always means that the people's interests are taking backseat to special interests. Let's hope that voters have had enough.
Comment by Russell Buckley on July 6, 2010 at 8:21pm
Hi Jeff. I just returned from a two week east coast vacation and saw your note. Certainly Sandy will be the recipient of one of the big pensions that I am so strongly opposed to. I don't know her well enough to comment about her motives for supporting the very fair idea of public employees paying a small part of pension costs - but I'm glad that she did. We now need to get the CWA and HWD to do the same.
Comment by Jeff Raybould on June 27, 2010 at 8:57am
Meant to add this link to back up my statements. http://www.sdcwa.org/hr/jobs/hremploymentguide.pdf Page 5
Comment by Jeff Raybould on June 27, 2010 at 8:57am
Sandy Kerl fought so hard to have "pension reform" in the City of La Mesa that within two weeks of doing it she went to the SD County Water Authority where she get's her entire 7 percent PERS retirement paid for, has her deferred comp matched by the County, and will be able to collect social security. Oh and a pay raise. As the LMPOA told the city last year, Sandy didn't care about the City's best interest, she had a hidden agenda and it paid of big time for her.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on June 25, 2010 at 6:53am
Thanks for the clarification, Kathleen. Any idea what kind of pension(s) she'll be "entitled" to once this gig is up?
Comment by Kathleen Hedberg on June 24, 2010 at 7:22pm
Sandy Kerl now works for the San Diego County Water Authority who sells water to Helix WD.
I voted NO on the proposed water rate increase.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on June 24, 2010 at 2:24pm
Very interesting. Thank you, Russell. A question: doesn't former La Mesa City manager Sandy Kerl now work for Helix? And if so, what kind of pension(s) can she look forward to?

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