As other public services are facing reductions in staffing and pay around the country, one water district in San Diego approved lifetime health care benefits for its employees.
It was standing room only inside the Spring Valley meeting room as one after another, customers of the Otay Water District tried to convince the board the benefit extension was a bad idea.
"Whatever the cost is the ratepayers are going to have to pay it, because we don't have a choice,” said one opponent
"Lifetime healthcare benefits after only 15 years. It's absurd, you tell me who else gets that,” said another.
Since 2008, customers have seen a more than 30 percent rate increase. The most recent increase was a 10.9% hike approved by the board of directors six months ago.
In 2012, rates are expected to rise again by nearly 8 percent.
At times customers interrupted speakers, cheering and booing but in the end, board members voted 4 -1, approving the extension. The board explained that district employees, not ratepayers, would foot the bill.
Employees will increase their contribution to pension plans from one percent to 8.75 percent according to district leaders.
"There will not be any rate increases because of the action tonight, the employees are covering that cost,” said Mark Watton, General Manager of the Otay Water District.
District leaders told our media partners the Voice of San Diego the need to increase the health benefit perk was necessary to boost employee recruitment and retention but reporter Rob Davis said board members saw no evidence that it’s a problem.
Board members said they would not be among those eligible for the lifetime healthcare benefits because they are not salaried employees.
The Otay Water District serves 47,000 customers in areas such as El Cajon, La Mesa, Spring Valley, Bonita and eastern Chula Vista.