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A compensation comparison

Analysis: A look at pay for various elected water officials from around the state shows how offices

Posted: October 29, 2010 8:55 p.m.
Updated: October 30, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Whoever wins a seat on the local water board can bank on receiving a monthly paycheck from the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Whether it’s candidates Kevin Korenthal, Carol Lutness, Robert Clark and Frank Smathers, or their respective agency incumbents Edward Colley, Jacquelyn McMillan,  Peter Kavounas or Tom Campbell, four of them can look forward to supplementing their income by roughly $600 a month on average, and possibly as high as $500 a week, depending on how many committee meetings he or she attends.

According to the latest figures released earlier this month by the water agency’s Finance and Administration Committee $10,851.75 was paid to 11 directors of the board for having attended meetings in July.

The agency also cut them checks totalling $13,718.25 for meetings held in August.

Each board member is paid at least $204.75 every time they attend an agency meeting.

A quick look at the agency’s latest finance committee documents, however, reveals that directors attending only one meeting a month is rare.

In August, nine out of 11 directors showed up for at least five meetings, netting each of them a monthly agency check for $1,023.75 — more than $250 a week.

By comparison, people sitting on the board of directors at the Newhall County Water District are paid a stipend of $100 for each meeting they attend, less than half the amount paid to their counterparts at the water agency.

Weighty responsibility
The Castaic Lake Water Agency buys Northern California water wholesale from the State Water Project and sells it to four Santa Clarita Valley water retailers, including the Newhall County Water District.

Board members are expected to address a wide range of issues that directly impact Santa Clarita Valley’s costly and most critical resource - water.

Over the course of the next year, from July to June 2011, board members are expected to handle more than $19 million in water payments, most of which are expected to be paid to the state.

They also shoulder the responsibility of directing agency investments which now total at least $197.7 million.

In collecting data about the stipends they receive, the Signal looked at three specific months this year - May, July and August.

Board members have to deal with millions of dollars in expenses and millions of dollars collected in revenue.

And, although anyone can run for a seat on the water board and offer opinions and advice freely, the experienced informed judgement of water industry experts apparently comes at a price.

Water professionals
Water-savvy professional command substantial paychecks for their time and effort.

At the state level, the chair of the State Water Resources Control Board holds down a salary of $125,570 with each of the four other members on the board earning salaries of $121,704, according to state board spokesman William Rukeyser.

Locally, most of the agency’s directors are professionals with extensive experience in water-related fields who hold down full-time jobs such as Robert DiPrimio, president of Valencia Water Company since 1993, and B.J. Atkins, president of the Newhall County Water District who heads his own environmental consulting firm, Atkins Environmental H.E.L.P., Inc.

Jerry Gladbach, who wears many professional hats, is Chairman of the Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles County and Treasurer of the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions.

In August, he earned $2047.50 from the local agency - or about $500 a week.

A stipend, according to an online business directory website, is a form of salary, such as for an internship or apprenticeship.

It is often distinct, according to the site, from a wage or a salary because it does not necessarily represent payment for work performed, instead it represents a payment that enables somebody to be exempt partly or wholly from waged or salaried employment in order to undertake a role that is normally unpaid.

According to 2007 statistics gleaned from the City of Santa Clarita and from the 2000 Census, the median income for households was about $79,000 and about $91,500 for families.

Men in Santa Clarita Valley outstripped what women made with a median income of $53,835 compared to $36,835.

If the water agency paid every month what they paid in July, it would pay out $130,212 in stipends a year.

Board members cashing a monthly check for $614.25 could bank on receiving at least $7,371 annually.

In real terms, people in Santa Clarita Valley who work for minimum wage - or at least $8 an hour - would have to work more than 25 hours a week, or the better part of a 40-hour work week, just to earn the money paid to one board director attending one meeting.

Special meetings
Agency meetings are usually scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant on Bouquet Canyon Road overlooking Central Park.

They last about two to three hours on average.

All board members are expected to attend the monthly regular meetings as well as any special meetings called, such as the one called by board director Tom Campbell in July to discuss, among other items, water payments.

