Chico now follows Yuba City into the abyss

25 Mar

Here’s a story from the Appeal Democrat in Yuba City/Marysville. The title states the problem – read further – city expenses have increased to pre-recession levels while revenues have continued to fall, retirement costs have increased by almost 10  percent a year while 32 positions have remained vacant. 

Sound familiar? Well, not if you’ve been listening to Chico Assistant City Mangler Chris Constantin lately – he just made a Pollyanna speech about how everything will be getting better and we need to pump more money into police salaries for cops who only pay 12 percent of their pensions, 90 percent available at age 50. Constantin assumes higher property tax and sales tax revenues – I’d like to see the crystal ball he’s been using, cause my crystal ball says we’re headed straight for the second dip in the ‘W’. Housing prices are going up too fast, builders are building in a glutted market.  In my neighborhood, the same contractor is flipping three houses – putting lipstick on pigs, and jacking the price up to $400,000 plus.  

Below, Constantin admits we can’t really afford these raises for the cops, but insinuates they won’t stay if we don’t pay them more. Meanwhile, interim chief Dunbaugh told Stephanie Taber we had more than 100 recruits for those three positions they just filled the other day. The lies just keep on flowing – Chris Constantin is full of double talk.

“While this agreement includes base pay adjustments, the CPOA has agreed to pay more of their pensions costs (the highest of any employee group) and to convert to a new employee 14-step schedule that reduces the annual step increases from 5% down to 2.5% (a new salary schedule also agreed to by our non-public safety management group). This is a unique solution to the unique issue faced by this high priority area. Unfortunately, it is not something we can afford to give to others without compromising our financial future; however, I believe the return on the investment will positively impact all of us and will bring relief to a workforce that is struggling to maintain even a minimum safe staffing level.”

I predict Constantin will fly the coop before the city announces plans to pursue a sales tax increase. But, read below, you see we’re on the same road as Yuba City. 

 

 

Yuba City budget deficits remain as costs rise

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Yuba City’s budget woes, but it’s obscured by a mountain of pension debt and rising health care costs.

Those rising costs mean budget deficits will remain until 2018, when the city pays off its pension obligation bonds. Consequently, it’s unlikely the city will be able to add or expand services, Finance Director Robin Bertagna told the City Council during a mid-year budget update at last Tuesday’s meeting.

 Basically, city expenses have increased to pre-recession levels, while revenues, despite an uptick from the improving economy, have not, Bertagna said.

Bertagna projected the city would have a $2 million budget deficit by the end of the fiscal year, although the actual number will likely be lower due to one-time savings realized by 32 vacant positions in the city, said City Manager Steve Kroeger.

Since 2004, retirement costs have increased by almost 10 percent each year. Health benefit payments have increased by 5 percent annually and overtime costs have risen by almost 8 percent each year. Comparatively, general fund revenues have increased by almost 3 percent a year over that same time period.

And required contributions to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will increase by 33 percent by 2021, which will add just less than $2.2 million to the city’s budget.

The city has handled the budget deficit in several ways. Employee furloughs have resulted in significant savings — without the 10 percent furlough, the projected deficit this year would be $4.2 million, Bertagna said.

The city has also used a reserve fund, the Economic Stabilization Fund, to balance the budget.

Currently, the fund has a balance of $4.5 million, which Kroeger said should sustain the city’s deficit through 2018.

In 2018, the city will have paid off its pension obligation bond. The city sold the bond to make a one-time PERS payment of about $7 million.

The bond was sold in the interest of saving money, as the bond’s interest rate is two percentage points lower than the unfunded liability rate that PERS charges the city, Kroeger said.

Even with the one-time payment, the city’s total unfunded PERS liability, representing the difference between the assets the city has to pay pension costs and the amount of pension obligations it has, is $53 million.

Kroeger said the city has planned well for the extended economic slump.

“It’s a downturn that most expected to recover sooner than it has,” Kroeger said. “The city’s conservative fiscal planning has served us well.”

CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.

Cal Water profits up 20% over 2013, attributed to rate increase, lower expenses

23 Mar

SAN JOSE, CA–(Marketwired – Feb 25, 2015) – California Water Service Group (NYSE: CWT) today announced 2014 net income of $56.7 million, an increase of 20%, or $9.5 million, over 2013, and diluted earnings per share of $1.19, an increase of 16.7%, or $0.17 per diluted common share, compared to the prior year. The company also reported that it spent $132 million on capital improvements during 2014, an increase of 7%, or $9 million, compared to the prior year.

