Water board OKs 4% wage hike for workers

By Karen Brainard

Ramona Municipal Water District directors unanimously voted to give employees a 4 percent salary increase next year with 2 percent of that amount to offset their pension contribution.

With the Ramona Municipal Water District Employees Association (RMWDEA) contract set to expire Dec. 31, the board extended the agreement for another year, until Dec. 31, 2013. The wage increase will take effect on Jan. 1.

In addition, the board approved an amendment to RMWD General Manager David Barnum’s employment agreement that increases his annual base salary by 2 percent, or $3,348, and increases his pension costs by 2 percent.

“It’s a wash,” Barnum told the Sentinel. The increase raises his base salary to $170,456.

Barnum’s employment agreement, which took effect Oct. 7, 2011, stipulates he receive a performance evaluation and salary review yearly.

According to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), RMWD’s current employees’ pensions are based on each employee’s highest one-year salary and is calculated by using a benefit factor that includes years of service and age of retirement.

The board action came at the end of the Nov. 13 meeting, which began at 2 p.m. with a half-hour closed session with labor negotiators. That left RMWD staff and members of the public who were there for the meeting waiting outside the meeting room until the closed session ended.

The directors offered no discussion on the employee agreements before voting. Board President Bryan Wadlington and Director Joe Zenovic said the next day they were surprised no one on the board commented about the agreements.

“I thought when I made the motion, there would be discussion,” said Wadlington.

According to Zenovic, the labor negotiators asked for more compensation.

“We made this offer. We thought it was a fair offer,” he said.

“It makes a statement that employees are now stepping up to the plate in regard to pension costs,” said Zenovic.

On Sept. 12, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 340, the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013. Among the provisions are requirements for new public employees to contribute to their pension benefits. It also raises the retirement age, and bases the final pension amount on the average of an employee’s highest annual compensation during a three-year consecutive period.

Barnum said the new law also sets a target for current employees to contribute about 8 percent to their pension costs within five years. RMWD employees will now be contributing a total of 3 percent.

In November 2009, the board extended the RMWDEA four-year contract to five years, to Dec. 31, 2012, stipulating that in January 2012, employees would contribute 1 percent to pension costs and in exchange receive a 1 percent cost of living increase.

When asked about the 4 percent wage increase, Wadlington said two years ago employees did not receive any increase.

“We reduced staff so every employee has taken on additional responsibilities,” he said.

According to Barnum, the district employs 49 people—two who are part-time, and that is down from 72 employees in 1993.

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