Directors of the Fern Valley Water District adopted three new personnel policies that changed retirement and health benefits for new hires and the requirements for what employees must pay into their own retirement. At the March 16 board meeting, directors voted to reduce retirement benefits from the existing 2.7 percent of salary per years served at age 55 for new hires to 2 percent at age 60.

The personnel committee, which has been meeting on these changes, recommended 2.5 percent at 55. The revision of the personnel committee’s recommendation came at the urging of Director Robert Krieger, who argued that the tighter policy was consistent with current changes at the county level.

Approval came on a 3-2 vote, with directors Charlie Wix and Trischa Clark dissenting. Clark said she voted no because she felt the personnel committee had looked into the matter, done the investigation, talked to the appropriate people and made their recommendation. “I think we should have left it the way it was,” she said. Even though he voted against the 2 percent at 60 retirement package, Wix said he thought ultimately it was fair and the direction other districts and public
agencies are going.

In an example distributed by the personnel committee, previously an employee with 25 years of service and final year compensation of $50,000 would receive $33,750 annual retirement beginning at age 55. The committee’s recommendation would result in an annual pension of $31,250, while the approved policy change yields an annual pension of $25,000 at age 60 for 25 years of service or $30,000 for 30 years of work.

Separately, the board voted unanimously that future new employees would pay the 8 percent employee portion of their retirement. The board also changed the policy for existing employees. Currently, employees do not contribute toward their pension. The district pays the employee share. Now, current employees will pay 2 percent annually, which will be increased 2 percent each year for four years until they are paying the 8 percent employee share. General Manager Steve Erler said he had not been consulted prior to the board meeting on either the adopted 2 percent at 60 or the mandate for existing employees to pay their 8 percent employee contribution. District Office Manager Jessica Priefer said of the 8 percent mandate, “It was quite a shock. I was prepared for the 1 percent per year for four years [from the personnel committee recommendation] but not for the doubling of what had been proposed.”

A bargaining unit does not represent Fern Valley Water District employees, so the board’s action did not require prior negotiation, according to an informed source.

In addition, the board unanimously adopted a vesting policy for employees to receive health benefits after retirement. Employees with 10 years of total CalPERS payments, of which, at least, 5 years are with FVWD, will receive 50 percent of the employer contribution. Each additional service credit year after ten increases the employer contribution percentage by 5 percent until at 20 years, the retiring employee is eligible for 100 percent of the employer contribution.

The board noted these changes are consistent with what other public agencies are doing to meet financial exigencies created by the economic downturn. The board said it was also motivated to address these issues by the imminent retirement of one of their employees. The board authorized an additional $6,000 above previous budget projections to cover two months of crossover training time for the new hire.

In other business, Sam I. Gershon, engineer and senior vice president of Albert A Webb Associates, advised the board on the process of requesting bids on pipeline replacement projects scheduled for summer 2013. The area in question is upper Fern Valley Road. A portion of the project would cross Tahquitz Creek, thereby creating a number of environmental considerations. Gershon said he would address environmental and other considerations in a preliminary proposal, and present it to the board at their April meeting.

General Manager Steve Erler said $500,000 had been budgeted for the replacement project as part of this fiscal year and an additional $500,000 would be budgeted next year to cover engineering and full project infrastructure replacement costs.

Erler also reported that well levels remain 1 to 10 feet below last year’s levels and streams are holding steady. Erler said he felt comfortable with where the district is at this point in the year with regard to water availability. February’s production was 280,000 gallons more than last month largely because of refilling tank 11, Erler explained. After filling the tank, the district received no complaints about water quality from district customers.

The total January-February production was nearly 20 percent less than a year ago.

Tank levels are being maintained at 5 to 7 feet, approximately 40 percent of the 3 million gallon tank capacity, to maintain maximum circulation given present demand. First quarter tests for disinfection by-product contaminants showed substantially reduced levels compared to same quarter last year. “The treatment facility is working well,” said Erler. “I’m really happy with the results.”