Helix board to hear report on compensation study

Helix board to hear report on compensation study

On March 27, 2019, the Helix Water District Board of Directors will hear the final report on the compensation and benefits study conducted for the district by Reward Strategy Group. The public workshop will begin at 6:00 p.m. at Helix’s Administration Office in La Mesa. 

The survey compares the salaries for 54, or approximately half, of Helix’s employee classifications, from customer service representative to civil engineer, to the salaries for similar positions at 23 other public agencies in Southern California, including water districts, cities, the County of San Diego, and State of California positions within San Diego County.

The survey shows that the salaries of almost 70 percent of Helix’s employee classifications are reasonably competitive, with the district’s current salary range maximums falling within plus or minus five percent of the median.

“The results are consistent with our past compensation surveys. Helix is in the middle of the pack of public agencies,” said Helix General Manager Carlos Lugo. 

The survey also shows that Helix has an appropriately competitive benefits package compared to both the public sector and the private sector.

“Our strategy is to offer competitive salaries, not the highest salaries, and to point to the quality of our workforce, culture and performance to attract top talent to Helix,” added Lugo.

“With baby boomers retiring, the competition for talent is heating up. But we have to balance the needs of our employees and our customers.”

Helix conducts a compensation survey every two years. This year, the board requested that a third-party consultant complete the survey and the district retained RSG. The San Diego-based firm has provided compensation and human resources consulting for over 30 years.

The workshop on March 27 is open to the public. Helix’s Administration Office is located at 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa.

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 275,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside — east of downtown San Diego. Helix also provides treated water to neighboring Padre Dam, Otay and Lakeside water districts.

Why Harry Griffen Park was built and how it got it’s name

Why Harry Griffen Park was built and how it got it’s name

The careful planning, innovation and cooperation of local agencies over 40 years ago turned a once fenced-off reservoir into a beautiful 55 acre public park that thousands of people enjoy every year.

Harry Griffin Park is dedicated to Helix Water District’s long-time board member and board president, who served from 1951 through 1978. During his 27 years of oversight, Mr. Griffin saw the district’s rapid expansion and growth, its construction and filling of Lake Jennings and the completion of the district’s R.M. Levy Treatment Plant in Lakeside, and he was instrumental to securing water supplies from Northern California for San Diego.

The park itself began as a storage reservoir, originally built in 1893. First known as Murray Hill Reservoir and later renamed to Grossmont Reservoir, it was used as a terminus reservoir for water diverted from Lake Cuyamaca to East County. The water arrived via the San Diego Flume, which started just east of the El Monte Valley and flowed by gravity for 33 miles into the reservoir.

In 1957, the reservoir was expanded to meet the region’s growing demand for water, caused by the post-war era population boom, and lined to improve water quality. But as the area grew, subdivisions and developments encroached on this once isolated reservoir and created a larger potential for contamination. Knowing of this vulnerability, Helix decided to fully enclose the reservoir and began construction of a new reinforced concrete reservoir in 1976.

The new structure was completed in 1978, is 600 feet long, 358 feet wide and 22 feet high. It is out of sight to the public today because it is buried below the grassy field within Harry Griffen Park.

Once the reservoir was completed, Helix initiated a Joint Powers Authority to form, fund, operate and maintain a master-planned regional park with Grossmont Union High School District, the County of San Diego and the cities of El Cajon and La Mesa. This partnership still lasts today and is a model for inter-agency cooperation for the benefit of the communities the agencies serve.

Helix board approves $8 million pay down of pension liabilities

Helix board approves $8 million pay down of pension liabilities

The Helix Water District Board of Directors approved on February 13, 2019 a one-time, $5 million payment in 2019 and an additional $3 million in payments over the next four years to reduce the district’s unfunded employee pension liabilities.

The advance funding plan will reduce Helix’s unfunded employee pension liabilities by $20.3 million, providing a net cost savings of $12.3 million for Helix and its customers.

The annual cost savings for the district will ramp up steadily from $138,000 this year to almost $2 million in fiscal year 2042-43, when the district will pay off, or fully fund, its employee pensions five years ahead of schedule.

