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Unitil bosses get big bucks

By Brandon Butler
Posted: 01/06/2009

Unitil Corporation's top executive has a compensation package worth more than $1 million, while the power distribution company's other top executives get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Robert G. Schoenberger, chairman of the board of directors, chief executive officer and president of the company, got a total compensation of $1,179,819 in 2007, according to SEC fililngs.

That includes a base salary of $424,212, an incentive plan worth $263,011, stock awards of $116,171, $256,027 in pension value, and $120,398 in other compensations, including a vehicle allowance, club dues, a 401(k) match and dividends on company stocks he owns.

The company's other top four executives earn between $394,977 and $264,782 in total compensation annually, according to records filed through the federal agency responsible for overseeing publicly traded companies.

Unitil Senior Vice President George Gantz said Monday he had no comment on executive compensation. Gantz said the company is busy preparing for a possible snow and ice storm this week.

"I'm not going to spend the time to comment on that now," he said.

State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said he's not surprised by the executive compensation packages received by Unitil executives.

He said their salaries are paid by Fitchburg residents.

"I think that's where the hard-earned dollars of the people of Fitchburg are going," DiNatale said. "The ratepayers are going to help compensate those executive-level individuals, which is a New Hampshire-based company."

The company is based in Hampton, N.H.

DiNatale said the state's Department of Public Utilities, which oversees power companies in the state, "needs to be a stronger voice" in the state.

"The DPU needs to hold their feet to the fire," DiNatale said.

The company's top four other executives are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in base salaries and benefits, too.

Mark Collin, the company's chief financial officer, senior vice president and treasurer, is the second highest paid employee, earning $394,977 in 2007, according to the filings. His total compensation included an $89,058 incentive package payout in 2007.

Thomas P. Meissner Jr., senior vice president and chief operating officer for the company, was the third highest paid employee earning $408,319 in 2007, which included a $90,110 incentive program payout.

Gantz earned $367,306 in 2007 with a $69,841 incentive plan payout, while Todd Black, president of Usource -- an Internet-based energy analysis company and subsidiary of Unitil -- is the company's fifth highest paid employee earning $264,762 in 2007 and a $64,429 incentive plan payout, according to the records.

Schoenberger's salary is a $160,806 increase from his 2006 compensation package, according to the records. The report states that half of his salary is directly related to the company's overall financial performance. He's worked for the company since 1997 and his current contract is set to expire Oct. 31, 2009.

State Sen.-elect Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, said she's surprised by the level of compensation for Unitil executives given the service area of the company.

"I think that's a lot of money to be paid when a service area is as small as it is," Flanagan said. "If they're being paid the amount they are, then I think the people have a right to increased service."

Flanagan said there needs to be a "serious investigation," and it should include how much executives are being paid versus how much ratepayers are charged by the company.

"I would hope that the compensation packages are not held on the backs of the ratepayers when their services are lacking," she said. "I would really hope their investments are going into infrastructure improvements."

According to the report from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Unitil has a compensation committee, which is advised by the company's CEO. That committee determines the amount executives in the company are paid.

"The principle objective of Unitil's executive compensation program is to attract, motivate, retain and reward highly qualified persons who are committed to the achievement of solid financial performance, outstanding service to customers, and excellence in the management of the company's assets," according to the SEC report, which was compiled and submitted by Unitil in 2008.

The report states that the incentive compensation "reflects and supports this philosophy with an appropriate balance of both customer and shareholder-related goals."

The company's compensation committee, the report explains, compares Unitil's compensation packages to those of 50 other utility companies in the country to ensure the packages are in line and competitive with other utility companies, the report states.

The company is a publicly traded utility company serving 115,000 customers in 37 communities in parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The company began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 21, 2008.

Councilor at-large Dean Tran said he's not surprised by the compensation levels.
"With that said, if the services are rendered poorly, then they should be held accountable," Tran said.

Tran urged Unitil investors to scrutinize the company's response to last month's storm.
"If the company is under a microscope due to poor customer service, the investors, especially the board of directors, will assess (the CEO's) performance and re-evaluate his compensation accordingly," he said.