Public Utilities Commission asks lawmakers to increase staff salaries

CARSON CITY — The executive director of the Public Utilities Commission on Monday asked state lawmakers to increase salaries for professional staff to keep up with compensation not only within the private sector but also in other state agencies.

“We are asking for these increases for parity with other state agencies that pay these salaries for similar work,” Crystal Jackson, executive director the regulatory agency, told members of a joint Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee.

“Currently we are the agency of last resort when you compare us to other state agencies,” she said. Jackson said the PUC, which regulates electricity, natural gas and other utility industries, would pay for the salary increases sought for about two dozen employees from its reserve account.

“This is something we can do without a cost to ratepayers,” she added.

Jackson’s complaint about state salaries is not unique.

“This is a problem across state government,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, a Reno Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Jackson said top PUC staff are required to have advanced, professional degrees and licenses. For example, she said a supervisory water engineer in the PUC currently receives a salary of $81,680, about $11,000 less than a comparable position within the state classified employee system.

A PUC legal case manager required to have a law degree gets $57,124, “a little more that we pay an executive assistant” elsewhere in state government, Jackson said.

As a result, Jackson said the agency at times has had to hire people with little experience.

“We settle for something less than we need,” she said. “What typically happens, we bring in someone straight out of college. That’s what our salaries reflect.”

She projected that without higher salaries, it will be harder for the agency to recruit and retain experienced personnel as Nevada’s economic conditions improve and key senior employees approach retirement.

No action was taken by the subcommittee.

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