“Helix’s board and staff have been working to find ways to address this challenge, which is impacting cities and government agencies throughout California,” said Board President Dan McMillan. “We have to pay down our unfunded pension liability. We have a responsibility to employees, to the fiscal health of the district and to our customers.”

In June 2018, 68 percent of Helix pensions were funded. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) expects the $5 million payment to increase the district’s funded status in June 2019 to 72 percent.

If the board had not approved the voluntary payments, the district’s employee pensions would remain 68 percent funded, annual payments to CalPERS would increase from $3.5 million this year to as high as $4.9 million in fiscal year 2030-31, and the district would not pay off its employee pensions until 2048.

Helix has consistently taken steps to reduce its unfunded employee pension liabilities and their impact on water rates and customers. The district pays the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) in full each year and saves $50,000 by paying in one lump sum, and district employees pay 100 percent of the optional employee contribution, saving the district and customers $1 million annually.

In fiscal year 2014-15, Helix’s board began making voluntary annual payments of $500,000 to $750,000 to reduce the unfunded portion of the district’s employee pensions. During the fiscal year 2018-19 budget process, the board directed staff to analyze the impact of a larger payment, and staff explored options with the California Public Employees Retirement System and municipal advisory firm Fieldman and Rolapp.

Funding for the $5 million payment comes from the $8 million Helix received from the sale of district property in the El Monte Valley in Lakeside, not from water rates or rate increases, and funding for the four $750,000 voluntary payments is already included in the district’s five-year cost projection.

“Making voluntary payments is a good strategy,” said General Manager Carlos Lugo. “We are striking the best balance we can between the district’s employees and current and future customers.”

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 275,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside — east of downtown San Diego. Helix also provides treated water to neighboring Padre Dam, Otay and Lakeside water districts.

Watch how winter rains wash away California’s drought

Watch how winter rains wash away California’s drought

From the San Jose Mercury News —

What a difference a winter can make.

On Jan. 1, three-quarters of California was in drought. Just eight weeks later, however, succession of storms have washed drought conditions away from all but a splotch at the far north edge of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Some of Southern California is still considered abnormally dry, which means there are some lingering water deficits.

Considering what the state has been through in recent years, this is good news.

Read the Story

 

Photo: John King, Water Resources Engineer, of the California Department of Water Resources, prepares to insert the snow depth survey pole into the snow for the third media snow survey of the 2019 season at Phillips Station. (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

Helix Water District is Recognized for Reducing Insurance Claims

Helix Water District is Recognized for Reducing Insurance Claims

Each year the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority, recognizes its members who have low claims on their insurance policies. Helix Water District was able achieve this low level of losses through its policies, procedures and programs aimed at reducing risks associated with purveying water. These include preventing construction related losses, administering fair employment practices, preventing workplace injuries, operating vehicles safely, and responding to emergencies efficiently.

 “The policies set in place by the district’s Board of Directors and the commitment of staff to work safely and reduce risks, prevents workplace accidents and damage and reduces our insurance costs. Like a good driver discount, these actions keep our insurance costs low, which ultimately benefits our customers.” said Kevin Miller, Helix’s Director of Operations.

 For more information about this award or other board meetings at hwd.com/agendas-minutes

Helix lobbying against a tax on water bills

Helix lobbying against a tax on water bills

Last summer, the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act, legislation seeking to add a tax to your water bill, died, returned, and died again during negotiations to pass California’s state budget. But support for the tax did not die. On January 11, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20 and it includes a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.

Water Tax

Revenue for the fund would be collected through a statewide tax on drinking water and an assessment on fertilizer sales and dairies, and would be used to fund drinking water solutions for disadvantaged communities, primarily in California’s central valley, that are dependent on contaminated groundwater.  As previously structured under Senate Bill 623, the water tax would raise an estimated $160 million in annual revenue, with 85 percent of the revenue coming from the tax on urban water bills.

Supporters of the tax cite the urgent need to provide safe drinking water to disadvantaged communities and find a reliable solution to important public health issues.

Learn more about support for the water tax

Opponents of the tax agree with the goal, but believe that a tax on drinking water works against the goal of keeping water affordable, and that alternative funding solutions should be utilized. They have proposed a Statewide Drinking Water Trust, which would be funded with a one-time infusion of state general fund dollars during a budget surplus year, as a credible alternative.

