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Last week we pointed out that the La Mesa Spring Valley School District has an unfunded liability for retiree health care of almost $24,000,000. That amount of money should have been set aside to pay for promises to provide for health care after retirement – but it was not. We decided, in the interest of fairness and requested by some taxpayers, to look at two other local public sector employers – The City of La Mesa and Helix Water District – to see if they also have unfunded retiree health care liabilities.
We are happy to report that the City of La Mesa does not have an unfunded liability for retiree health care. However Helix Water District (HWD) does, to the tune of almost $25 million. It is surprising that HWD has an unfunded liability greater than LMSV because their workforce (about 150) is so much smaller than that at LMSV (over 1,000). It is disappointing that HWD has any unfunded liability at all. Under the category of “better late than never” HWD is in the process of funding an account to pay for retiree health care.
The estimated 2013/14 cost of this one benefit – retiree health care – is $2,582,092. Had the district been paying as they went along, that amount would have been “only” a little over $800,000. Think about it – rate-payers are paying $2,582,092 for retiree health care alone. The cost of other benefits, such as active employee health care and pensions, are much larger – and then there are salaries. Since the Board of Directors is unwilling to bring HWD benefits in line with those paid in the private sector, it is not difficult to see why water rate increases have become an annual event, nearly as predictable as the swallows’ yearly return to San Juan Capistrano.