Rancho Santa Fe water board cuts own pay, benefits

By Joe Tash

Santa Fe Irrigation District directors cut their own pay and benefits at their monthly meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20.

The board voted unanimously to cut its “per diem” payments for attending meetings, conferences and other official activities from $200 to $150 per meeting. The $200 payment was established in March 2007, and had not been changed since, according to a staff report.

The report said that since July 1, board members have received per diem payments for a total of 72 days, meaning that under the new policy, the district would have saved $3,600.

Under state law, directors can receive per diem payments for up to 10 meetings per month. A motion to cap that number at five meetings per month failed on a 3-2 vote, with directors Greg Gruzdowich and Andy Menshek supporting the change.

Directors also voted unanimously to limit their health and dental benefits. Under the new policy, which takes effect July 1, the district will cover only the director and one dependent. Currently, directors have the option to receive coverage — paid for by the district — for their entire family, including multiple dependents.

The policy change could potentially save the district $4,873 per year, per director, for both health and dental benefits. Currently, only one director receives coverage for more than one dependent.

The new policy caps medical benefits for directors at $14,378 per year, and annual dental benefits at $981.

District officials have said they are in “belt-tightening mode” in an effort to cut costs as rates have risen in recent years. Although no rate increase was imposed in 2014 — for the first time in more than a decade — customers’ water bills have effectively doubled in California over the past 10 years.

Statistics provided at Thursday’s meeting showed that Santa Fe’s per diem payments were well above the average of San Diego County’s 24 water agencies, of $152.50 per meeting. Only two districts had higher per diem payments. The board’s action brings its per diem payments to slightly below the regional average.

As for medical and dental benefits, director Andy Menshek said he used to take coverage for himself and his family, but as premiums rose, he decided to stop accepting the benefits. As a part-time director, he said, he doesn’t believe he works enough hours to justify taking the full benefits, “and I don’t think any of us are doing that much work here,” he told his board colleagues.

The staff report notes that over the past three years, the district has spent an average of $98,600 per year total on director compensation and benefits.

The board’s action does not affect district employees, who can continue to receive coverage for multiple dependents.