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."