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Righting a Wrong

According to a recent San Diego Union Tribune article* at least 13 independent water agencies in San Diego County, fund health insurance for their board members at cost of more than $600,000 in rate-payer dollars annually to provide benefits for 69 water district directors; an average of $8,696 per person.

Health insurance for board members was enabled by a 1993 state Attorney General’s opinion on the dubious theory that board members qualify for full-time employee benefits because “an elective board member holds office for 24 hours a day.”

Some principled board members don’t accept the benefits where offered, and three boards - Fallbrook, Valley Center and Rainbow - do not offer any. Olivenhain district officials are talking about discontinuing medical benefits for board members and, according to the board president, board members health insurance is one of several items that should be considered for elimination to offset rate increases as high as 12 percent in each of the next three years at the Santa Fe water agency.

While elected water board members don’t actually work full-time, they nonetheless commonly award themselves district-funded medical insurance not available to their agency’s other part-time workers. Several water districts, including Borrego, also provide free dental and vision insurance to elected officials – a better deal than what’s offered to California’s full-time state lawmakers, who must pay 32% of their health insurance premiums.

Borrego Water District board members voted themselves free medical insurance in 2008 despite wide-spread public opposition and outrage. In 2009, the first year it was available, the benefit cost the district $61,701 or $12,340 per person. This self-serving munificence resulted in a reform slate of candidates that won all three of the seats on the five member board up for grabs in the 2010 election partly on a promise to undo the hugely unpopular decision. “It flew in the face of the spirit of service in this community,” said Beth Hart, one of the three new board members.

At the boards regular meeting on 15 December the board made good on their campaign promise and voted to discontinue medical, dental, and vision insurance for board members unless the board members who opted to participate in the district’s plan paid 100% of the cost of such insurance; a nice Christmas present for the ratepayers of the district.

* “Water board members get healthy benefits: The agencies offer medical insurance some see as more appropriate for full-time employees,” San Diego Union Tribune, December 10, 2010, p. 2. 12.16.2010

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