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By Roz Rogoff

Bonuses and "Temporary" Fees

Uploaded: Oct 16, 2011

The Dublin San Ramon Services District came under fire recently for voting to pay Senior Managers bonuses up to 9.25% of their pay. These managers already make at least $150-$250K. I protested these bonuses last year when I ran for the District's Board of Directors.

I argued with Director Rich Halket over the bonuses. Rich, who used to work for Peoplesoft before it was taken over by Oracle, is now a CPA. He defended the bonuses because the District pays managers only 60% of the range paid in similar districts. I told Rich that 60% isn't low. It is 10% above the median, but Rich was not convinced and believed that DSRSD managers deserve bonuses to make up for their middling pay. Directors Pat Howard and Georgean Vonheeder-Leopold voted with Halket for the bonuses. Directors Dawn Benson and Dan Scannell voted against them.

Howard was recently quoted in the Contra Costa Times when the temporary infrastructure charge was cut in half, "We said it was temporary, and we meant it." I still don't see it gone. It was $18 and now it is $9, and the plan for next year is to reduce it more but not end it entirely. So water users are paying twice for the infrastructure that they paid for when they bought their homes.

Why did the District need this "temporary infrastructure fee" in the first place? Because, as Georgean Vonheeder-Leopold boasted in our televised debate on TV30 last year, "We wanted to be the little District that could." This goes back to Dougherty Valley and the tangled web of water and sewer that enabled Contra Costa County to increase the size of the project.

It's not really Georgean's fault. I probably would have voted for it if I had been on the District Board 15 years ago when DSRSD agreed to provide water for 11,000 homes in Dougherty Valley after East Bay MUD voted not to. That made the developers very happy, because then they could build 3000 more houses and flatten more ridges than the City of San Ramon would allow, by going to Contra Costa County for their permits.

Water and sewer were two stumbling blocks for increasing the size of the development in Dougherty Valley. DSRSD should have been the sewer provider, because stuff (you know what I mean) flows downhill. But Pleasanton, which is where the DSRSD processing facility is located (Don't ask. That's a whole other can of worms.), didn't want the stuff going there. So now the stuff is pumped up to Martinez.

Instead of getting the sewer service, DSRSD negotiated a trade for water rights with Kern County so it could be the water provider for Dougherty Valley. In order to deliver the water, DSRSD had to build the infrastructure, piping and pumping, before the development started. This sunk a whole bunch of money in the ground, but it would all be paid for by the connection fees charged on the new homes. When the real estate market crashed the District created a "temporary," infrastructure fee to be able to pay on their note. This enabled DSRSD to refinance its debts at a better rate, but because fewer connection fees (now called capacity fees) are coming in, the temporary charge is still there.

So today I read in the Times that the Directors are considering reducing the maximum possible bonus from 15% to 7.5% next year. Of course the fact that the stuff hit the fan and blew back on them, and that Halket, Howard, and Scannell are running for reelection next year, wouldn't have anything to do with seeing the light. I hope someone from San Ramon runs for the District next year, but I can tell you it won't be me.

I ran for DSRSD to represent San Ramon, which has not had any representation on the DSRSD Board of Directors in ten years, and to make District information more accessible to the public. I also wanted reduced rates for low income users.

Last year the Directors passed a lower rate for residents who qualify for PG&E CARE rates but only for water users. The rates for sewer users have not been reduced yet. There are some legal limitations on the District's ability to change rates for one group of users over another; so I understand why this is taking more time.

Everyone on the Board took credit for reducing the water rates, but that was one of my campaign priorities back in 2004. Everyone jumped on the band wagon when I showed up again. If my running for DSRSD helped push them into doing this, then I did some good.

Even after losing the election I came to a meeting last November to protest the 1.5% COLA given to managers. I had just received a letter from Social Security saying recipients would not be getting a COLA that year. I have not received a no-COLA letter this year, but I'm expecting one soon. I'll keep my eye on DSRSD's Agendas to see if they have the nerve to vote for one this year. I won't run for Director again, but someone has to keep an eye on what they are doing with ratepayers' money.