Water district benefits criticized

City Council candidate Emanuel Patrascu e-blasted council members for medical coverage they receive as directors of the Laguna Beach County Water District — coverage he would have to accept if elected or be responsible for a significant increase in the district's insurance rate.

"Our insurance has an incentive plan and we get a good rate as long as no one opts out," district General Manager Renae Hinchey said. "If someone does opt out the rate would go up 4%."

Patrascu published an e-mail on Sept. 8 comparing the annual $6,000 for single coverage or $14,000 for primary and spousal coverage with the compensation paid the council members of the city of Bell.

"If I were to tell you that city council members are getting over $14,000 in benefits for attending four meetings a year, would you think I was discussing Laguna Beach or the city of Bell? I bet most of you would think it was the city of Bell.

"As part of their official duties, Laguna Beach City Council Members also make up the Board of Directors of the Laguna Beach Water District. The board meets quarterly, which by any standard shouldn't even be considered a part-time job.

"For attending these four meetings a year, the board gets full medical benefits, from the water district, paid for by the ratepayers."

Incumbent Toni Iseman asked twice to have her coverage removed, but was convinced by Hinchey that it would be detrimental to the district.

Patrascu complained that two of the incumbents in the upcoming election get coverage for their spouses — Kelly Boyd and Mayor Elizabeth Pearson — whose divorced husband will be removed from the policy in November.

Dependents of council members are also eligible for coverage, which has been accepted in the recent past, although dependents and spouses can opt out without affecting the district's rate, Hinchey said.

Patrascu said Tuesday that the insurance coverage should not even be an option.

"I would not accept it if elected," he said. "I don't think any elected official should get benefits for attending four meetings a year. Benefits come with full-time jobs."

The district pays monthly premiums per primary coverage of $487.50 for healthcare, $32.07 for dental care and $15.99 for vision services.

"Add it up and it is more than $6,000 per year and more than $1,600 for each meeting of the water district board of directors," Patrascu complained.

The district pays monthly premiums of $1,149.84 for healthcare, $63.67 for dental care and $15.99 for vision coverage per board member and spouse, according to Hinchey. The district contributes 90% of the premiums for spouses and dependents, Hinchey said.

"If you add it all up, it is more than $14,000 a year and more than $3,500 for each meeting of the water district board of directors," Patrascu concluded in his e-mail.

"On Oct. 12 the Laguna Beach Water district has scheduled a public hearing. And, of course, it is to increase water rates.

"The first thing the district should do, before even thinking of increasing rates, is getting rid of the overly-generous unreasonable benefits reaped by the Board of Directors."

Proposed rate increases are triggered by the hike charged by the Metropolitan Water District which supplies Laguna's water, all of which is imported, Hinchey said. The hearing is open to the public. For more information, call (949) 494-1041.

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