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Santee Cooper Execs Got Pay, Benefit Hikes Amid Downturn

Since 2007, Santee Cooper’s top 15 executives collectively have received more than $558,000 in pay raises and at least $145,000 in fringe benefit hikes, according to The Nerve’s review of records from the state-owned utility.

All 15, including Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper’s president and chief executive officer, saw their already six-figure incomes increase annually as thousands of lesser-paid workers in the state struggled through the Great Recession.

In addition, all but two of the top 15 executives received total year-to-year fringe benefit increases in years 2008 through 2010, records provided under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act show.

The records indicate that this year’s salaries of the five highest-paid executives haven’t change from 2010, though, according to a May 3 story in The (Charleston) Post and Courier, the Santee Cooper board of directors in April approved 3 percent pay raises for Carter and the next four highest-salary earners.

Carter’s new annual salary is $429,406, according to the Post and Courier story. His fringe benefits in 2010 totaled $138,740, utility records show; if his benefits remain at least at the same level this year, his total compensation would be $568,146.

As of last year, the lowest salary among the 15 Santee Cooper executives was $176,255, records show. The average salary since 2007 was $237,068, including the most recent pay raises for the five highest-paid executives; the median salary, $197,257.

Fringe benefits for the 15 executives include vacation, holiday and sick pay; health, life, disability and dental insurance; retirement and Social Security matches; and workers’ compensation premiums. For this year, Santee Cooper provided The Nerve with year-to-date figures, so the projected total cost of the fringe benefits is unknown.

Including his most recent pay increase, Carter’s annual salary jumped by $54,632, or 15 percent, from 2007. His collective salary hike is about $17,500 more than what the average classified state worker earns annually, according to S.C. Budget and Control Board records.

The last cost-of-living raise state workers received was a 1 percent hike in 2008, according to BCB records.

Santee Cooper, formally known as the S.C. Public Service Authority, doesn't receive state general funds, though it is heavily influenced by the executive and legislative branches. Under state law, the utility is overseen by an 11-member board of directors appointed by the governor, with consent of the Senate, to seven-year terms. In addition, state law requires that the board be assisted by a separate advisory group made up of the governor, attorney general, treasurer, comptroller general and secretary of state.

The state-owned utility has 1,825 employees working at least 30 hours per week, 1,188 of whom, or 65 percent, earn at least $50,000 annually, according to information provided to The Nerve by Santee Cooper spokeswoman Laura Varn. Total payroll through May was $55 million.

Of its total regular work force, 149, or about 8.2 percent, earn at least $100,000 annually, records show.

Varn, vice president of corporate communications, could not provide a breakdown of the percentage of pay and benefit hikes for those earning above and below $50,000. According to data provided by her, the average salary increase for all employees was 3.94 percent in 2007, 4.07 percent in 2008, 2.86 percent in 2009 and 2.09 percent last year.

The Nerve last month first reported that under a bill (H. 4223) filed by Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, Santee Cooper’s top 15 highest-paid employees could not receive raises in any fiscal year in which state employees do not get a cost-of-living pay increase. The raise limit would apply to both salary and fringe benefits.

“I think they (Santee Cooper) need to be cognizant that they are a state agency and need to understand what state workers are going through,” Merrill told The Nerve last month.

Merrill at the time said he did not have a breakdown of the salaries and benefits of the 15 highest-paid executives over the past several years. Efforts to reach him before publication of this story were unsuccessful.

Merrill’s bill, which has 26 co-sponsors, was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it likely will remain until the next legislative session begins in January.

Following is Santee Cooper’s list of its 15 highest-compensated executives:

Name/Title                                              Salary*          Benefits**                 Total***

Lonnie Carter,  President/CEO              $429,406        $138,740                     $568,146

Bill McCall,  Exec. VP                                 $388,466       $127,155                     $515,621

Elaine Peterson, Exec. VP                         $312,777        $98,412                       $411,189

Rennie Singletary, Exec. VP                      $268,997       $111,785                     $380,782

James Brogdon, Exec. VP                          $257,020      $84,005                      $341,025

Lewis Pierce, Senior VP                             $215,540      $69,945                       $285,485

Terry Blackwell, Senior VP                       $212,806      $74,420                       $287,226

Shawn Abrams, VP                                    $197,257        $72,660                      $269,917

Marc Tye, Senior VP                                 $192,226       $64,008                      $256,234

Jeffrey Armfield, VP                                  $189,018       $70,656                      $259,674

Duffin Mitchum, Manager                         $181,321       $64,880                      $246,201

James Poston, VP                                       $180,896       $64,927                      $245,823

Suzanne Ritter, VP                                     $177,677        $65,875                      $243,552

Hubert Strickland,  Manager                    $176,368       $66,767                      $243,135

Thomas Kierspe, VP                                   $176,255       $67,463                     $243,718

* Salaries for top five highest-paid executives based on 3 percent raises approved in April,  as reported May 3 in The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

** 2010 figures; 2011 data provided by Santee Cooper was year-to-date only.

*** The Nerve's calculation

Carter wasn't the only high-ranking Santee Cooper executive to receive a double-digit salary increase since 2007. Tye, for example, received a $58,816, or 44 percent, hike during the period; and Pierce, a $51,585, or 31 percent, increase, though their job titles  changed during the period, according to records provided by Varn.

Varn told The Nerve this week that no additional pay or benefit increases are planned for the remainder of this year for the 15 executives.

Santee Cooper is the state’s largest power producer, supplying electricity to more than 163,000 retail customers in Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry counties, as well as to 31 industrial facilities, the cities of Bamberg and Georgetown, and the Charleston Air Force Base, according to the utility’s website (www.santeecooper.com).

The utility also generates power that is distributed by the state’s 20 electric cooperatives to more than 685,000 customers in all 46 counties, according to the website. In addition, Santee Cooper provides water to 137,000 consumers in Berkeley and Dorchester counties, and the town of Santee.

Santee Cooper’s first-quarter reinvested earnings for this year were down $20 million, or 31 percent, compared to same quarter last year, to $43.7 million from $63.7 million, according to the utility’s quarterly statement.

Annual reinvested earnings last year were $115 million, up about $25.6 million, or 29 percent, from the previous year, though reinvested earnings had been steadily declining since 2006, according to the utility’s 2010 annual report.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.

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