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EID audit could pour on pressure

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What does the El Dorado Irrigation District have to hide? It seems that EID and the Placerville political establishment are furious over Assemblyman Ted Gaines’ request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to investigate the finances of EID. Gaines has undertaken this request in response to the outpouring of ratepayer anger over EID’s elevated rates and massive rate increase and the revelations of EID in an opinion piece published in the Jan. 29 Sacramento Bee titled “El Dorado utility mismanaged.” This piece was co-signed by six former EID directors, including myself. In this piece we lay out the history of abuse of power by current board members and gross mismanagement. This mismanagement includes risky and excessive borrowing and massive increase in EID’s operating budget resulting mainly from increased labor costs. Under this board, labor costs have tripled. Labor costs now account for 75 percent of the operating budget. The increases were due to a combination of increased staffing (70 percent) along with generous salary increases and retirement benefits. Were the overly generous salary and benefit increases political payback for support of the EID Employee Association in the election of the present board? For more on that, check out http://speakouteid.blogspot. com. On Feb. 4, the EID board voted for Plan B, which increases both water and wastewater rates over the next five years. When the rate increases are fully implemented, ratepayers will see a 57 percent increase in rates. Not to mention, there has already been a 47 percent increase under this board as they have increased rates every year since 2003. Plan B was offered after EID heard a torrent of protest to its earlier plan. But ratepayers should be aware that EID executive management, including the board, continues to enjoy their Executive Wellness Program, and the staff continues with their exorbitant retirement formula of 2.7 percent at age 55. The staffing, while reduced from it peak of 310 employees in 2007, is still 34 percent higher than what this board inherited. Every nine employees add $1 million to the operating budget. But do not expect the rate increases to end. EID has yet to account for the increasing liability for lifetime health benefits premium for retirees. The financial audit of EID is only the start to reforming the utility. And the audit is not a done deal. Fortunately for us, Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, of El Dorado Hills, is the chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. She is in a position to make this audit happen. She has yet to indicate her support. You can help encourage her by visiting her this Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the El Dorado Hills Community Service District Pavilion, 1021 Harvard Way. You can also call her office at (916) 319-2010 or drop her an e-mail at assemblymember.huber@assembly.ca.gov. Al Vargas is a former El Dorado Irrigation District board member. He can be reached at vargas.al@hotmail.com.