House Bill Would Limit Santee Cooper Pay Hikes

May 19, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe top 15 highest-paid employees at state-owned utility Santee Cooper could not receive raises in any fiscal year in which state employees do not get a cost-of-living pay increase, under an S.C. House bill introduced this week.

The bill (H. 4223), filed Tuesday by Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley,  and which has 26 co-sponsors, would cover officers and executives at the utility, formally known as the S.C. Public Service Authority.  The raise limit would apply to both salaries and fringe benefits.

Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper’s president and chief executive officer, earned $416,899 in salary as of July 19, 2010, according to the state salary database.  The utility’s board of directors last month approved 3 percent pay hikes for the top five officials, including a $12,507 pay hike for Carter; and salary increases of up to $27,000 annually for three newly promoted executive officers, according to a May 3 story in The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

The average salary as of last July for Santee Cooper’s 15 highest-paid employees, including Carter, was $226,802; the median salary was $186,917, according to The Nerve’s review of the state salary database.

In comparison, the current average annual salary for all classified state employees is $37,173; when agency heads, deputy directors, academic personnel and other unclassified employees are included, the average is $45,330, according to Lindsey Kremlick, spokeswoman for the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

The last cost-of-living pay increase for state workers was 1 percent in 2008, Kremlick said.

“I have a lot of issues with Santee Cooper,” Rep. Joe Daning, R-Berkeley and a co-sponsor of Merrill’s bill, told The Nerve Wednesday afternoon. “Their board just gave them some more pay raises. … State employees haven’t had a pay raise in three years.”

Efforts Wednesday to reach Merrill were unsuccessful.

Daning said he was informed that Santee Cooper’s board was planning to meet again on Monday, though he didn’t know if the latest raises would be reconsidered then.

Contacted Wednesday, Laura Varn, vice president of Santee Cooper’s corporate communications, said she was aware of Merrill’s bill, though she declined to comment on specifics of the proposal.

“It’s up to policymakers to create policy,” she said. “We don’t feel it’s appropriate to comment on the purpose of the legislation.”

The Nerve asked Varn for a current list of the utility’s top 15 highest-paid employees and also details on how many times top officers have received raises in the past five fiscal years. That information had not been provided by publication of this story.

As of last July, besides Carter, the other top 14 earners were as follows, according to the state salary database:

  • Bill McCall, executive vice president and chief operating officer –  $377,151;
  • Elaine Peterson, executive vice president and chief financial officer – $303,667;
  • Rennie Singletary, executive vice president of corporate services – $261,162;
  • James Brogdon, executive vice president and general counsel – $249,534;
  • Terry Blackwell, senior vice president, power delivery – $194,656;
  • Shawn Abrams, vice president, planning and power supply – $193,297;
  • Zackery Dusenbury*, vice president, retail operations – $186,917;
  • Lewis Pierce, vice president, generation – $184,640;
  • Jeffrey Armfield, treasurer and vice president, business services – $181,668;
  • Duffin Mitchum, manager, generating station – $175,553;
  • Hubert Strickland, manager, generating station – $173,072;
  • Thomas Kierspe, vice president, engineering and construction services – $170,315;
  • William Lankford, manager, generating station – $168,426; and
  • Suzanne Ritter, vice president, corporate planning and bulk power –  $165,077

*Dusenbury has since retired, according to Varn.

With the 3 percent pay hikes approved by Santee Cooper’s board of directors in April, McCall’s new annual salary is $388,466; Peterson’s, $312,777; Singletary’s, $268,997; and Brogdon’s, $257,020, according to The Post and Courier story.

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 the 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.