City OKs prevailing wage as rule for large projects; Vote meant to favor local companies

By Ray Huard
SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
July 15, 2003

 Contractors must pay the prevailing wage to workers on all water and sewer projects of more than $10 million under a policy adopted by the San Diego City Council yesterday.

Councilmen Ralph Inzunza and Scott Peters said requiring that workers on such large projects receive the prevailing wage -- a set rate for a particular trade -- makes it less likely that out-of-town companies will outbid local businesses for city work by paying low wages.

"I think when San Diegans pay money for water and sewer (projects) that they ought to see that money stay in our economy," Peters said.

The policy, reversing the previous city position against prevailing wages, passed on an 8-1 vote, with Councilman Jim Madaffer opposing.

Madaffer said government should not impose more restrictions on private business.

City engineer Frank Belock said prevailing wage requirements would increase construction costs, but some industry representatives disagreed.

Alan Ring, senior vice president of A.O Reed & Co. mechanical contractors, said workers paid prevailing wage are better trained, so they are more productive and complete work in less time than lower-paid workers, keeping overall construction costs down.

Mayor Dick Murphy said the policy change was "a fair compromise" between those who wanted to require prevailing wages on all city projects and those who opposed it on any projects.

Murphy said the policy was fiscally reasonable because it would apply prevailing wages only on large water and sewer projects and not to projects built with general fund tax money, such as library and Fire Department construction.

City departments that rely on the tax-supported general fund "are hard pressed in these difficult economic times to operate, let alone build anything," he said.  The general fund covers the day-to-day operations of most city departments.

The council last month had to raise fees and cut some services, from library operating hours to cemetery maintenance, to make up for a $30 million shortfall in the $741.7 million general fund budget for the current fiscal year.

The Water and Metropolitan Wastewater departments are supported through rates they charge customers.

The council, also on an 8-1 vote, applied the prevailing-wage policy on an $81.3 million expansion of the Miramar Water Treatment Plant and an estimated $46.1 million continued expansion of the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant.

Ray Huard: (619) 542-4597; ray.huard@uniontrib.com

The San Diego Union-Tribune (Print Edition)

SECTION:  LOCAL;Pg. B-3