The increase in net income is attributable primarily to the approval of the General Rate Case (GRC) of the Company’s largest subsidiary, California Water Service Company (Cal Water), as well as reductions in administrative and general, other operations, net interest, and property tax expenses. Reductions in these expense categories were partially offset by increases in employee wages and health care, income tax, maintenance, and depreciation and amortization expenses.

Read more here:

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=399586053534416&id=176321489194208

Read it yourself – they raised our rates, gave themselves salary increases  and better benefits packages. Those increases in our rates had nothing to do with service, or, ha ha, the drought! There it says, expenses, aside from their own wages, went down.  

Remember the old saying, “When the fish stinks, it’s the head of the fish that stinks.” The head of this stinking fish is Jerry Brown, and he is just one head of a monster called the Democratic Party. 

I hate to say, the Republicans are no better. We have two major political parties in our state – two groups of ultra-rich assholes, fighting over the little pie we call California. Here we are in the middle – the middle class, the working class, the not-poor-enough-to-matter class. Do you feel unwelcome here sometimes, like, if they can’t get a salary off you, they just want you to move to Nevada? 

CARD moves meetings to Cal Park, moves ahead hiring consultant for proposed aquatic center

22 Mar

Thursday night I attended the regular Chico Area Recreation District Board meeting to see what I could find out about plans to build an aquatic center. What I saw and heard made me feel even more strongly that there’s a back room effort to get this project past the voters. The board voted unanimously to hire a consultant to come up with a proposal to sell to the taxpayers.

Jerry Haynes is out as CARD general manager and Steve Visconti has stepped back in to fill the interim while the board has (you guessed it!) hired a consultant to get a new director. They have had one director after another, Visconti “retiring’ last year only to be tapped to fill in again. One woman left citing “differences with the board” and the paper insinuated there was hostility. Now Haynes has left, citing same.  I don’t frankly know how anybody can get along with Board member Jan Sneed, who attacked me verbally and physically one night after a meeting. She’s hostile, I’ll tell you what, and I’m guessing you either do what she wants or you’re out of a job. CARD has an interesting staff history.

The General Manager of Chico swim team Aquajets was asked for a progress report on that committee that hasn’t been having any meetings. He said he was speaking on behalf of longtime CARD manager and board member Jerry Hughes, who has been the spokesperson for this effort from the beginning. I realize, they’ve taken everything into an “ad hoc” committee of Hughes and Brad, and therefore do not have to notice the meetings or include me in any way. But, Brad had a proposal for the board, they said they’d all received it. Despite Brown Act rules saying any document presented to the board must be available to the public, there were no copies. 

Brad told the board they needed to hire a consultant to design the new center, and the board voted to do so. End of conversation! 

I had to leave at that point, so I emailed the next morning asking for that proposal. CARD staffer Jennifer Marciales sent me a version that won’t cut and paste, but here’s the link:

3-9-15 Jerry Hughes Document

I noticed a little strain between the board and Brad. When he was done making his demand, Brad left with my husband and I, got into a very expensive little sports car, and zipped out. I really get a kick out of these people who come with their hand out for public money – same for the Cannons and their Bocce Ball request – they never come to these meetings, they don’t know ANYTHING about the CARD budget or the other programs, but they come in and demand money for something that serves less  than one percent of the city population.   But never any talk about how they will pay for it when they’re laying off workers to avoid paying Obamacare.

I noticed in this report that there have been three design proposals already submitted, but the only one I’ve seen is from local consultant Greg Melton, I posted that on this blog previously. So, I asked Marciales to send me the other two proposals,  but I haven’t heard back from her yet. 

Since I sat in on the Brown Act workshop with League of Women Voters, I’ve realized how little respect these  agencies have for the public.

I also asked Marciales why the meeting location was suddenly moved from the central CARD center on Vallombrosa to the very distant and removed Lakeside Pavillion. She answered, “the Board has requested that the Regular Board Meetings be held at Lakeside Pavilion”  That’s it, no explanation, just “let them eat cake…”

Thank You League of Women Voters for a great presentation on the Brown Act

18 Mar

I’m so sorry I didn’t take my camera with me to the League of Women Voters’ “Brown Bag the Brown Act” presentation today – I’ll have to tell you about it.

