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Boring water employees say it's their turn

Staff say they've gone four years without significant raises

There was some disagreement last week among the policy makers at Boring's small water utility, causing one board member to vote against increased personnel costs in the coming year.

The controversy was over an increase in the personnel expenses of about $14,000, which is about 5.8 percent more than the current budget, bringing total personnel costs to more than $260,000 for the equivalent of three full-time workers.

Another board member made the assumption that district employees had asked for more than they were willing to settle for and he wanted to negotiate.

Speaking to the district's manager, Larry Alexander, and office administrator, Linna Dejay, board member Pat Bigelow said, 'You've asked for the moon; what do you really want?'

In previous years, district employees have been given a cost-of-living adjustment or have been given raises by moving across the salary schedule one step each year - or both.

One step is equivalent to an increase of approximately $1.25-$1.40 per hour, depending on the total salary.

Alexander reminded the board members that no raises were given during a number of previous years, while in other years they asked only for small increases. But this year the employees want to get back on track with a COLA and step increases.

'Do you expect to increase every employee a step, just because they're alive and in the building?' board member John Lee asked Alexander.

The district manager said the Boring Water District has been struggling to stay current with salary and benefits offered by similar districts in other areas. He also reminded the board the district has been getting by efficiently using only a manager and one utility worker in the field and two part-timers in the office.

Bigelow said he realized the district has doubled its water rates over the past few years, and wanted Alexander or Dejay to say something that would justify the increase to ratepayers.

'There have been a lot of years that our employees sat back and didn't take a raise because our budget didn't have it to give,' Alexander said.

Dejay said she has compared Boring with other small districts.

Some districts, she said, are ahead of Boring, mainly because they pay such benefits as family medical insurance, PERS, life insurance, disability and education expenses.

John Lee said he believes the increase is too high for a single year, citing increases at his company (as an example) that average 3 percent a year.

District employees are asking for an overall salary and benefits increase in cost to the district of 5.8 percent.

'We've done everything we can to try to cut expenses and trim things in this budget to save money,' Alexander said. 'We do tons of things around here to try to keep this district in the black. We never stop to talk about the goals we've accomplished and what we've done.

"We work diligently, and I think it's time the employees get their fair share.'

Board member Steve Wiege said he thinks raises should be in annual increments, not all in one year as is being asked.

Bigelow said the $14,000 needed to pay for the increase in personnel expenses should come from solid income, and he wondered if it is sustainable.

At the end of a long debate, the board voted 4-1 to present the budget committee with the entire employees' proposal (5.8 percent rise for personnel) and see if the budget supports that level of expense.

Lee was the only member of the five-member panel voting against that motion.

The budget committee, which includes the five board members and five appointed citizens of the district, will consider a budget with a bottom line that is likely to surpass $700,000. The committee will present a budget recommendation to the board for action, likely at its June 12 regular meeting.

The first in a series of budget committee meetings, all open to the public, will occur at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, in the district office, 28577 Wally Road, Boring.