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I'm Just Sayin': Board in hot water after pay increase

December 29, 2010

Just before Christmas, the Crescenta Valley Water District Board of Directors voted to give a 1% pay increase to the district's top seven managers, which follows an earlier 1% increase for the rank-and-file employees.

You may recall that in November this same board voted to raise our water rates by 8%. Does this make sense?

The district's budget for 2010-11 states that "next to purchased water, compensation and benefits is the most costly item in the budget." That cost just went up, as well as the pension costs of future retirees.

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According to Ron Mitchell, the district's secretary/treasurer, the raise is a cost of living adjustment, and the total amount of the overall increase is $28,550. It is retroactive to July 1, and the highest paid manager will receive about $1,300 more per year, with a retroactive payment of around $660.

He explained that half of the increase was included in this year's budget and the other half was covered by savings from two positions that have been vacant for six months.

But the district could have easily forgone the increase and used the additional savings from the vacant positions to offset the water rate increase. That would have shown their customers that they are serious about cutting costs. Instead they chose to play Santa with an amount equal to 8% of the approved rate increase.

I spoke with Jim Starbird, Glendale's city manager, and asked if employees in Glendale are getting a cost of living adjustment. He said that, other than the Police Department, no one received a pay increase this year. In fact, the Fire Department gave up their 4% increase, the management group picked up a greater share of their health and retirement costs, and the City Council voted for a 1.5% pay reduction for all non-management and non-public safety employees. That includes utility employees.

Since retirees are not getting a cost of living adjustment for their Social Security benefits next year, I talked to seniors Esther and Don Norbut to see what they thought of the Crescenta Valley Water District's action.

Esther said, "In these days, it doesn't sound like the thing to be doing."

She also thought that the pay reduction enacted by the city of Glendale, "sounds like they are more sensitive to people that are unemployed."

Don said it best when he asked, "Who else gets a raise?"

Who, indeed.

Reactions from others have ranged from "poor judgment" to "really tacky." Another person I talked with wondered why no one in the district's management team seemed to advise the directors that this raise would be almost inconsequential to the rank-and-file, yet could be viewed as a big mistake by the customers.

The five district board members receive a stipend for the two meetings per month that they attend. They recently reduced the amount from $100 to $90 per meeting, but over a year that still amounts to nearly $11,000.

Since the board chose to be so generous with the ratepayers' money, I suggest that they give up their compensation entirely to help fund the cost of the pay raise.

SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at sharonchary@gmail.com.

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