Oppd salaries, perks keep staff from straying news omaha.com bp gas prices ny


In 2013, a typical full-time employee’s gross pay was more than $92,000, according to a World-Herald analysis of year-end payroll data. More than one-third were paid $100,000 or more, driven to a degree by a spike in overtime costs at the troubled Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station.

OPPD executives and elected board members say the pay is reasonable — necessary, even, to recruit and retain employees tempted by higher-paying jobs at private utilities. And, they say, OPPD’s compensation is comparable with other large public utilities.

CEO Gary Gates’ base salary is $482,000 — less than half that of his counterpart at the private MidAmerican Energy. But among public employees in Nebraska, Gates stands out, making roughly twice that of the Omaha Public Schools superintendent and more than the University of Nebraska president.

Although Gates has declined raises the past three years, his salary is 30 percent larger than it was in 2004, when he was named CEO. On top of that, he gets a spending account worth 10 percent of his base pay, a $10,000 membership to the Omaha Country Club and credits that add years to his pension. Base salaries

OPPD officials bristle at comparisons with other Nebraska government agencies. Though the district is overseen by a public board, it was chartered to operate no differently from its privately owned competitors, said Tim Burke, vice president of customer service and public affairs.

» Pension credits. Five of the six highest-paid executives at OPPD have had years added to their pension calculations. Burke, who was recruited away from a natural gas company, had 15 years of service added to his pension in 2011 — the most among the executives who received this benefit — after having worked at the district for 14 years.

He said no public official should get a take-home car, and he suggested taking a look at the health spending accounts. While it’s necessary to offer perks to job candidates, he said, the board should be more prudent in awarding benefits to retain existing employees.

“I think we’re in a fairly conservative spot, frankly, and I’m very satisfied with the way we’ve gone about setting executive compensation,” board member Del Weber said. “We’ve looked at mounds of comparative statistics, and we’re not at the top in any sense. (Gates) could walk away at any time and double his salary.”

Burke said the district’s compensation is no different from other large public power districts in the country. In fact, district officials said, OPPD executives are typically paid less than the median of salaries at comparable utilities, as measured by compensation data the district buys from national brokers.

OPPD also competes with larger investor-owned utilities that can offer prospective executives stock options and other incentives worth millions, Chief Administrative Officer Sherrye Hutcherson said. Exelon expenditures kept close to the vest

For instance, Gregory Abel, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings, 90 percent owned by Berkshire Hathaway, receives an annual salary of $1 million — part of a total compensation package worth an estimated $12 million, according to OPPD’s comparison data. Benjamin Fowke, CEO of Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, draws a salary of $1.1million as part of a compensation package worth just under $11 million.

OPPD also looks at salary data from the Nebraska Public Power District, a wholesale operation that includes a nuclear plant. NPPD’s top executives are paid slightly less than OPPD’s — CEO Patrick Pope makes $461,559 in gross pay — and a typical full-time employee makes about $10,000 less than OPPD workers.

Within OPPD, Fort Calhoun employees represented about one-third of all payroll costs in 2013, more than in typical years when the plant is producing power. As workers scrambled to bring the plant online after a shutdown, overtime costs rose, and a few managers were able to more than double their base pay with extra hours.

“You have to keep it moving,” he said. “You can’t stop giving raises because the plant is down for five years or whatever — that just puts them five years behind. Then when the new (salary) study comes out, you have to do a substantial raise rather than these smaller, incremental raises.”

But the benefits cuts didn’t sit well with some retirees, who have formed a political organization to lobby the OPPD board. And a few — including Timothy Nellenbach, former manager of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station — are suing the utility.