LONG BEACH — Top managers and non-union staffers with the Pacific County Public Utility District will be bringing home fatter paychecks next year.
About 15 employees who are not represented by organized labor are getting 1.5 percent cost-of-living raises in 2018. In the new year, monthly salaries for the administrative and nonunion group, start at $5,185 and go up to $16,876. That’s $62,220 to $202,512 a year.
The nine current managers who are included in the group will be earning annual salaries of $92,232 to $188,052 in 2018 depending on where they fall on the pay scale. The pay hike will cost the ratepayer-owned utility $2,604 a month, General Manager Jason Dunsmoor said. That’s an extra expense of $31,248 for the electricity, water and wholesale telecommunications provider next year.
Dunsmoor said the pay bump is needed to help the PUD keep employees and recruit new ones to serve its 17,000 customers.
“I could easily sit here and justify it,” he told the three commissioners before they approved the raises on Dec. 19.
Dunsmoor stepped up from chief engineer to general manager on Oct. 1, just in time for ratepayers to see a 3 percent increase on their power bills.
With the 2018 cost-of-living raise, Dunsmoor’s monthly salary will increase to $15,289 a month until his predecessor Doug Miller officially retires. Miller’s last day on the job was Sept. 30. However, he’s still earning his $199,524-a-year salary, until he runs out of leave time. on Feb. 1.
The monthly salary for the former PUD boss is scheduled to increase from $16,627 to $16,876 in January. Miller is expected to go off the payroll on Feb. 1. Dunsmoor’s pay will then increase to $15,671 a month or $188,052 a year, according to his employment contract.
PUD Commissioner Dick Anderson said he wants to see if there’s something that can be done to stop Miller from getting the 2018 pay bump. The Menlo excavation contractor and retired school teacher plans to bring it up at the Jan. 2 PUD meeting in Raymond.
Anderson opposed increasing pay for administrative and nonunion employees in 2018, but the 1.5 percent increase was approved by a 2 to 1 vote at the board meeting last week.
“Raises that were approved in the past were very, very generous,” Anderson, who was elected to his first six-year term in 2016 said. “I don’t think any of our management people are being underpaid.”
Dunsmoor tells a different story. He said the PUD has lost employees to comparable jobs with higher pay and it has had trouble finding qualified applicants who are willing to live in rural Pacific County.
Dunsmoor said he recommended the raises to keep salaries and wages in line with pay at other utilities across the state. Without competitive pay, convincing qualified candidates to move to rural Pacific County and stay in the area long-term can be a hard sell, he said.
“That’s why we home-grow them,” Dunsmoor said, referring to hiring local workers who have family ties to the area. “It’s tough to get people to come to an isolated rural area if they’re not from here.”
Dunsmoor told the Observer he did not have specifics on how much other PUDs are paying their workers, and that information was not provided to the commissioners before they voted on the raises. He said he knows salaries and wages in the county are low because he talks with other managers and has reviewed pay comparisons in the past.
Commissioner Diana Thompson said she supported the raises because she wasn’t comfortable increasing wages for union employees without also upping salaries for managers and nonunion staff.
“How would you feel if your coworkers all got raises and you didn’t?” the Oysterville businesswoman and commissioner since 2007 asked. “This PUD economizes in a lot of ways, but you have to take care of people to keep people.”
Commissioner Mike Swanson said he’s voted against raises every year since 2009.
“I’ve been the no-vote every year except this year,” he said.
Swanson, a Naselle real estate agent, said he thought the 1.5 percent increases were fair because federal cost-of-living adjustments that affect the pocketbooks of many local ratepayers are also increasing in 2018.
The Social Security Administration raised beneficiary payments by 2 percent for 2018. The increases are intended to make sure inflation does not sink the value of federal benefits.
By law, Social Security checks grow with increases in the Consumer Price Index, which is determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The average retirement benefit, $1,377 a month in 2017, is expected to go up to $1,404 on Jan. 1, according to the federal government. That’s $27 a month or $324 a year.
When Social Security checks increased by 0.3 percent in 2017, about $5 a month for the average beneficiary, Swanson voted against a 3 percent raises for PUD employees. He didn’t feel it was right to burden ratepayers with the cost of PUD pay bumps when average incomes were not increasing at a similar rate. Those receiving Social Security benefits saw increases of 1.7 percent in 2015, 1.5 percent in 2014, 1.7 percent in 2013 and 3.6 percent in 2012. Meanwhile PUD employees received annual pay bumps of 3 percent or more. Administrative and nonunion workers in 2012 were given a 25 percent raise over 17 months on top of a 3 percent cost of living adjustment.
Dunsmoor said he and labor leaders have reached a tentative three-year agreement that includes annual cost-of-living adjustments of 3 percent for the PUD’s 39 union workers.
Under the current union agreement, skilled tradesmen and laborers earn hourly wages ranging from $50.14 for a line foreman to $17.08 for laborers. That’s $104,291 to $40,851 a year for full-time workers plus overtime.
Hourly pay for union office staffers now ranges from $30.35 for senior accountants to a starting wage of $13.84 for entry-level customer service representatives. That’s $64,168 to $28,787 annually for full-time employees plus overtime.
Starting pay for customer service representatives is also going up to $16.17 an hour, or $33,633 a year. If the contract is approved, they’ll get a 3 percent cost-of-living raise in 2018 on top of the wage bump.
Dunsmoor said the 3 percent increases are in line with other tentative or recently approved labor union contracts for workers at other utilities, including the PUDs for Grays Harbor and Mason counties. Union utility workers in Pacific County are scheduled to vote on the new contract on Jan. 2.