March 2, 2011 (La Mesa) – Members of the newly formed East County Tax Hawks swooped in to address Helix Water District’s Board this afternoon, demanding changes to the District's memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding public employee pensions and benefits.
“A sleeping giant has been awakened,” David Smyle, co-founder of the Tax Hawks, said of taxpayers. He noted that Helix has twice raised water rates to the public in recent years while raising employee compensation and boosting benefits to levels higher than in the private sector. He also faulted the Board for not requiring employees to contribute to medical coverage and for approving a long-term contract, among other issues.
“What in the world makes you think that this would be okay for ratepayers?” he asked.
Dan McMillian, former director of Padre Dam Municipal Water District and a ratepayer in the Helix district, urged the board to hire an outside labor negotiator to represent ratepayers.
“The Board could show some leadership by paying at least 65% of their insurance costs, plus review the outside meetings that are educational versus just plain fun,” he said, referring to the Board compensating directors to attend various conference, public meetings, and other functions.
The Tax Hawks submitted a list of demands that include:
· use of outside negotiators to represent ratepayers,
· limiting duration of all future MOUs to one year, comparing compensation and benefits to private sector and other public agencies (not just water agencies),
· requiring employees to pay 8% of CalPers pension costs, place future hires on a pension alternative that would still allow career employees to retire with around 90% of previous compensation,
· eliminate contribution to a 401(a) plan since employees already get Social Security and a CalPers pension, and reduce holiday, vacation and sick days to be private sector employee benefits
· make employees contribute to cost of medical, vision and dental with at least a 25% contribution for employees and 50-100% for dependants;
· stop reimbursing Board members or employees to attend events or have membership in groups not directly water related or beneficial to ratepayers, and limit the number of board members attending water meetings;
· develop a plan to payback the District $13.5 million in unfunded CalPers liability;
read the Little Hoover commission Report, aka Public Pensions for Retirement Security at www.lhc.ca.gov
Comments were presented in public session, and under rules governing public meetings in California the Board could not comment. This is at least the second time that Tax Hawk representatives have testified calling for changes, however thus far the Board has not placed the item on the agenda for full discussion at a future meeting.
McMillan, speaking to ECM after the meeting, said he has met with Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight. Though the two are on opposite sides of the political aisle on many issues, McMillan said they found agreement on the need for better public input and oversight. “We need legislation to require that if a minimum of five people request that an item be put on the agenda, a board should be required to agendize it,” he concluded.
A request for comment from the District's labor unions was not returned as of press deadline today.
Update March 3, 2011: The district has issued the following statement regarding the MOU:
"We appreciate your interest in the Helix Water District’s Memorandum of Understanding renewal negotiations with employee associations. These negotiations are held in closed session and are confidential. The Board of Directors represents the ratepayers in these negotiations and sets policy for the District. The Board has appointed negotiators to represent the Board in negotiations with the employee associations. It is inappropriate for the Board Members andBoard-appointednegotiators to make any public statement regarding these confidential proceedings. We are honoring this commitment and therefore decline to provide any information or opinion regarding the items under negotiation."