WASA pays staff bonuses amid plans for rate hike

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Dur­ing a se­ries of public hear­ings on rate hikes, D.C. Water and Sewer Au­thor­ity of­fi­cials were quick to point out that they were do­ing ev­ery­thing they could to save money for cus­tomers, in­clud­ing en­act­ing a pay freeze across man­age­ment.

But af­ter they re­ceived news of an un­ex­pected sur­plus for fis­cal 2010, of­fi­cials used a slice of that cash the fol­low­ing year to pay out bonuses to man­age­ment and other nonunion staff to­tal­ing more than a half-mil­lion dol­lars, records show.

The bonuses were given at a time when WASA of­fi­cials were warn­ing about im­pend­ing rate hikes, with cur­rent pro­jec­tions call­ing for the av­er­age bill for a sin­gle-fam­ily home to rise from about $66 per month to $72 in 2013. The rate hikes are ex­pected to con­tinue to $93 in 2016 and $118 by 2020.

Un­der pres­sure from Is­rael and Repub­li­cans to take stronger ac­tion against Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, Pres­i­dent Obama told an in­flu­en­tial pro-is­rael lobby Sun­day that “there is too much loose talk of war,” and he urged pa­tience to let eco­nomic sanc­tions work.

“For the sake of Is­rael’s se­cu­rity, Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity, and the peace and se­cu­rity of the world, now is not the time for blus­ter,” Mr. Obama said at the an­nual Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs

The bonuses did not sur­face as a topic of dis­cus­sion at a re­cent D.C. Coun­cil over­sight hear­ing on WASA’S op­er­a­tions, but the pay­ments were dis­closed in a writ­ten sub­mis­sion by the util­ity to the coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on En­vi­ron­ment, Public Works and Trans­porta­tion.

The dis­clo­sure does not list the names or ti­tles of the em­ploy­ees who re­ceived bonuses, but says of­fi­cials had no choice con­cern­ing about half of the over­all $1.2 mil­lion paid out, which they said had to be spent be­cause of a union con­tract.

“The union bonus was spec­i­fied in the most re­cent col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment that ex­pired [Sept. 3, 2011],” WASA said in its re­port to the coun­cil com­mit­tee. “The non-union staff re­ceived a per­for­mance bonus which var­ied by in­di­vid­ual based upon ac­tual per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions of each em­ployee.”

The re­port also stated that WASA con­ducts in­terim and an­nual per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions by em­ploy­ees’ im­me­di­ate su­per­vi­sors, re­viewed by the next level of man­age­ment and ul­ti­mately ap­proved by depart­ment heads.

While about half of the in­cen­tive awards paid out were re­quired by union con­tract, to­tal­ing $613,000, an­other $588,915 went to 123 nonunion em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing WASA man­agers and ex­ec­u­tives. Eight other em­ploy­ees re­ceived $15,026 in so-called spe­cial awards, in­clud­ing spe­cial recog­ni­tion and hir­ing bonuses, records show.

“It was a dis­cre­tional decision in lieu of pay in­creases,” WASA Gen­eral Man­ager Ge­orge S. Hawkins told The Washington Times. “There are no such ex­pen­di­tures planned for 2012.”

When Mr. Hawkins was asked at a re­cent over­sight hear­ing how the agency planned to use an op­er­at­ing sur­plus of more than $30 mil­lion for fis­cal 2011, Mr. Hawkins said the money had been placed in re­serve mostly for rate sta­bi­liza­tion.

WASA spokesman Alan Hey­mann said the re­serve to pay the bonuses dur­ing fis­cal 2011 came from a dif­fer­ent sur­plus that came from money from the 2010 fis­cal bud­get year. He de­scribed the bonus pay­ments as a “one time” ex­pen­di­ture made be­cause of the salary freeze.

“It was merit-based and it was even­tap­pro­pri­ated,” he said of the bonus pay­outs.

Mr. Hey­mann also said of­fi­cials paid bonuses in­stead of rais­ing salaries be­cause pay hikes couldn’t be reversed, while bonuses could be paid just once.

In tes­ti­mony last month, Mr. Hawkins out­lined a se­ries of pro­jected rate in­creases ex­pected to take place over the next eight years be­cause of a host of projects, in­clud­ing re­place­ment of ag­ing pipes and sew­ers.

The agency has an an­nual bud­get of more than $1 bil­lion, with more than half of the money go­ing to­ward cap­i­talimprove­ment projects.

The av­er­age age of water mains in the Dis­trict is 77 years, with sew­ers av­er­ag­ing 88 years. Of­fi­cials say en­vi­ron­men­tal man­dates are in­creas­ing op­er­a­tional costs, too, with ratepay­ers pick­ing up the bill.

“While the rates we charge our cus­tomers rise year af­ter year, we are still catch­ing up from a pe­riod of his­toric un­der­in­vest­ment in our in­fra­struc­ture and op­er­a­tions,” WASA of­fi­cials told the coun­cil in its re­port to the com­mit­tee.

“Mean­while, there is a tremen­dous dis­con­nect be­tween the cost of the ser­vice and its value to civ­i­liza­tion. Our av­er­age sin­gle-fam­ily monthly bill is about $66, com­pared to cell­phone and cable bills that could eas­ily cost twice as much.”

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