By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
Utica Power Authority is closer to directly hiring operators for its water and hydroelectric systems.
Although questions remain about use of the Public Employees Retirement System, the board at a special meeting Tuesday unanimously approved a preliminary version of an employee handbook and letter summarizing employee policies, procedures, benefits and responsibilities.
The board also approved a Blue Cross group health insurance program for its employees, offering an $850 monthly premium benefit each employee can use for health or dental needs. Once the employees are hired and have worked through one payroll period, vision benefits also will be added to the package.
UPA General Manager Vern Pyle said the medical benefit package would cover UPA's five full-time employees to include the systems' operators.
Pyle said UPA has six staff members. Two of those the operators were technically employees of Calaveras County Water District on loan to UPA, which paid for their CCWD salaries and benefits plus a 5 percent administrative fee.
In the past, UPA had three CCWD employees working as operators. In January, CCWD gave those three men lay-off notices that take effect next week.
UPA had been working toward transferring the operators from CCWD's payroll to its own. However, the details of establishing Human Resources policies and procedures, workers compensation, benefits and PERS eligibility held up the transfer.
The three operators chose to wait out the process instead of bumping other CCWD workers with less seniority.
Now, only two of the operators will be going to UPA, because the third is on extended medical leave.
Debbie Ponte, chairwoman of the UPA board and mayor of Angels Camp, told the board that she had been notified by the PERS legal department that UPA and its employees can be part of the PERS system.