Opinion: Santa Fe Irrigation District: the $16,300 question

For the past four months, local ratepayers have attended Santa Fe Irrigation District board meetings and have repeatedly requested that the board take a roll call vote regarding all aspects of board compensation (health & dental insurance, per diem reimbursement, and other expenses). At each board meeting, ratepayers speaking during “public comments” have been rebuffed and/or told that board compensation was not a “current agenda item.” Finally, after the Jan. 20 board meeting, we were informed that board member compensation is now scheduled for discussion at the upcoming Feb. 17 board meeting. Why all the stonewalling for the past four months?

Answer: $16,300

At least we believe that is part of the answer. Just prior to the Jan. 20 board meeting, we learned in writing from the SFID office that our new director, Andy Menshek, “has enrolled his family (defined as employee plus two or more family members) for medical and dental insurance coverage through SFID. The annual cost is approximately $16,300.”

As we have learned from attending SFID board meetings, Director Menshek currently has other full-time employment with one of the local San Diego-area fire districts, and although he has insurance available through this employment, he has chosen to take insurance benefits from the SFID instead! Insurance benefits at SFID must be even better than those offered by the fire district…

Suggested Board Compensation Changes

Several members of the community are pursuing fiscal changes to the way SFID is being managed by its board members. While we agree that board member expenses represent a small amount compared to total costs of the water district, we feel it is the most important place to begin getting the district’s fiscal house in better order.

It is time for our board members to lead by example, for that will set the attitude for a wide range of fiscal changes that need to occur. It’s time to end the era of entitlements and put more reasonable fiscal policies in place, starting with these two policy changes:

1) Board member health & dental coverage: Should be eliminated

• Board members are not employees of the SFID, they work for the district part-time, on a per diem basis. Insurance benefits are normally restricted to full-time employees, so a legal loop-hole must exist. We feel strongly that there is not a fiscally defensible reason to offer “free” insurance to any board member. Several other local water districts do not provide “free” insurance; neither should the SFID.

• All board members currently have elected to receive “free” insurance benefits from the SFID. If they desire to maintain this coverage, each should pay the entire cost themselves, similar to the policy in other water districts.

2) Board member reimbursement: Should be eliminated or capped

• In addition to free insurance, as reported in the RSF Review, two current board members have each received more than $18,000 in the past year for per diem and expense reimbursement; an amount that seems unnecessarily high when you compare this to other water districts whose entire five-member board expenses are $10,500 (Valley Center).

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