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Rancho Santa Fe water district board gives raise to general manager

BY JOE TASH

The Santa Fe Irrigation District board voted to give its general manager, Michael Bardin, a 5 percent raise at its meeting on Thursday, May 15.

The increase brings Bardin’s base salary to $213,140 per year.  The board voted 3-1, with director John Ingalls opposed and director Andy Menshek absent.

Bardin oversees operations for a 16-square-mile district that provides water to 19,400 residents of Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch.  He has served in the position since 2004.

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Board president Michael Hogan said Bardin has done an outstanding job, managing the district through challenges including rising water costs and droughts.  Hogan credited Bardin with keeping the district’s expenses in check and said that, to his knowledge, Santa Fe was the only local water agency in San Diego County not to raise rates this year.  The district has also maintained a Triple A credit rating.

“I think he’s an outstanding public agency manager who is respected throughout the county,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the raise was the first net pay increase Bardin has received since 2008.  Although he received a raise in 2012, that increase was offset by increased pension payments.

Ingalls said he has consistently voted against raises for employees and managers at the district since 2012.

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“The employees top to bottom are paid well enough and they don’t need to be paid any more,” Ingalls said.

Another reason for his vote, said Ingalls, is that Bardin has not completed one of the district’s key objectives, a new agreement with the city of San Diego over water use and storage rights at Lake Hodges.  “If the most important (objective) hasn’t been met, why are we giving raises?”

Hogan said an agreement has been reached with city staff, and is awaiting approval by the San Diego City Council.  The proposed agreement has exceeded the board’s expectations, Hogan said.

Ingalls also said he was shocked that director Greg Gruzdowich, who often advocates for keeping district expenses down, voted for the raise.

Gruzdowich said Ingalls did not attend recent closed sessions of the board, when the compensation issue was considered.  While he declined to discuss those private deliberations, Gruzdowich said he believed Bardin’s new compensation package was fair, based on the general manager’s recent salary history.

“I feel Mike Bardin is doing a fine job in running the district.  He’s performing what the board has asked him to do,” Gruzdowich said.

Although Bardin received a pay raise, the agreement approved by the board also took away his $600-per-month car allowance.  Instead, he will be reimbursed at the standard IRS rate for travel mileage when he goes outside San Diego County on business.

Kimberly Thorner, general manager of the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, which surrounds Santa Fe on three sides, earns a base salary of $217,177, according to the Olivenhain district’s web site.  Olivehain’s territory covers 48 square miles and has a population of about 80,000.

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