I was impressed with turn-out – I counted at least 30 heads, with my eyesight, and the bobbing around, I’m guessing about 35 all together. And I didn’t count the presenters, or the women who stood at the door to greet everybody. Or the guys with the Action News camera. I am thrilled to see people – and the media! – interested in this topic. I’m so sick and tired of the “whatever” attitude that seems to be seeping into people’s heads these days.

As LWV President Jane Wanderer put it, the Brown Act is about “the public’s right to know what government is doing and why.” 

Speaker Susan Wilson moved right along in her presentation, well aware there was a speaker behind her, but wanting to be sure  everybody present got a rudimentary lesson on the BA, pointing out things she feels are important along the way. I went to a presentation by Chico City Clerk Debbie Presson, given at an early meeting of the current Sustainability Task Force, and boy was this different. I realized these rules can be interpreted.  Of course, Presson interprets them on behalf of the city council and staff, while Wilson works as “watchdog” of local government. Of course their viewpoints are going to be quite different, and I found Wilson’s presentation to be much more extensive and enlightening. 

Here’s where Wilson and Presson have a difference of “interpretation” – Wilson says these agencies “don’t have the right to decide what the public should know…“, the rules are very precise. Except in the instances of employee contract negotiations, pending litigation, and real estate transactions, which can be done in closed session, all conversations involving a majority of the board (which would be four of our city councilors) are to be reported to the public. That includes meetings, phone calls, e-mails.  

Presson seems to think she can pick and choose what is kept in the record. She’s supposed to keep complete notes of the conversations that go on in the morning meetings, which are not video taped, but I’ve caught her so many times leaving out whole conversations from the record, the public couldn’t possibly know what’s been going on with the trash franchise deal or other business the city is conducting. 

Wilson lamented that more people don’t take their government agencies to task over violations, but she admits it’s hard. She spoke about “ad hoc” committees – “a way people sort of skittle around the edges [of the Brown Act]...trying to avoid involving the public…”  The Sustainability Task Force, as well as the Economic Development Committee, have gone just about completely ad hoc, avoiding even having to notice their meetings to the public. When I tried to get on the notice list for  the STF, committee chair Mark Stemen told me he’d have to do it himself because the city wouldn’t give him any staff.  But if you watch the agendas, you see council receives regular reports and recommendations from the STF, and has recently dedicated staff time to a new website. 

http://www.chicosustainability.org/

I feel the city of Chico pushes the public back by the forehead all the time.  The rules are simple, and as you guessed – the city of Chico is not compliant with a lot of this stuff. Like, they’re supposed to be specific in the agendas, so you know what the discussion is.  We used to get reports on the website for the various items – now we get “Finance Report”, and something like, “Frank Fields will give an update on our finances…” That’s all they had at that last meeting – but then the newspaper comes out with the story about the $4.8 million they found laying around – why wasn’t that in the agenda? Why wasn’t Frank’s report attached to the agenda? Instead we get “verbal report.” 

And, we can demand any of those reports or documents received by council at those meetings, but they get out of that by saying, “oh, we have no idea who will come to these meetings, or how many…” And, if you ask for copies, Presson can charge for them, and has.

I had to leave with the end of Wilson’s presentation, I had to get a corned beef on the stove for dinner.  I am sorry I missed Tim Crews’ presentation, I’m guessing he talked about his adventures getting public documents out of people like Debbie Presson.  Crews is a great advocate for Sunshine. 

But these people can work and slave for this law, and if the public is not paying attention, all the Sunshine in the world will not change anything. The Brown Act, as somebody remarked, is a tool – like a hammer or a screw driver, it’s useless unless you pick it up and use it. 

Thanks to the League of Women Voters for having this presentation. If you’d like to support this type of event, they will be having a fundraiser,  an evening of  wine, beer and olive oil tasting, with “gourmet appetizers”, at Manzanita Place on April 19. Tickets are on sale now – $35 advance, $40 at the door. Find out more here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/791411917606762/

 

 

 

Don’t forget that Brown Act workshop tomorrow at the Women’s Center – that’s Wednesday March 18, noon to 1:30 pm. It’s FREE!