Learn more about opposition to the water tax and proposed Statewide Drinking Water Trust

Read Helix Water District’s February 6, 2019 comment letter opposing the water tax and supporting the drinking water trust.

Helix Water District Letter to Assemblywoman Shirley Weber

Low Income Rate Assistance Program

Helix is also lobbying our elected representatives regarding the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act, established through Assembly Bill 401 in 2015, which directs the State Water Resources Control Board to prepare a plan to create a statewide program to help low income households pay their water bills.

On January 3, 2019, the State Water Resources Control Board released a draft report analyzing the options for designing, funding and administering such a program. Proposed options include providing a tiered discount to households that have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level when their monthly water bills (based on 12 units of water use) exceed a certain amount. Program costs are dependent on the option selected but could total $606 million during the first year of the program.

Funding options considered include adding a $7-$10 per month fee onto non-low-income household water bills statewide, a tax on high personal income earners or businesses via the state income tax system, and a tax on bottled water.

Learn about the LIRA program

Read the State Water Resources Control Board’s Options for Implementation of a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program report

Read Helix Water District’s comment letter to the State Water Resources Control Board dated January 31, 2019.

Helix Water District Letter to State Water Resources Control Board

How wildfires affect California’s water supply

How wildfires affect California’s water supply

From the Public Policy Institute of California —
Summer marks the traditional beginning of California’s fire season, although the warming climate has stretched the season considerably. Until the winter rains arrive, wildfires will burn forests and grasslands throughout the state. Since January 1, about 3,700 fires have consumed more than 111,000 acres of land—outpacing 2017, the most destructive and deadly fire season in state history.

Read the Public Policy Institute of California Blog Post

Helix Water District Opposes Water Tax and SB 998

Helix Water District Opposes Water Tax and SB 998

At the July 18, 2018 board meeting, Helix Water District’s board of directors voted unanimously to adopt resolutions opposing two water industry bills currently in the state legislature. Both are anticipated to be considered during the upcoming August legislative session.

Water Tax – SB 623 and Budget Trailer Bill

A proposed statewide tax on drinking water is being advanced through Senate Bill 623, a two-year bill introduced in 2017 by William Monning (D-Carmel), and a 2018 Brown Administration budget trailer bill related to safe drinking water. The public goods tax would be added to water bills and used to fund drinking water solutions for disadvantaged communities.

As currently structured, SB 623 would raise an estimated $160 million in annual revenue. Of that total, approximately 85 percent would be collected through a tax on drinking water provided to residential, businesses, industrial and institutional customers; the remaining 15 percent would be collected through a tax on confined animal facilities, bulk or packaged fertilizer materials, and dairies and producers of milk.

Supporters of the tax cite the urgent need to provide safe drinking water to disadvantaged communities and find a reliable solution to important public health issues.

Learn more about support for the budget trailer bill and SB 623

Opponents of the tax agree with the goal but believe that a tax on drinking water works against the goal of keeping water affordable and that alternative funding solutions should be utilized.

Learn more about opposition to the budget trailer bill,
SB 623 and alternative funding solutions here

On July 18, 2018, Helix Water District’s board of directors adopted Resolution 18-29, opposing (unless amended) a tax on drinking water.

Read the resolution and reasoning here

Prohibitions on Shutoff – SB 998

Senate Bill 998, introduced by Bill Dodd (D-Napa) would create a statewide program that would establish state-wide limits on how a water provider handles residential water service disconnections for non-payment, including establishing a cap on reconnection fees.

Supporters of the bill state that it would protect low-income families from having their water service disconnected as water prices statewide continue to increase.

Learn more about support for SB 998 here

Opponents of the bill are concerned that the cap on reconnection fees have no direct relationship with a water provider’s actual costs to reconnect service, triggering Proposition 218 concerns, and preventing disconnections would result in a loss of revenue for non-profit water providers, requiring other customers to shoulder the burden of these missed payments.

Learn more about opposition to SB 998 here

On July 18, 2018, Helix Water District’s board of directors adopted Resolution 18-30, opposing Senate Bill 998.