Also on the July 26 agenda was the matter of stipends paid in May to the board of directors which totalled $16,789.50 .

In that month, all but one of the people serving on the agency’s board of directors was paid no less than $1,023.75.

If those members get paid every month what they received in May, their annual reported earnings from the agency would total $12,285.

The regular and special meetings attended by members on the board of directors are supplemented with regular committee meetings.

Many of the 11 board members attend monthly meetings for the each of the committees on which they sit, including: the finance and administrative committee itself; the planning and engineering committee; governmental relations and outreach committee; agenda planning committee; water resources committee; retail operations committee and others.

“We accumulate all meetings in a month, and then pay the stipends on a monthly basis,” agency Administrative Services Manager Valerie L. Pryor,  wrote  in an email response to The Signal. 

“So the information you see in the monthly finance and expenditure report is the summary of the total number of meetings in a month,” she said. “With the stipend amount applied to all of the meetings.”

In 2007, the agency board of directors adopted Ordinance No. 37 which set the meeting stipend at $195 per meeting, allowing for provisions for annual increases.

This was the first increase in the stipend since 1997, Pryor explained.

And, it was based on a  market survey of other agencies, she said.

In July 2008, the stipend to board members entered a new phase, increasing by 5 per cent every year, unless the board had decided to reduce or suspend the increase.

The stipend annual increase was allowed to ride.

In July 2008, the automatic 5 per cent increase took effect, pumping  the stipend up to its current rate of $204.75. 

That’s when board directors put the brakes on making more money at meetings.

In 2009 and again in 2010, they voted to suspend the increase.

Since then, the rate remains unchanged.

Other agencies
To put the $204.75 stipend paid to local agency board members per meeting in perspective, The Signal looked at 30 other water agencies including 14 of the 29 agencies contracted to receive Northern California water through the State Water Project.

The Castaic Lake Water Agency ranked in the top 10 best paid elected board members in the state.

Half a dozen of the agencies, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, pay no stipends to their board members.

Several of the State Water Project contractors are counties - like Butte County and Kings County - whose elected officials are expected to sit on water board meetings as part of their overall responsibilities.

“The directors on our board are all farmers,” said Dale K. Melville, of the Dudley Ridge Water District. “This is part of our job anyway.

“We get zero compensation,” he said.

In Butte County, the elected board of supervisors attends water meetings - at no extra cost.

“We’re a board of supervisors,” said Vicky at the Butte County office. “Our supervisors make all the water decisions.”

In Plumas County, where the snow melt originates and ultimately becomes part of our drinking water in Southern California, a per diem of $110 is paid to elected officials of the Plumas County Flood Control and Water Conservation District with no stipend paid specifically to them for attending meetings.

Water board members paid the most for attending meetings were found in the desert where water is scarcest.

“The DWA Board is paid a stipend of $338.74 to attend,” said Katie Ruark, spokeswoman for the Desert Water Agency. “They have two board meetings a month and there are subcommittees meetings as well.”

As with all of the agencies surveyed, none paid any money to board members for attending more than 10 meetings a month.

And, whereas the Castaic Lake Water Agency may have to pay stipends for several board members attending two or three committee meetings a month, other agencies with more natural occurring water have fewer meetings.

“We only meet once a month, maybe twice if there’s something going on,” said a spokeswoman for the Crestline-Lake Arrowhead Water Agency.

Some water boards like the local water agency have responded to tougher economic times, by stalling stipend increases.

“In April, our board chose not to do an increase in the stipends,” said Jill Duerig, spokeswoman for the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, known as Zone 7,

Public workers
In looking simply at the bottom line, and specifically at what some people in Santa Clarita Valley take home in a month, The Signal found examples of part-time jobs paying less than what some water agency board members get paid during a heavily-scheduled month, including:

- an entry level lifeguard working part-time for the City of Santa Clarita gets paid $2,003.73.

- an experienced lifeguard for city gets paid $2,619.07.

- a summer camp counselor receives a monthly check of $1,516.67.

- a college intern makes $2,426.67 a month at city hall.

- a temporary summer youth worker gets paid $1,286.67.


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