By Michael Arata
“(A) dramatic erosion of public support for unions should alarm labor leaders, especially those representing government workers. Residents are fed up with paying for generous salary and benefit packages while listening to cries that it’s not enough.” ― Contra Costa Times editorial, Dec. 16, 2013.
Upfront: I realize that a swarm of numbers can drive some readers to distraction. So the cut-to-chase synopsis of statistics I enumerate here is that local water and wastewater districts ― like most other tax-and-fee-supported California agencies ― have long taken cynical advantage of taxpayers and ratepayers.
And they will perpetuate that behavior until voters awaken to public-agency recklessness and routinely vote out the union-backed agency officials who facilitate spendthrift schemes.
In April, the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District approved its latest rate increase for treating wastewater flows, now charging $530 annually per single-family home. That’s a 182 percent increase since 2000, when the rate was $188. And, 2018’s planned rate boost to $567 will take the 2000-2019 increase to more than 200 percent.
Meanwhile, the district’s board approved a 4.4 percent salary increase for its employees in this last year of a current five-year contract that has guaranteed an increase every year.
Placing related figures posted at http://transparentcalifornia.com on a spreadsheet shows Central San’s 278 full-time and highly compensated part-time individuals as having already averaged $116,280 in 2016 pay, and $100,437 in benefits, including extraordinary pension contributions, funded by district ratepayers.
The benefits also provide 13 paid holidays and up to six weeks of vacation.
A new 2018 Central San contractual “Memorandum of Understanding” is expected to continue rapid upswings in compensation. And as an April 20 Times editorial noted, “the district’s financial planning is predicated on 6 percent to 7 percent rate hikes each year through 2031.”
The salary and benefit increases enabled by such fees (and in other agencies, new taxes) are regularly folded in with “capital infrastructure improvements” or “deferred maintenance” and thereby concealed.
Now comes the East Bay Municipal Utility District with a new round of rate increases that its own board plans to approve on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. EBMUD’s annual water-rate increases have been nonstop since 1994 and that agency now intends an immediate 9.25 percent escalation for average water consumers (more for some others), followed by another 9 percent increase next year.
Similarly to Central San, EBMUD’s average water-cost hikes will then amount to a 207 percent compounded increase in the period 2000-2019, not including a 25 percent surcharge in 2015-16. The water rate increases have been accompanied by nearly annual wastewater flow-rate boosts as well.
A total of 406 EBMUD employees received total compensation exceeding $200,000 last year and EBMUD’s 1,778 full-time and higher-compensated part-time individuals averaged $107,195 in 2016 pay and $60,982 in benefits. They too get 13 (or in some cases 14) holidays and up to five vacation weeks.
EBMUD is currently negotiating a new round of contract enhancements with its four unions ― so Tuesday’s rate increases will help finance that new spending. EBMUD customers may conserve water and reduce demand, but EBMUD employee compensation must continue its skyrocketing trajectory, don’tcha know.
The December 2013 Times editorial cited earlier primarily addressed irresponsible, union-puppeteered spending by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). But the editorial’s conclusion applied to Central San in April and it fits EBMUD now: “it’s time for elected leaders to recognize that labor unions are not their only constituents.”
Michael Arata is a Danville resident and is an industrial consultant.
This commentary was first published by East Bay Times, July 9, 2017.