Memo claims city is violating worker agreements
December 01, 2011 8:47 AM
Brooke Edwards Staggs, City Editor

VICTORVILLE • The city continues to clash with employees of the water districts it absorbed in 2007, with workers looking to protect their health benefits while Victorville aims to cut costs.

Steve Borrowman, who used to work for the Victor Valley Water District but now serves as assistant director for the city’s water district, said in an internal memo that Victorville is not standing by agreements it made to some 49 retired and vested employees. The move has left Victorville open to litigation, the memo states, with a group of former VVWD and Baldy Mesa Water District workers still weighing their options.

However, Victorville City Manager Doug Robertson said the city has maintained benefits for retirees of the districts as required, in spite of the cost being nearly double what they had been told to expect.

When Victorville took over Victor Valley and Baldy Mesa water districts in 2007, agreements stated workers would continue to receive the same level of health benefits they had always had.

“During the transition, all water district employees were made city employees with the same benefits offered to all city employees,” Robertson said in an emailed response.

Benefits for all city employees have been reduced several times over the last few years, though, in light of Victorville’s financial struggles. Borrowman states those benefits are now “significantly lower” than what workers had through the independent water districts.

In April, Victorville offered to pay out-ofstate former employees $5,753 each if they agreed to waive their benefits. Former VVWD human resources director Amy Lyn De Zwat balked at the offer, saying it would only cover roughly a year’s worth of benefits.

“Three of four decided to take a buy out,” Robertson said Wednesday. “We found the fourth an out-of-state plan through our group insurance coverage.”

However, Borrowman’s memo states that offer wasn’t authorized by the water district’s board of directors and claims that it violated the agreedupon resolution and federal accounting laws.

Borrowman also raised concerns over the fact that Victorville hasn’t established an irrevocable trust to administer the benefits, setting aside money to make sure they’d be funded.

Though the former Victor Valley Water District board adopted a resolution to set aside $5 million for retirement health benefits, Robertson said the completed actuarial estimated that liability to be approximately $9.8 million — and that Victorville’s City Council never agreed to set those funds aside.

Robertson said federal accounting laws only require that cities recognize future liabilities, not that they fund them up front. He said Victorville is currently covering all future liabilities on an annual basis, with benefits being paid to 22 existing retirees as promised.

Borrowman had filed a complaint against the city in August 2010, stating he’d been retaliated against for notifying authorities about potential fraud and other financial problems. However, no lawsuit has been filed in San Bernardino County, according to court records.

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