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As the Otay Water District has made its case for giving its employees lifetime health care, its leaders have said the benefit boost would help retain employees and recruit new ones.

And it may help do that. But there’s no evidence that either is a problem today.

The district’s general manager, Mark Watton, said the district last struggled to recruit an employee in 2007. That’s before the economy crashed. Watton said the situation can quickly turn.

What about employee retention? The district has actually cut its staff in recent years, and the Union-Tribune reported Monday that many similar local water districts don’t offer lifetime health care — or if they do, they’re trying to trim the benefit. Government agencies across the country are also trying to cut the liability.

Here’s another key insight about whether the district has a retention problem:

In 2008, the Otay Water District surveyed its employees to see how happy they were with their jobs. The scientific study came back, and the results were exceptional. Nearly all of the district’s 160 workers really liked their jobs.

Two years later, in June 2010, the district repeated the survey. This time, the results were even rosier. Morale was up. Employees were happier with their compensation and benefits than they were in 2008. The survey heaped praise on the district for doing everything right. Employee satisfaction “is at the very highest level,” the survey found.

“The Otay Water District is clearly fulfilling its responsibilities as an employer to an outstandingly high degree,” the survey reported.

What did employees think about their benefits?

“Employees consider the benefit package good as well as competitive with other organizations.”

In awarding lifetime healthcare, Otay would require employees to pay more toward their pensions. In return, the district would eliminate limits on its contribution to their retirement health care. Employees’ health care costs would be covered after they retire. Most of their spouses’ care would be covered, too.

The district’s board meets today at 3:30 p.m. to vote on granting the benefit to its union employees. The board already awarded the benefit to non-union employees on July 15.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can contact him directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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