The Cambrian

CCSD general manager’s salary proposal pulled from agenda

The crowd listens during the April 28 CCSD board meeting.
The crowd listens during the April 28 CCSD board meeting. ktanner@thetribunenews.com

The discussion has been delayed about a six-year contract for General Manager Jerry Gruber, which includes several 4 percent raises in pay this year and other increases.

Gail Robinette, president of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors, made that announcement soon after she called the board’s April 28 meeting to order, saying that the item had been pulled from the agenda for a “continuance for further review.”

The directors could revisit the topic soon, perhaps at their May 26 meeting.

Robinette noted that the board would not discuss the issue April 28, but that members of the public were welcome to voice their opinions on the subject during the public comment period.

And so they did, as district ratepayers had been doing on social media and through other channels since the meeting’s agenda and staff report had been released late Friday, April 22.

Contract comments

Nine people spoke at the board meeting about the proposed contract, and eight were critical of it. Audience member Jeff Walters even went to the podium in costume and spoke in character, and Tina Dickason called the proposed contract “gold plated and diamond studded.”

Connie Gannon asked how the district “could be near bankruptcy in November” but “also radically increase the salary of our general manager.”

Robinette made the decision to pull the item, according to counsel Tim Carmel. Board members, media and other interested parties had been informed by email the day before the meeting, Robinette said, and the item was removed from the online agenda packet at www.cambriacsd.org.

The board president said later that she wanted more time to review the contract.

The contract

The contract had called for Gruber’s present annual salary of $160,808 to increase by 4 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2015, and an additional 4 percent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, bringing his annual salary for 2016 to $173,929.

Thereafter, his salary would have been adjusted each year by 5 percent, beginning in two months, on July 1, 2016.

By July 2020, his base salary would have been $221,984, plus benefits.

Those benefits include: Increased vehicle allowance (raised to $600 a month from $450 for business travel within the county); phone allowance (to $75 per month from $45); annual vacation days would increase to 25 (up from 20), plus 10 days administrative leave; and his life insurance policy would double to $100,000.

His severance package would be extended to nine months from six, and Gruber could not be terminated within three months before or after an election.

According to the CCSD website, the 2015-16 five-step annual salary schedule for general manager ranges from $132,297 to $160,808.

A state online listing of Government Compensation in California at http://bit.ly/1WIHz0g showing Gruber’s 2014 “total salary” as $197,429 is incorrect, according to Patrick O’Reilly, district finance manager, who told The Cambrian later that the error was his, and Gruber’s salary that year was $160,808.

O’Reilly said he’d misunderstood instructions for filling out the forms, and had included salary and some other items in the category identified as “total salary.” When those items were broken out elsewhere on the form, they wound up being added into the total twice, he said. O’Reilly said that he’d made the same mistake on some other salaries listed on the site, and is in the process of filing corrected figures.

Adding to the confusion, http://bit.ly/1UzbzMb shows Gruber’s 2013 salary as $177,902, with $12,361 in other pay and $77,240 in benefits, for a total of $267,503.

Other actions

After a long discussion, the board voted 4-1 to approve a $482,900 contract with Crosno Construction to replace the badly corroded Fiscalini Water Tank, which has had several leaks and infrastructure problems in recent years.

The bid came in at $119,900 less than the engineer’s estimate for the job. The tank is on a small easement site between several homes in the Top of the World neighborhood and ranchland.

According to staff, the project includes: Removing the existing, severely corroded 320,000-gallon, bolted water tank; providing temporary tank(s); soils preparation; a new concrete foundation with engineering and piping; and a new 320,000-gallon, welded-steel water tank.

Staff’s report said the district’s engineering consultant evaluated the existing tank in 2015 and determined it should be replaced immediately. “It was on the verge of catastrophic failure,” Gruber said. “It still is.”

Four bids were opened on March 22, 2016, and Crosno’s was the lowest.

The second low bidder, Paso Robles Tank, filed a bid protest, saying Crosno’s bid packet had been incomplete, because it didn’t include the required proof of a valid contractor’s license.

After consulting with Carmel, staff had recommended that the directors “waive the omission as being minor and inconsequential, and award the contract for the construction of the Project to Crosno.”

The difference between the two bids was about $10,000, Carmel said.

But the bid challenge wasn’t the only concern about the tank.

Rancher David Fiscalini, whose family owns ranchland the surrounds the tank site, objected to the contract’s terms. He said he’d been left out of communications about the project, even though it will affect his use of the land and ability to graze cattle nearby and could cause damage to a historic but narrow adobe gateway.

Fiscalini said he’d tried numerous times to talk to Gruber, but that Gruber had never called him back. Gruber said such negotiations are between the contractor and Fiscalini, and it would be “inappropriate for us to get involved.” Gruber said that the contractor has “the flexibility to work with Mr. Fiscalini for easement rights or to build the tank by going through the adobe gates.”

Director Greg Sanders said “with most public works contracts the ‘means and methods’ are left up to the contractor,” who “has to figure out how to get materials to the site and how to stay out of Mr. Fiscalini’s way … that’s just a normal part of the process.” However, he agreed that “a little bit of dialogue” with the rancher would be helpful.

The district’s contract manager, William Bellis of Advantage Technical Services, said Crosno’s representative went to the site (as did representatives of the other three bidding firms). Bellis said the contractor was confident that, despite the difficulty of access and the limited size of the tank site, he would be able to meet the terms of the contract.

Bellis, a licensed inspector of above-ground tanks, said last year that the current tank has been in service for 22 years and is the sole source of potable and fire-protection water for about 500 homes.

Sanders said, “It may well be that Mr. Fiscalini may be entitled to some compensation” for what Director Jim Bahringer called “things Mr. Fiscalini needs to be done that can’t be done” while the project is underway.

They said there need to be negotiations with Fiscalini, but didn’t want to delay starting the project, so the board approved the contract.

Director Amanda Rice cast the “no” vote on the issue, saying in part that “I don’t want the district on the hook for replacing a 150-year-old gate,” and she wasn’t confident that Crosno could actually do the job for the amount of the bid.

Budget

Directors also got their first detailed look at the district’s 2016-17 budget. They’ll see the financial plan again at the May meeting, and staff expects the board should be able to vote to approve it in June.

The draft budget shows:

▪ $4.4 million in revenues and expenditures for the general fund.

▪ Nearly $2.5 million for operation of the sewage-treatment plant.

▪ $3.9 million in income with $4 million in expenses for the water department (leaving a $94,790 deficit for that enterprise fund).

The budget for the district’s sustainable water facility (formerly known as the emergency water supply project) shows $942,955 in revenue and more than $1 million in expenditures, for a deficit of $94,790.

According to a capital-project summary in the budget, the total cost for the project is nearly $13 million. Work is continuing on completing an environmental impact report that’s essential if the district is to get a permanent permit to operate the plant at any time, rather than just during water-supply emergencies.

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