View Mobile Site

Ask the Expert

Signal Photos


Wading through wages

Water: Castaic Lake Water Agency’s unique situation makes it difficult to compare salary with other

Posted: December 12, 2010 10:26 p.m.
Updated: December 13, 2010 4:55 a.m.

There’s a lid for every pot, the old adage goes.

Sometimes, however, finding an odd-shaped lid for an odd-shaped pot proves to be a difficult task.

Such is the story of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, the Santa Clarita Water Division — which it owns — and the person
who juggles finances between the two who apparently has no equal in California.

On Wednesday, the agency’s directors unveiled the results of an arduous summerlong search to find someone who does what their senior financial analyst does: handling complex financial matters between a wholesaler and a retailer that are inside the same organization.

When they found no such lid to fit their pot, they created a position and gave it a six-figure salary.

The newly created job position of retail administrative officer was approved by the board Wednesday and, with it, a salary of $7,412 a month to, eventually, $9,031 a month — or between $88,944 a year starting and $108,372 at the top end.

“There’s not a lot of water entities out there by which to compare, which handle wholesale and retail at the same time,” said Retail Manager Mauricio E. Guardado Jr. of the Santa Clarita Water Division.

“Because it is such a unique position, there was no position found with that specific role closely identified,” he said.
Newly created position

Before Wednesday, Elizabeth Ooms-Graziano was senior financial analyst for the Santa Clarita Water Division.

Now, she’s the division’s first retail administrative officer, ranking 18th in a chart of the agency’s 87 salaried employees presented to agency board members Wednesday.

“I’m still sitting in the same chair,” Ooms-Graziano said Friday.

“I’m very happy with my new position,” she said. “Senior financial analyst just wasn’t the right title.”

Ooms-Graziano has spent the last 15 years working in the private sector in the San Fernando Valley. Most recently, she’s worked for Allied Waste Industries Inc. at the Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Sylmar.

When asked about the unique relationship of a wholesaler selling water to its retailing possession, she said: “I treat it no differently than other private enterprise. I treat it as just another business entity and as a separate entity.”

When the water retailer’s parent company, the Castaic Lake Water Agency, went searching for an appropriate salary for Ooms-Graziano and for the right hat for her to wear, it contracted L.B. Hayhurst & Associates Inc. in Santa Rosa to review the senior financial analyst position.

What consultant Lonnie B. Hayhurst recommended after his two-month review was that the agency reclassify her position and give her a new title — retail administrative officer.

“It’s a unique relationship between the water retailer and the water agency,” said Hayhurst when reached by phone in Santa Rosa on Thursday.

“They do somewhat different things.”

Unique structure
The Santa Clarita Water Company is older than the city of Santa Clarita.

The city was incorporated in 1987.

The water company was formed in 1973 with the merger of the Bouquet Water Company and Solemint Water Company.

In 1999, the Castaic Lake Water Agency acquired the company’s stock, folding it into the agency as a public agency division.

Some local environmentalists found the new arrangement questionable, arguing it was improper for the agency to sell water to itself. They subsequently filed a lawsuit.

The California Supreme Court, however, sided with the agency.

And the state Legislature amended the law, allowing the relationship between the Castaic Lake Water Agency and the Santa Clarita Water Company, now called Santa Clarita Water Division.

The ruling made the relationship unique among water agencies in the state, creating an unprecedented “pot.”

Finding the proper title and salary for the person expected to manage the financial aspects of that unique relationship has proved to be the elusive “lid.”

On Wednesday night, water officials came up with the answer by inventing a new answer.

Search for comparison
The consultant explained in his report that he found few examples of a similar position by which to compare and compute a salary range.

“In the case of the Santa Clarita Water Division, which is a division providing retail water services as part of a larger agency that has a wholesale water focus, we found a particularly difficult challenge in finding operations matching those in (Santa Clarita Water Division).”

The consultant surveyed a dozen other water agencies in its search to find a similar match.

That process — finding an odd-shaped lid for an odd-shaped pot — was not easy, according to consultants in their report presented to the agency Wednesday.

“The difficulty in conducting such a survey is the unique relationship that SCWD has with the agency,” Hayhurst said in his report.

“While much of the business functions performed by staff at SCWD, and in particular Ms. Ooms-Graziano, are similar to those in other agencies, much of the work is integrated into the CLWA overall management system.”

The consultants expanded their survey and examined 10 additional water agencies from Santa Clara to Orange County to find a similar setup. They couldn’t fine one.

“This expanded search proved not to be helpful in that the surveyed agencies were either too large for good comparison or again lacked the structure of an overall agency that has a somewhat independent retail operation within its structure.”

In the end, the consultants computed a salary based on a detailed analysis of various chores expected of the senior financial analyst, lamenting in its report: “None of the organizations we studied had this particular overlap of financial responsibilities, and therefore gave little clear guidance.”


Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.


Powered By
Morris Technology
Please wait ...