This evening I addressed the La Mesa City Council to request their help in keeping our water rates from being increased again. Specifically, I asked the Council to request that the Helix Water District Board of Directors reform the exorbitant pensions that our water rates support. Here is the text of what I said:

"I am here today to ask you to take a stand about an issue that clearly and directly affects every resident of our city - water rates. Helix Water District recently increased water rates while maintaining exorbitant and unnecessarily costly pensions. The explanation for such inconsistent behavior was that pensions could only be changed through the MOU process.

HWD MOU negotiations are now about to begin. I am concerned that without public encouragement and scrutiny of the process, the citizens of La Mesa will continue to be screwed by the HWD Board. That board that apparently feels it more important to respond to public sector workers' insatiable thirst for ratepayer money than to represent the ratepayers who elected them.

As things stand now, Water District workers participate in Social Security, for which employees and ratepayers each pay an equal amount - 6.2% of salary. In addition they receive a pension worth several times what Social Security pays. They contribute nothing toward that pension. Ratepayers are made to pay both the "employee portion" and the larger and steadily increasing "employer portion" of pension costs. HWD employees also receive medical coverage for life and they may participate in a 401K type of matching program.

HWD employees are eligible for a full pension at age 55. I sometimes wonder if anyone in the public sector is aware that our life spans are steadily increasing? Social Security full retirement age was set at 65 when the program was implemented several decades ago. Since that time full retirement age has been increased to age 67, and there are serious proposals to increase it again - to age 69. Why in the world should public sector workers retire so much younger than their private sector counterparts?

HWD employees can retire with a guaranteed pension equal to 75% of final years salary after 30 years of work. Do you think anyone in the Private sector expects to retire at 75% of salary after working for only 30 years?

CalPers provides a pension program specifically intended to augment Social Security - the 1.5% at 65 program. It is the one HWD employees should be on. Taken together with Social Security, it would ensure that HWD employees could retire after a full career of work and be able to maintain a lifestyle better than that to which they had become accustomed while working. That seems to me a fair, even generous, arrangement.

I urge you to write the HWD Board of Directors, on behalf of the citizens of La Mesa, to ask that they minimize further water rates increases by managing the public money in a frugal manner - specifically by reducing pension costs to a reasonable level. That means doing two things:

(1) Requiring present employees to pay the "employee portion" of pension costs.

(2) Immediately putting new employees on the 1.5% at 65 pension plan - designed specifically for those who also receive Social Security."

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Tags: Government


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Comment by David Smyle on February 13, 2011 at 4:23pm
We need a show of force at this Wednesday's HWD Board meeting at 2 pm at the HWD offices.  Tell everyone you know who can make it to show up at the meeting and let the Board know their continued acceptance and promotion of these excessive employee beneifts are not acceptable any more and they represent us, the rate payers to keep all expenses in line with the rest of the "real world" and comparing themselves to other inflated water districts is not what they should be aiming for.  They are nothing more than any other corporation or public agency who are making adjustments to survive in todays ecomonics and the employees deserve no special treatment or benefits just because they are public employees.  Keep the Egypt rage going!  We are getting ripped off just like Mubarek ripped off his people. 
Comment by Russell Buckley on December 17, 2010 at 8:56pm

Joan - please accept my apology for misunderstanding what you said. I'm happy to know that you are an ally. cheers. Russell

Comment by Russell Buckley on December 17, 2010 at 8:54pm

Hi David and Craig. I understand what you say - and you may well be right. But I think there is some hope that the Board will act more responsibly on behalf of rate payers than they have in the past. When I made similar comments (to the ones in this blog) at the recent HWD rate increase hearings I remember that at least one Board member and the Director commented that pension reform would be made in the next MOU negotiations. Three board members told me the same in private meetings. One of them is the new President. We will have to wait and see if they deliver on what they said. More important is whether or not the changes they make are significant. HWD employees have several ways of pressuring the Board. We rate payers need to pressure the Board as well - to let them know that we expect them to represent us and spend our money frugally. Lets all do that and see what happens. If the Board doesn't respond, we can try to elect some Board members who understand their responsibility to rate payers. Former Supreme Court Justice Brandies is reputed to have said: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." I intend to ask for current and projected pension costs and I will publish them on this blog when I get them. Lets all let the Board know that we are watching them and the days of doing business in the dark are over. Russell

Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on December 17, 2010 at 9:54am

Much like government, aren't they?

Comment by David Stanley on December 17, 2010 at 8:42am

Russell, your piece is well written, succinct and directly to the point. However, consider this: Helix is truly a monopoly in that it competes with no other water district control. Helix has, because of this condition, has and pretty much will continue to do what it wants regarding rate hikes. Who can say nay? You, I, we can address them in Their court but to what end? Wasted time and wasted air. Their employees have become bloated with benefits that few "civilians" can ever enjoy because of this condition. Their retirement, like all other unions, reflect this condition and cannot and will not be reversed, regardless of fiery rhetoric or letters. The employees enjoy this cocoon of well being brought about by the monopolistic condition, knowing that they will continue to do what they do with guarantees of raises until death. Even if one of us were successful in achieving a seat on their board do you really think one person could change and/or reverse these facts? I grit my teeth and bang my head about this issue but recognize the unionesque setting and go on with my life, not receiving any raises on my own pension. David Stanley

Comment by joan sullivan on December 17, 2010 at 5:35am

Russell, that gadfly comment was not meant to be a criticism of you. A good gadfly is a municipal treasure and you are a good gadfly. (Ray Lutz, who sometimes critiques El Cajon City Council budget discussions, is another one.)


My comment was in response to Kevin Goeorge's question, "When are you running for office?" An office holder has some responsibiiity to support his group's position. This is an impediment to a gadfly's independent speech.

Comment by Russell Buckley on December 15, 2010 at 7:25pm

Joan - I wish that you had the courage to respond to what I said. Name calling does nothing to resolve issues. Tell me what pat of what I said you disagree with and I will be happy to respond. Russell

Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on December 15, 2010 at 4:56pm

Thank you once again, Russell. However, something tells me that until insolent, quasi-governmental agencies like HWD (SDG&E is another...) fear the wrath of rate-payers more than they do the Unions, nothing will change.

Comment by joan sullivan on December 15, 2010 at 4:43pm

Sometimes a gadfly is most effective when he is not restrained by responsibilities to an office.

Comment by Karen Pearlman on December 15, 2010 at 12:59pm

Well done, well said.

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