District goes to Stage 1 water emergency

The Fern Valley Water District Board of Directors approved General Manager Victor Jimenez’s recommendation to lower its Water Shortage Emergency Stage from 2 to 1 last Friday.

Jimenez made the recommendation after Gov. Jerry Brown rescinded the state’s emergency drought status two weeks ago.

“The only condition keeping us in Stage 2 was the requirement that restaurants and hotels ask customers if they wanted water,” he told the board, and this condition is in FVWD’s Stage 2 conditions.

FVWD established a water shortage emergency in June 2014 and declared Stage 1. In April 2015, the district jumped to Stage 3, which it lowered to Stage 2 just last month.

Initiating four 10-hour days per week for staff was proposed. Jimenez had experience with this work schedule at his previous employer — El Monte Water District.

“It was very productive there and helped morale,” he said.

In other news, with staff working 10 hours each day from Monday through Thursday, the FVWD office could be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for those four days each week, but closed Friday and the weekends.

The board members, especially President James Rees

and Robert Krieger, expressed general skepticism that this schedule would increase productivity. However, they asked questions and were open to the possibility of testing it later this year.

Jimenez proposed a six-month pilot test, which the board tabled pending more information, such as do any other government jurisdictions use the four-day work week and, if so, which ones.

Speaking for the Personnel Committee, Director Richard Schnetzer said, “Jim [Rees] and I had major differences and couldn’t come to a conclusion. The committee brought it to everybody for review.

“I saw some benefits, but not being open on Friday for the public was a determent. I believe there will be less productivity in 10 hours. The last couple of hours are really tough and especially in the low-winter temperatures.”

Kreiger also expressed concern about the office being closed on Friday. Office Manager Jessica Priefer said that Fridays are not normally busier than other weekdays. Mailing the bi-monthly water bills is a stronger determinant of public visits than the actual day of the week.

Schnetzer did ask for more analysis of the potential for overtime on Fridays due to emergencies and also the frequency of public visits and calls on Friday compared to the other weekdays.

Jimenez stressed that the district should test the program, “I don’t see a downside, but if we get complaints we can go back to the five days at eight hours.”

The board did approve a contract with Bartel Associates for an actuarial valuation of its costs for retiree benefits, such as health care.

This valuation would be the basis for calculating the district’s annual payment.

In water business, Schnetzer noted, “There was a spike in the March production.”

Total production in March was 3.7 million gallons, compared to 2.6 million gallons in March 2016. “People used a lot of water,” replied Jimenez. “The were no real leaks, just a lot usage.”

Of the total production, 8.2 percent was from wells and the rest from Tahquitz and Strawberry creeks.

The groundwater level of FVWD’s wells is considered good, Jimenez reported. Although most groundwater levels decreased in March, the actual decline was no more than 2 inches.

Following a closed session on employee performance, Jimenez reported that the board approved a salary increase for the office manager and field staff. The board acknowledged that the salary structure was not comparable to other local and state water districts and the issue will be further discussed.