COLUMBUS - Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) Board of Directors has approved pay increases for its top officers and board staff.

Friday's unanimous vote gives the eight district employees their first raises since 2009. NPPD Board instituted a pay freeze for the utility's entire workforce in 2010, but authorized salary adjustments for most employees earlier this year.

Pat Pope, whose salary was set at $395,000 annually when he accepted the CEO/president position last month, said he focused on three main criteria when considering the salary increases - overall performance, projected future value and salaries at comparable utilities. Pay at seven or eight large electric utilities, including Omaha Public Power District, was examined prior to the recommendation, according to Pope.

The goal, he said, was to establish salaries in the middle of those figures, because he though Nebraska's quality of life would help attract strong leadership to the district without the lure of top pay.

According to U.S. Census data, the median household income in Columbus during 2010 was $50,148.

"We do have what I consider a very seasoned core of officers here," Pope said. "They've been through a lot with the organization. They know the background and a lot of the issues."

Raises were approved for the following staff members (followed by the previous and new annual salaries and effective date):

• John McClure, vice president of governmental affairs and general counsel - $228,000 to $270,000, effective June 1.

• Traci Bender, vice president and chief financial officer - $228,000 to $270,000, effective June 1.

• Roy Steiner, vice president of human resources and corporate support - $206,000 to $225,000, effective June 1.

• Brian O'Grady, vice president and chief nuclear officer - $267,800 to $288,225, effective June 1.

• Tom Kent, vice president and chief operating officer, will be paid $245,000 annually, effective May 1. Kent was approved for this position Friday by the board, replacing Pope, who made $252,000 a year while serving as vice president and chief operating officer.

• Donna Starzec, controller and financial planning manager and assistant treasurer - $152,000 to $158,000, effective March 1.

• Lonny Linder, internal audit services manager - $124,000 to $127,720, effective March 1.

• Jan Modelski, assistant secretary - $56,000 to $58,236, effective March 1.

The board also began preliminary discussions Friday on a redistricting process that will lead to boundary changes for every NPPD subdivision.

Currently, the district's chartered territory is divided into 11 subdivisions spanning the entire state, excluding Douglas and Sarpy counties, which fall under Omaha Public Power District's territory. An elected board member represents each of these areas for a six-year term.

However, LB53, passed in 2009 at the request of NPPD, would limit the district's chartered territory to only areas that receive at least 50 percent of their electricity directly from the utility or its wholesalers.

The changed was spurred by the city of Lincoln, which has two NPPD representatives - Mary Harding and Dennis Rasmussen - despite operating its own electric utility, leaving little or no financial stake in NPPD.

Under LB53, five additional counties - Banner, Kimball, Grant, Otoe and Arthur - and 95 more municipalities would be eliminated from the district's chartered territory, along with Lincoln. Other communities to be removed include Grand Island, Hastings, Gering, Crete, Falls City, Fairbury, West Point, Broken Bow and Waverly - leaving NPPD with 432 municipalities in its territory.

Eventually, the lines for each subdivision will be redrawn. But before that can be done, the board must decide how many directors, and subdivisions, to include.

An agenda item is expected to be considered at next month's meeting that would set the number of board members.

Only board member Tom Hoff of Broken Bow spoke in favor of reducing the number of directors to nine, believing it would be a good indicator to all NPPD employees the board is concerned about expenses.

In other business, a new vice president of customer services will be sought internally, Pope said.

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