No change to summer hours

The Fern Valley Water District board is considering hiring a third field employee, but rejected the general manager’s recommendation to resume the four-day, 10-hour work-day schedule for this summer.

General Manager Victor Jimenez recommended the board approve adding a third field operator to the staff. The annual cost — salary and benefits — of about $86,000 would be recovered through savings resulting from doing more capital-improvement projects with staff rather than contracting them to private firms.

Director Richard Schnetzer, who chaired the meeting in the absence of President Trischa Clark, commented that Jimenez would need to recruit someone with construction experience to ensure the potential savings from more work being done with staff.

This proposal arose after the board approved rate increases starting in January, Director Robert Krieger noted. Therefore, the potential savings from doing work in-house rather than contracting for it would be necessary to offset the added expenses.

Jimenez agreed. While it might take some time to start capital projects, the third operator would help complete the installation of new meters quicker. “Long term, it is beneficial to the district to have three operators in case we lose one,” he added.

However, former General Manager Steve Erler, who attended the meeting, expressed opposition to additional staff. During his tenure, he argued that he provided the third-person field help when it was needed. A possible hidden cost to adding staff is the increased management responsibility, which could lead to a need to increase the general manager’s compensation, Erler warned.

No decision on the staff increase was made at this meeting. Schnetzer recommended and the other directors agreed to defer a decision until Clark was able to attend the meeting.

In another personnel matter, the board rejected Jimenez’s recommendation to impose a 4/10 work schedule again this summer.

The board was concerned about how a 10-hour workday would affect the staff’s capacity near the end of a day. Since Jimenez did not present any analysis from the 2017 summer initial pilot of the four-day work week, the directors preferred to maintain the regular eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week schedule.

Jimenez felt that the 4/10 schedule did help with several projects and said, “Everybody seemed to like it.”

New Director George Rowell said his experience with a 4/10 schedule did not provide enough satisfaction that more work was getting done each week.

And Director James Rees concurred, “I don’t think you get the same production out of four days as you do from five days.”

After a motion from Krieger, the board unanimously opposed the recommendation.

In other business, they asked for a specific staff recommendation on how large their payment for other post-employment benefits (health care) should be. The district’s unfunded liability has been growing. Although FVWD made an extra $50,000 payment in 2016, the 2017 interest was about $19,000. Several directors want to reduce the unfunded amount enough to eliminate the annual interest payment.

The exact amount of what would be needed to accomplish this will be presented at the April meeting.

During the public comment period, Erler explained that he had attended the FVWD’s Planning Committee meeting and wanted to share his thoughts with the full board. “I am extremely concerned about the direction of the pipeline project,” he said.

Based on his experience working for and managing the district, he believes the proposed pipeline projects are focused on the wrong areas. These are not pipelines in danger of catastrophic leaks.

New pipes would provide greater long-term benefits in other areas, he argued, and recommended the board defer any immediate decision on pipeline projects.

During the January and February billing period, FVWD produced about 4.8 million gallons of water, which was about 136,000 gallons less than the same period in 2017.

“The wells are doing very well,” Jimenez told the board. The groundwater level fell for one well but rose for five wells, he added.