JEA Workers' Bonus Pay: $11.4 Million; Meanwhile, the Utility Is Planning Its Second Rate Hike in 6 Months; It's Not Connected, Spokesman Says

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT GALNOR, The Times-Union

As JEA customers brace for their second rate increase in months, employees of the city-owned utility will get $11.4 million in bonuses this week.

Managers will get a 20 percent average bonus, while line employees will see about an 8 percent average.

The utility's nine vice presidents will see the bigger boost -- as high as $33,052 for Paul McElroy, JEA's vice president of finance, about 22 percent of his $150,892 base salary.

The bonuses are based on the utility meeting a list of goals, including reducing the number of accidents and keeping the lowest electric rates in Florida.

JEA's rates are the lowest right now, even after a 5.5 percent increase began Nov. 1 -- the utility's first electric increase in 14 years.

JEA officials said last week they're planning another increase, which could take effect next spring though the exact amount won't be finalized this year. The utility's rates may not be the lowest in Florida after the second hike, officials said.

"The timing is terrible -- raising rates and giving bonuses?" questioned City Council President Elaine Brown.

Fuel costs for the upcoming year will be at least 10 percent higher than the $304 million the utility has budgeted, JEA chief executive officer Jim Dickenson said last week. JEA came in $76 million over budget in fuel costs last year but made up the difference with reserve accounts that are now drained.

Dickenson's $275,000 salary is determined by the JEA board and he doesn't receive incentive pay.

About 80 percent of JEA's $1 billion budget comes from electric revenues, and the November increase will bring in about $50 million a year, JEA officials said.

Bonuses have nothing to do with the rate increase because fuel costs are just passed through to customers, JEA spokesman Ron Whittington said.

"They're two totally separate issues," Whittington said.

But the timing has people riled up.

"That is absolutely what a public utility should not do," said Dave Siebert, vice president of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County.

Siebert said the utility should prove it can't be competitive in the job market without offering high salaries and large annual bonuses.

Brown said she wants JEA, which will pour $84 million into the city's general fund this budget year, to look at its policy and suggests eliminating "giving public money away just because someone does their job and does it well."

Although the council approves the JEA budget, it does not have to sign off on a rate increase.

JEA has about 2,260 employees -- about 2,000 line employees and 260 managers.

The incentive pay system began in 1990 as a way to increase productivity and add flexibility to department budgets, Whittington said. Because of the structure, JEA can't just pull back the bonuses because rates are going up, Whittington said.

"You have to reward people for meeting the goals you said you'd reward them for," he said.

Managers have not received a base pay increase since 2001, but have received an average bonus of about 13 percent the past four years, Whittington said. …