Move will save $7,959 a year; earlier meetings would cut $1,500
By Karen Brainard
Ramona Municipal Water District directors agreed to suspend their option of district-paid medical benefits for three years to save the agency money, and are considering starting their meetings earlier to eliminate staff overtime pay.
“It just seemed that with economy in the state that it’s in and our ratepayers struggling as they are, that the board could do something to at least show some good faith and perhaps save a pile of dough over the next three years,” said Director Joe Zenovic, suggesting the directors forego benefits. “I think it’s something we should do as a board unanimously so that we can demonstrate to ratepayers that we’re behind them.”
The five directors have the option of signing up for medical, dental, and vision benefits through the water district at no charge to them, according to RMWD General Manager David Barnum. He said three directors accept benefits: Zenovic, Bryan Wadlington and Kit Kesinger. By not paying for their insurance, the district will save $7,959 per year, said Barnum. He noted that if all five directors took the most expensive medical, dental and vision benefits the savings per year could be as much as $45,766.
“I think this is an outstanding recommendation,” said Wadlington.
The directors approved the plan 4-1 with Kesinger abstaining. The suspension will go into effect June 1 and the directors will have the opportunity to continue with the district’s group health coverage under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), but will have to pay for it, said Barnum.
In another proposal, Director Red Hager suggested holding one board meeting a month at 1 or 1:30 p.m.
The board meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 4:30 p.m. in the Ramona Community Center.
The room is used for senior lunches during the weekdays. Hager said seniors could stay after lunch to attend the meeting. The district would not have to pay salaried employees overtime pay if the meeting was earlier and did not extend past work hours, he said.
Barnum estimated the district could save approximately $1,500 per year in reduced overtime costs. A survey showed other water districts in the area held meetings anywhere from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Zenovic suggested both meetings per month should be held in the early afternoon.
Kesinger questioned how residents who need to attend a meeting could do so if they work.
“Or are we simply saying we don’t care?” he asked.
Zenovic replied that, if a person has a doctor’s appointment during business hours, he takes off work, and the same could apply to a resident who believes a meeting is important.
“I don’t think it’s any inconvenience to come during normal business hours,” Zenovic said.
He added that public hearings should be held later in the day.
Barnum said changing the meeting time would have to be in the form of a resolution. Wadlington directed him to bring a resolution to the board for comments.
In other business:
•The board unanimously agreed to implement an Emergency Call Response System proposed by Barnum. The AT&T system would be used in cases of high volume calls and emergencies, said Barnum. It will not replace the district’s after-hours call center or reverse 911.
Barnum said he suggested the system because of emergencies such as the 2007 wildfire and the 2011 blackout that affected customers. Messages on the call system can be updated remotely. The cost is a one-time set-up fee of $120, a monthly fee of $56 and, if activated, a 4-1/2 cent per minute charge.
•The board denied a customer’s request for forgiveness of the remaining account balance on a bill. Donna Jose said she received a bill for $2,763 in May 2011 and has been making payments. The balance is $543.
Jose said she never had a high water bill in the 14 years she has lived there and her yard was dry. She said a pipe was found with a leak, but it was small and would not have caused a loss of 400,000 gallons of water.
She questioned the reliability of the meter and said district staff tested it but not at her residence. Board members said that, without evidence the bill was in error, they have to assume the water passed through, and they cannot legally gift funds.