San Diego County Taxpayers Association report reveals water board member perk expenditures

Report focuses on SDCWA, 14 member agencies

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego County Taxpayers Association released a new report that reveals how much money is spent on perk expenditures for local water district board members.

Click here to view the full report by the San Diego Taxpayers Association

The report focuses on the San Diego County Water Authority's board of directors and 14 of the SDCWA's member agencies. The analysis is based on the period of time from January 2005 to July 2011.

"These districts should not be hiding these benefits, the cost of these benefits and what the board members are receiving," said Chris Cate, vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

Each water district has a board of elected directors. They are not paid a salary, but they do receive compensation for attending meetings, free health insurance and other benefits.  

The new report focuses on a number of issues, like stipends -- money given to members for attending water related meetings. How much they get varies by district.  

"What we found in some cases is that the board itself of the district only meets about twice a month, yet they are eligible to receive a stipend for up to 10 times per month," said Cate.

According to the report, directors in the Santa Fe and Helix water districts get $200 a meeting. Valley Center water district directors get as little as $50.

The report looks at other forms of compensation as well.

"They are offering board members health benefits, dental benefits, health and dental benefits to dependents, pension benefits and retiree health benefits," said Cate.

Cate said the water districts of Lakeside, Olivenhain, Otay, Padre Dam and Vallecitos pick up all or some of the directors' dependents health coverage.

"One immediate reform that these districts can take is to not give these board members and their dependents health care coverage. I mean, that will eliminate and cut costs for these board members," said Cate.

The report also looks at pension benefits. According to the information, Vallecitos picks up the entire cost of the pension benefit for the district director.

"So there's no reason that an elected member should receive a benefit that employees are no longer receiving as well," said Cate.

Cate said they are putting this information out because the districts don't.

"They should be posting these online to be as transparent as possible," said Cate.

10News spoke with the three water districts that, according to the report, spent the most total money on perk expenditures.

The Padre Dam Municipal Water District issued this statement:

"Padre Dam MWD was provided a copy of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association report on board member's expenses last week. We are in the process of reviewing the report in detail. However, our initial scan has revealed discrepancies from the figures Padre Dam provided to SDCTA and what is outlined in the report. Until we have had sufficient time to analyze the report, and clear up the discrepancies, we do not think it's appropriate to comment further."

The Helix Water District, the second-largest water agency in the county with a $1.5 billion infrastructure, said, in part:

"While the report characterized those expenses as 'perks,' Helix Water District's payments to board members actually are standard compensation and reimbursements made in accordance with applicable laws."

Click here to view the full response from the Helix Water District

The Vallecitos Water District also sent a letter of response that said, in part:

"The characterization in the Study to 'perk' expenditures is misleading. 'Meeting Stipends, Health Benefits and Travel Reimbursements' are common compensation and benefits provided elected officials throughout the state. The use of the term 'Perks' connotes something 'additional' or 'extra' to normal compensation and benefits."

Click here to view the full response from the Vallecitos Water District

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