After the shouting and gavel banging died down, the Otay Water District’s board voted 4-1 Wednesday to award lifetime health care to its union employees and pay most of the costs for their spouses.
Not before the district’s ratepayers — who on average pay a bill that’s $20 higher than it was in 2008 — let loose on the board of directors.
The visceral reaction evoked visions of the Congressional town halls that became a flashpoint for those angered by federal health care reform. It highlighted the growing frustration around the region among ratepayers who have endured years of water rate increases. And it underscored just how much Otay has struggled to explain its rationale for guaranteeing retiree health care for its employees at the time other government agencies across the country are trying to shed it.
The district’s leaders initially said adding the benefit would save money every year. It won’t save a penny until at least 2018, according to subsequent projections. The district plans to pay for the enhanced benefits by requiring employees to pay more toward their pensions (8 percent of their salaries, up from 1 percent today). Union employees will also pay an extra .75 percent.
The district says it could save $5 million total by 2046. Board members said they trusted it wouldn’t require the district to raise rates.