Most of us are aware that Helix Water District water rates were recently increased. One reason for the increase is that, like many Special Districts and Cities in this state, HWD employees receive pensions far more generous (and far more costly) than most private sector workers enjoy. Your Board of Directors has chosen to spend your money in an irresponsible and unnecessary way. Negotiations about a new salary and benefit arrangement between the ratepayers and the employees of HWD are about to begin. I used my three-minute allotment at yesterdays monthly HWD meeting to remind the Board of their responsibility to spend the public money frugally. I am including my remarks in hopes that some of you will join me in letting our representatives know that we expect frugal management of the money they take from us - and that we are watching what they do. Here is what I said.
"I was last here at the rate increase hearing - to urge you to reduce the overly generous pensions you provide HWD employees, before you made a decision about the water rate increase. You did not accept my suggestion -- as I recall, because you said pensions can only be changed by MOU negotiations. It wasn't clear to me why the rate increase couldn't have been held off for a few months -- until negotiations took place, or why a firm commitment about pension reform could not have been made that time.
But that was then and this is now and MOU negotiations are about to start - with a closed meeting on January 5th, I believe. I don't know of any plans to solicit public input prior to negotiations - and of course, once they start the Brown act will be used (incorrectly) to keep the public in the dark. Shortly after an agreement is concluded and approved by the Board, it will be adopted in a public meeting. Fat chance that anything said at that meeting will change the deal that has been negotiated and approved by the Board. Once the MOU is approved you (the Board) can again avoid any consideration of pension abuse for a few more years. United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies once said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." The HWD MOU negotiation process certainly needs Sunshine.
The process also needs a vocal ratepayer advocate. I don't know who negotiates on behalf of the employees. But they must be very competent because the employees have fared well. The negotiator on behalf of ratepayers, will likely be Mark Weston - the leader of the employees and a pensioner himself. That seems to me a lot like a court case where only one side has an attorney - it is no wonder the ratepayers have fared so poorly. Who sits at the table to strongly advocate for the ratepayers? Does anyone compare HWD salary and benefits to those in the private sector? Or do you only hear about other water districts - a self-serving closed community. Who looks at turnover rates compared to the private sector? Who looks at applications for open positions - a good indicator of where salary and benefit levels should be set? Mark told me at a meeting a year or so ago that you received over 1000 applications for a meter reader position. While only one benchmark, that tells me that your salary and benefits are too high. I haven't attended negotiations, but based on the outcome, it seems to me that no one forcefully argues on behalf of ratepayers.
The citizens of California, especially those who work in the private sector, are being screwed by an ever more rapacious public sector inexorably confiscating the wealth of the productive element of the State. We need for you, our elected representatives, to do your jobs and manage the public's money in a fair and frugal manner."
If you agree with my sentiments, maybe you will consider contacting your HWD Board member and let them know.