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New FPUD budget does not increase employees' pay or benefits

At the Fallbrook Public Utility District’s (FPUD) general meeting held June 28, the board of directors discussed the district’s negotiations with its employees, but did not approve an increase in benefits or salary.

According to general manager Keith Lewinger, while the approved budget for the upcoming year, effective July 1, 2010, will have an increased rate for water and sewer, the increase will have “no impact on the employees’ salary whatsoever.”

“The board wanted to hold down the expenses, and the only reason an increase was implemented on the rates was because the cost of water the district receives from the San Diego Water Authority has increased,” said Lewinger.

Lewinger stated that FPUD employees are currently in the second year of a two-year labor contract, which was constructed with a reopener clause that would allow for the negotiation of a cost of living adjustment. The negotiations began three months ago, and as of yet, there has been no increase by means of a cost of living adjustment or increase in pay, he said.

“The two sides of negotiations are not in agreement right now, but I like to think we are bargaining in good faith,” said Lewinger.

Additionally, Lewinger stated that while both the water and sewer rates were increased in a 3-2 vote at the FPUD special board meeting, the two-part increase would mostly cover the increased purchase price for water units. The majority favoring the increases included Al Gebhart, Bert Hayden, and Don McDougal. Board members Keith Battle and Milt Davies opposed the hikes.

“The district’s fixed charges, which are the same every month, did not change,” said Lewinger. “These charges cover our fixed cost of labor and fringe benefits, and there was no increase in these for the customers.”

However, the district’s commodity charges, which are the amount the customer pays per unit of water, saw a 12.8 percent increase which had to be passed to the district’s customers, said Lewinger.

“The average domestic customer uses about 30 units, or 30,000 gallons of water,” said Lewinger. “That customer will see a 13.7 percent increase in their bill, which is almost the same as the wholesale water cost the district is paying.”

The district’s sewer rates, which are based on users’ winter uses, has gone up by 3.4 percent in the new budget, said Lewinger, causing the cost to go from $47.61 to $49.21 for the average user.

“Overall, this becomes a 10.9 percent change in cost for the average user,” said Lewinger. “However, this year, when analyzing the water usage, the median for water usage during the winter went from seven units to five units, which will actually lower the sewer bill for customers whose usage has dropped under seven units by 18.9 percent.”

Lewinger stated that if a customer’s water usage is found on the lower half of the median, the overall bill increase would only be five percent.

“That is the beauty of our district’s water system; it is much fairer to those who have been cutting back on their usage,” said Lewinger. “I want to compliment our customers who have gotten the message. A lot of our customers will see a reduction in their sewage rates starting next month.”

The new rates, which will be effective July 1, will be reflected in August’s bills.

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