"Each year it is the responsibility of the PUD managers to look at the current Cost of Living in our areas and make recommendations to our boards," said Doug Miller General Manager of the PUD.
"It was a structure that was set back in the 1980's for our non-union employee positions, and has little adjustment over the years."
In Washington, PUD's go through similar activities at the end of the year to make sure that their employees and the PUD is being competitive in the market.
"Out of our 55 employees, 16 fall into the non-union category," Miller said. "The rest are union workers who follow a collective bargaining agreement which will be looked at again this coming March.
"Doing previous research which brought on the latest increase a few years ago, we found out that we here at the PUD of Pacific County we were lagging behind the industry by as much as 45 percent, the commissioners were after me to make adjustments to wages. When we finally did, is brought things closer, but we are still behind. The latest adjustment to the Cost of Living Adjustment came in at 3 percent," Miller added.
Miller explained that he has also lost employees for not making any adjustments earlier and had to spend a couple of years finding an engineer based on what the PUD was offering. "We had people leave because they could find a better paying job elsewhere. We have to be able to stay competitive to keep talented individuals."
During his study of what his recommendation would be for this latest COLA, Miller talked to several managers of the other 27 PUD's in the state and focused in on two operations that were just a little larger and two that were just a little smaller.
"There are not two PUD's that are exact in the state. Some only deal in electricity, some have water and electricity...we deal in three utilities, Electric, Water and Telecom."
But there is more to it then just what the PUD has to offer for services; it is also like jobs that need to match, and Miller found only a few that matched exactly, in his study.
"We all have a Manager. We all have a Chief of Engineering and we all have a Finance Manager. Those are the only three positions that all of the PUD's share; so it is not an easy task to just run a simple comparison and come up with a number."
Miller worked from November through December making recommendations to the commissioners in the final December 2014 meeting about a COLA adjustment.
Commissioner Diana Thompson, the only commissioner to respond to our request about the topic, said that she was in favor of the COLA increase.
"I voted in favor of this increase. We had gotten ourselves in a bad situation in the past by not keeping our wages comparable to similar organizations in our state. We had to catch up a while ago and I did not want to see us moving back to the same situation again. It is important to keep good staff at the PUD. When we cannot find people with the training that we need or when we lose staff to other PUD's, there is a cost. Training new people to replace ones we lose, is much more costly than keeping pace with comparable wages" said Commissioner Thompson.
The PUD has also recently increase rates to 3% and Miller wanted to ensure to customers that the two items are unrelated.
"The recent increase, last October, was a direct reflection of the cost we bear with Bonneville. They increased both the power cost and the transmission cost, which combined was over 6 percent. We only raised rates 3 percent, and it was totally unrelated to the recent COLA increase to our employees," said Miller.