Read the resolution and reasoning here

 

Our annual Water Quality Report is available now

Our annual Water Quality Report is available now

Helix Water District’s annual Water Quality Report is now available in English and Spanish.  This year’s report documents our water quality throughout calendar year 2017.

English
https://hwd.com/quality/wqr-english.pdf

Spanish
https://hwd.com/quality/wqr-espanol.pdf

The report contains important information about the source and quality of Helix’s drinking water. As in years past, our tap water met all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state of California drinking water health standards.

For questions regarding the report, call 619-667-6248 or email wqr@helixwater.org. To have a paper copy of the report mailed to your home, call 619-466-0585.

Water bond on November ballot as Proposition 3

Water bond on November ballot as Proposition 3

Photo: future location of Sites Reservoir in Northern California (Los Angeles Times)
From the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)
The Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018 will appear as Proposition 3 on California’s November 6 ballot. Proposition numbers were recently assigned by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. If passed, Proposition 3 would be the third water bond adopted by California voters in the last four years.

Proposition 3 would make available $8.9 billion in general obligation bonds to fund projects for water supply and quality, watershed restoration, fish and wildlife protection, sustainable groundwater management and repair of existing dams and canals.  Proposition 3 funds would augment $1.6 billion for water-related projects already approved by voters on June 5 with the passage of Proposition 68.

$8.9 Billion

Proposition 3
On November 2018 Ballot

$1.6 Billion

Proposition 68
Passed by Voters in June 2018

$2.7 Billion

Proposition 1
Passed by Voters in 2014
On June 27-28, the California Water Commission completed the scoring of eight proposed water storage projects seeking funding from Proposition 1, which was passed by voters in 2014. The goal of building new dams and reservoirs is to collect more water during wet years and have it available during dry periods. The amount of time taken to award the funds has been a controversial subject.

“We are now on the doorstep of awarding funding from Proposition 1 to water storage projects across California,” Commission Chair Armando Quintero said. “We eagerly look forward to next month when we can make preliminary awards to these diverse projects that collectively will add 4.3 million acre-feet of water storage capacity to California.”

Read About the Water Storage Projects Receiving Proposition 1 Funding

How we maintain a reliable water supply (video)

How we maintain a reliable water supply (video)

Maintaining a reliable water supply for our customers requires the continuous, 24/7 operation and maintenance of Helix’s water distribution system:

25

RESERVOIR TANKS

25

PUMP STATIONS

728

MILES OF PIPE

16,903

VALVES

56,500

METERS

6,442

HYDRANTS

Procurement, installation, maintenance and replacement of each of the thousands of components in our water distribution system is the responsibility of Helix’s operations staff. They are the best at what they do, and nobody works harder.

May 20-26 is National Public Works Week

May 20-26 is National Public Works Week

From providing clean water to disposing of solid waste, to building roads and bridges or planning for and implementing mass transit, to removing snow on roadways or devising emergency management strategies to meet natural or manmade disasters, public works services determine society’s quality of life.
May 20-26, 2018 is National Public Works Week, a reminder to recognize the public works professionals responsible for the construction, operations and maintenance of the critical infrastructure we all rely on every day.

We would like to say “Thank You” to all the men and women who put safe water at our fingertips, keep us warm, light our homes, manage our waste and get us where we’re going, including the public works staff at the cities of La Mesa, Lemon Grove and El Cajon, and, especially, all of the professionals right here at Helix Water District.

Photo: Helix Field Operations Staff

WHAT WE DO

The numbers below show a glimpse of what we accomplished in Fiscal Year 2016-17. It gives you an idea of what we do at Helix Water District each day.

14,433

Feet of pipeline
removed

18,920

Feet of pipeline
installed

37

Service laterals installed

87

Service laterals
replaced

16,903

Valves
in System

7,482

Valves
exercised

125

Specialty valves
maintained

6,442

Hydrants
In System

3,075

Hydrants Maintained

70

Hydrants
Repaired

56,498

Meters
in System

2,703

3/4″ – 2″ meters
replaced

427

Meter maintenance
jobs

274,526

population
served

250+

Customer
conversations
per day

1,118

Customer service
field dispatches

138

Water
Conservation
Audits