Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and Rivanna Solid Waste Authority employees are getting 6% raises in February, a move that officials say is needed to recruit and retain personnel and stem double-digit turnover.
While the changes won’t affect Charlottesville and Albemarle water and sewer customer rates in the current fiscal year, it could affect rates in the coming year, which are already likely to see increases.
Rivanna provides water and wastewater services wholesale to the Albemarle County Service Authority and Charlottesville. Area residents then pay the service authority and city for water and sewer charges.
“We have a 20% turnover rate in our solid waste authority, we have an 11% turnover rate in our water and sewer authority, and that’s only for half of the fiscal year, so these percentages are likely going to rise,” said Rivanna Executive Director Bill Mawyer.
Due to savings from lapsed wages due to job vacancies and saving in other programs, the 6% raises will not increase Rivanna charges to the city or county in the current fiscal year. The costs will be included in the base budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1, and will total about $450,000, Mawyer said.
Both county service authority Executive Director Gary O’Connell and Charlottesville Director of Utilities Lauren Hildebrand, both of whom are voting board members, voted against the Rivanna raises.
O’Connell said he was concerned in the context of “future multi-year very large rate increases,” and the timing of the request.
“Next year is likely to be a 10% wholesale rate increase times five,” he said. “From our perspective, that’s going to be sticker shock for our customers, so we’re looking for every way we can to try to minimize that increase and I think this has an impact on that.”
He said 70% of the service authority’s budget is paid to Rivanna, and that this request should be part of the upcoming budget process.
“You lose the opportunity to look at other parts of the budget to help support the salary increase by doing it this way,” O’Connell said.
Hildebrand said 50% of the city’s water and wastewater rates is paid to Rivanna.
“We have to be thoughtful when we look at potential increases to our water and wastewater rates associated with city customers,” she said.
The pay hike is not out of line for other local government and agency employees. Albemarle County gave its employee mid-year 6% raises in December due to higher-than-budgeted revenues in the current fiscal year, and Charlottesville also gave mid-year 6% raises. Both have also given employee bonuses.
At the meeting, the boards also voted to approve a 4% overall pay scale adjustment, which has an annual cost of about $6,600 for the water and sewer authority.
A consultant, Evergreen Solutions, completed a classification and compensation study for the Rivanna authorities, which showed that Rivanna is 4.4% below market pay minimums, 3.6% below market midpoints and 3.8% below the market maximums compared to other regional providers.
The authorities are also now removing their lowest two pay grades on its pay scale.
“One of the requests that we made of [the consultants] was to get us to where we had a minimum wage of $15 an hour, or a living wage, and that was deemed the best way to do it,” said Betsy Nemeth, the authorities’ human resources manager.
Mawyer said the Augusta County Service Authority gave 5% raises in December and the Western Virginia Water Authority gave 10% raises in October.
“With the highest inflation rate in 40 years, and following the lead of our regional partners here as well as other regional utilities in our area, we felt like this was an appropriate recommendation to ask you to consider,” he said.