South Coast Water District OKs 6% salary increase, bonus for general manager

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South Coast Water District general manager Rick Shintaku. Photo courtesy of SCWD

The South Coast Water District Board of Directors unanimously approved a 6% raise for its general manager, giving him an annual base salary of $258,618, during its Thursday meeting.

General Manager Rick Shintaku has led the district servicing about 12,500 connections in South Laguna, Dana Point, Capistrano Beach, and neighboring communities since October 2018.

Board president Rick Erkeneff was tapped by fellow board members as the negotiator for  Shintaku’s contract. Board members also approved increasing the district’s annual contribution to Shintaku’s voluntary retirement plan to $5,000 from $1,600– plus a $7,500 performance bonus for confronting challenges posed by the pandemic.

“Managing a workforce and managing a district like ours under federal, state, and local [health] requirements is very difficult and a tremendous amount of more work,” Erkeneff said. “There are folks within our agency that did not want to get vaccinated and that’s their personal right so having to navigate that has been a challenge, to say the least.”

Shinktaku’s new compensation doesn’t nearly make him the highest-paid water agency chief executive in the region.

Moulton Niguel and El Toro water districts’ general managers respectively earn annual base salaries of $309,990 and $293,624, according to a South Coast Water report. Laguna Beach County Water District Board of Directors approved a contract with General Manager Keith Van Der Maaten that includes a $272,000 annual base salary effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Yorba Linda and Elsinore Valley Municipal water districts’ general managers will be paid slightly less than Shintaku—respectively $249,105 and $250,000 annual base salaries.

“I want to thank the board; that’s very generous,” Shintaku said. “I really want to thank the staff because this wouldn’t be possible without the staff. They have really been people that anyone would be proud of in handling the district.”

South Coast directors unanimously agreed to change a bylaw that would allow them to be compensated up to $2,550 per month for their service as elected officials.

Since 2019, board members have been paid $255 for each day they attend meetings on behalf of the agency. They capped the number of service days at 10 per month.

On Thursday, the water board unanimously agreed to expand the definition of qualified events to include any regional public agency that includes South Coast Water District as a member, advisory committees discussing topics of interest to the district, and city council meetings, dedications, or State of the City events within the district’s service area.

“It is just necessary housekeeping which formally defines which meetings are allowed to be considered for compensation,” Erkeneff wrote in an email.

He also pointed out that the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Orange County planning commissioners, city council members, design review board members, and water board members across the state have received compensation for decades.

Laguna Beach councilmembers are paid $908 per month, Laguna Beach planning commissioners and design review board members are paid $392 per month, and Laguna Beach arts commissioners are paid $137 per month. All other Laguna Beach committee and board member positions are unpaid.

South Coast Water District is still mulling the costs and benefits of building the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project. The districts’ consultant estimated the project will cost at least $71 million for a scaled-down version.

Although South Coast Water, has floated selling desalinated water to neighboring water agencies, including the Santa Margarita and Laguna Beach County water districts, none have committed to such a deal. These agencies have previously shared that they’re open to buying locally-sourced water if the price is right.

Toni Nelson, a Capistrano Beach resident and founder of nonprofit Capo Cares, said these compensation increases for district leadership doesn’t seem appropriate while ratepayers are anticipated to shoulder debt for multi-million dollar infrastructure projects.

The idea of paying board directors to attend State of the City events and dedication ceremonies seems particularly excessive, she said.

“It’s not meant to be a career. It’s an elected position,” Nelson said. “Everyone is tightening their belts right now.”

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