Cost of retirement benefits most critical financial issue facing water district, director says


By Joe Tash


Compensation and expense reimbursements for elected directors of the Santa Fe Irrigation District totaled $40,902 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to a report issued by the district.

The report — which is required under state law to be compiled annually — was included on the board’s agenda for its meeting on Thursday, July 21.

The total includes per diem payments for attending meetings, along with reimbursement for mileage and parking, travel, office supplies and telephone charges incurred for district business, according to the report.

Director Augie Daddi, who lost his bid for re-election last year, received $2,000 in per diem payments before leaving office. The other members of the board received the following amounts: Director Ken Dunford, $8,600; Director Michael Hogan, $8,824; Director John Ingalls, $11,613; and Director Robert “Bud” Irvin, $9,864.

Director Andy Menshek, who won his seat in November, declined to receive per diem payments or expense reimbursements.

However, all five members of the board receive medical and dental benefits paid for by the district, which totaled $58,215 for the most recent fiscal year.

“I take the medical and I feel that’s compensation enough for what I do,” said Menshek, regarding his decision not to accept the per diem or reimbursement payments.

Under current district policy, directors receive $200 for each meeting they attend, to a maximum of 10 per month.

“It’s an individual decision whether to take it and it’s allowed by state law,” said Menshek. “But as we are raising rates, we should all look inward and see how we can help, from the top director to the newest employee. That’s part of the reason I don’t take it.”

In December, the board approved a maximum of 36 percent in water rate increases over the next three years. Rates went up 12 percent in February, and as part of planning for next year’s budget, directors have approved a 6 percent increase that will take effect next January, although that amount could be adjusted.

Menshek said he can understand the public’s concern over director compensation and medical benefits during tight budget times, but that the total is a relatively small portion of the district’s budget, like “a cut to the tip of your finger when the femoral artery is bleeding.”

Menshek said the most critical financial issue facing the district is the cost of employee retirement benefits. The board has directed management to request employees to negotiate a second tier of reduced retirement benefits for new hires. Because the district is currently in the midst of a two-year contract with its employees, any change in benefits, even for future employees, would have to be negotiated with workers.

The timing is important, said Menshek, because about one fourth of the district’s 43 employees will become eligible for retirement during the life of the current labor agreement.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to mitigate some of these retirement costs,” Menshek said.

If employees do not agree to the reduced retirement benefits for new hires, Menshek said, he would oppose hiring any new workers until a new labor agreement is in place.