EID GM, counsel voted raises

By From page A1 | December 12, 2012

El Dorado Irrigation District Manager Jim Abercrombie Monday received his first raise since he was hired Aug. 8, 2009.

Also receiving a raise was EID District Counsel Tom Cumpston for the first time in five years.

The EID board voted 4-1 for the raises about 1 p.m. following a lunch-hour closed session evaluation by the board of the two managers, and also a negotiating session with the employees association that resulted in no reportable action.

Abercombie, who had taken a $13,000 compensation cut by voluntarily reducing a portion of his contractual health care benefit, will receive a 5 percent merit increase and a 1 percent cost of living adjustment that all district employees will receive  in January 2013.

Cumpston requested and will receive an increase to Step 5 of his salary range, resulting in a 3.8 percent increase and the 1 percent COLA.

Both managers’ contracts will be amended so that they will receive future COLAs equal to what all other district employees receive.

“The general manager saved $13,000. With this raise he will not even come close (to recouping the voluntary cut),” said Director George Osborne, who was elected board president at Monday’s meeting.

Osborne cited Abercrombie’s good relations with the employees and the public and a board evaluation that rated him outstanding.

“It’s not a reflection on you guys (Abercrombie and Cumpston),” said Director Alan Day as he began explaining why he was voting no. “I didn’t have a problem with your compensation. Double digit rate increases, asking more from employees — the time is not right.”

The counsel not having a raise in five years (means) he’s making $3,000 less than when we hired him five years ago.” said Director George Wheeldon.

“My fear is that the district would take us through what the Georgetown district has. That board has run the district down. The counsel has resigned,” said Director John Fraser, who called the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District counsel a real expert on water law.

“Both the (EID) counsel and general manager have done a great job,” Fraser said.

Before the closed session evaluation Abercrombie gave a public rundown on the district’s performance.

The district, which supplies water, wastewater treatment, recyled water, hydroelectric power and recreation services has the guiding principles of “100 percent safety, respect for the individual, excellent customer service and fiscal reliability.”

On the first principle in 2011 there were two days lost to injuries and as of the third quarter of this year one day has been lost. Avoidable accidents totaled 22 in 2011 and eight as of the third quarter of this year. Compared to the industry standard of injuries requiring medical attention the district was within 92 percent of the standard rate in 2009 but has dropped that to 37 percent last year and 22 percent as of the third quarter of this year.

Also in the 100 percent safety category of meeting health and safety standards the district had zero violations of water standards last year, but one this year at the Strawberry Water Treatment Plant, which the district is making some continued investment to eliminate. Wastewater violations totaled three in 2011 and the district expects to end the year with one as a result of the heavy storm inflows recently.

Under “respect for the individual,” the district received a 68 percent favorable rating in a district employee survey. The labor-management committee meets monthly, acting as a sounding board when it is not negotiating over wages.

In the category of “excellent customer service” and the subcategory of service reliability the district recorded 1.73 unplanned water outages of less than four hours per 1,000 accounts in 2011 and 1.42 so far this year, putting it in the top quartile, according to American Water Works Association Standards. It continues to be in the top quartile for outages of four to 12 hours and also for those greater than 12 hours, Abercrombie reported.

Another measure of service reliability is the number of water system outages per 100 miles, with EID having 30 water outages per 100 miles in 2011 and 23.5 so far this year. Sanitary sewer overflows were 1.92 per 100 miles last year and 1.6 so far this year.

Under “fiscal responsibility” the district maintained a 1.4 ratio with hookup fees and 1.37 without in 2010, 1.64 with in 2011 and 1.49 without the hookup fees. The minimum required under bond covenants was 1.25. Because of the near disappearance of hookup fees EID has been raising rates to maintain the minimum debt ratio, saying all ratepayers were obligated to help pay for the maintenance and replacement of existing infrastructure.

Some other measurements include the fact that EID has among the highest number of accounts per employee of relatively comparable nearby districts. The highest comparator was Tuolumne Utilities District at 300 employees per account for the water and wastewater district. EID, with both those services plus recycled water, recreation and hydropower has 290 employees per account. Calaveras has 270 accounts per employee. The lowest of five comparison districts was Nevada Irrigation District with 149 accounts per employee.

Water rates at an average of $85.78 bimonthly are below the median of “similar agencies” ($103.29). Wastewater rates for tertiary treatment required by the state are $128.57 bimonthly at EID, below the median for tertiary treatment of $146.29. Tertiary treatment means water put back into creeks must be pure whereas Sacramento and Folsom currently use “dilution as their solution,” as Abercrombie has pointed out. The state is now requiring Sacramento to upgrade to tertiary treatment and bills there will be higher than EID’s, which has been doing tertiary treatment for 15 years, Abercrombie pointed out.

Goals include obtaining a contract from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to deliver the district’s additional 17,000 acre-feet of water rights. Abercrombie reported the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service concluded that the district’s new water rights would have negligible effect on the water in Folsom Lake. Also, completion of the new emergency floodgate will alow the bureau to store more water and reoperate Folsom Dam for more cold water releases for fisheries downstream, Abercrombie said Monday and EID officials have reported in recent meetings.

Also on target for 2013 and 2014 is completion of integration of the Geographical Information System and the computerized management system, which Abercrombie called “the lifeblood of EID.”  Nicknamed the Hansen system, it is the customer information system, keeps track of automotive scheduled maintenance, alerts when an asset has reached its lifetime value and can determine when it is due for replacement.

Abercrombie also plans to reduce $30,000 paid annually for document storage, by getting rid of aged documents and digitizing documents.

Additionally, Abercrombie plans to implement pension reforms next year and eliminate using potable water to supplement recycled water, which will mean developing off-season storage.

Michael Raffety

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