17 Mar

Rose reminds me, it’s free, and don’t forget to bring a bag lunch.

http://chicotaxpayers.com/2015/03/07/league-of-women-voters-to-talk-about-brown-act-march-18-chico-womens-center/

Fund Raiders: City of Chico still using the same old walnut shell finance scam – watch that pea!

17 Mar

Today I notice, in the stats information provided by Word Press, people have been reading old posts where I bitched about the way Dave Burkland and Jennifer Hennessy were managing business Downtown, and how council was following right along like Hansel, Hansel, Hansel, Hansel, Gretel, Gretel, and Gretel.

For instance, somebody read 

http://chicotaxpayers.com/2012/08/29/hennessy-is-using-city-funds-like-walnut-shells-to-hide-and-move-money/

I bitched about the way they were transferring money from one fund to the other so they could get around spending rules. Some funds were being completely emptied into the General Fund, which has pretty lax rules about how it is spent. Every report Hennessy gave was full of assumptions and allocations – “assumptions” that we would be getting all this money to spend, and then “allocations” to cover when their ASS-umptions fell through.  Most of that money went to salaries, benefits and pensions for “public safety” and management, who paid zero to four percent of their own packages. 

Council went along right up until Burkland’s retirement, and the finger pointing and back stabbing began. All heads turned toward Hennessy, who made a well-timed exit to Temecula. The public turned kind of ugly, asking about criminal prosecution. Council members made veiled comments – AFTER the fact, how corn-venient. I almost felt sorry for Hennessy – council sat there through all of it, the public sat through it, with their fingers in their noses, but as soon as the shit hit the fan everybody was ready to string her up!

So now we have Mark Orme, Chris Constantin and Frank Fields essentially doing the same thing – how is what they are doing any different that what Hennessy was doing?  

Look at current agendas – almost every two weeks, Frank Fields asks for another budget allocation – meaning, the city is over budget, and they need to move  money from one or another “dedicated” fund (rules about spending)  to prop up the General Fund kitty. Chris Contantin’s report on the cop raises is full of assumptions about property tax and sales tax revenues going up. I think we should start calling him Chris “Pollyanna” Constantin. 

They will approve the cop contracts tonight. (NOTE: Excuse me here, I forgot, they have to wait for the two-week sunshine period to be over, so write those e-mails).The cops will get another $2 million added to their budget, which is already more than half the city pie, all based on assumptions. The fire department gets almost as much, I don’t know how much longer Constantin can work his voodoo to  fund everything. When he leaves I predict we will have major problems. 

Did you ever see spit disappear on a hot griddle any faster than that $4.8 million they scraped out of the car seats? That was some slight of hand, Bruddah. 

Well, I wonder if Gandalf is available, because our next city manager is going to have to be a regular wizard.

Something slouches toward Chico – garbage tax about to become a reality

16 Mar

I’ve been trying to follow the garbage “franchise agreements” at both the city and the county for over a year now, so it’s frustrating to all the sudden see people bitching and moaning, just as the deal is about to become done. The county has announced their new rules – you get the hauler they choose for you, and like me, a lot of people who have had nothing but problems with Waste Management in past have liked the service they’ve had from Recology, and they’re not taking the switch laying down.

When residents of Forest Ranch showed up at a last minute meeting called by District 3 super Mo Kirk, they were mad they hadn’t heard anything until now. Kirk told them it had been in the agendas – that’s going to cost you in 2018 Maureen.  I hope you realize, you just lost a lot of votes in Forest Ranch, a lot of them only having realized who you were about two weeks ago. Now they know, and they won’t forget to vote.

 I’m in the city, also in Maureen’s district, but I’m waiting for the details to come out about the city’s deal – Chris Constantin has been refusing to answer my questions, saying it’s still in the works. One thing he has told me is that service will be required in the city limits – you will have to either sign up with the hauler they hand you or you will have to get a permit to haul your own garbage – that’s if they approve of the vehicle you’ll be using.

The county, according to Paul Hahn, is not requiring residents to sign up for service. It may be a requisite in Paradise, where they signed a deal with Northern Recycling and Waste Services that significantly raised rates. I’ve asked Constantin repeatedly – where are the plans for a low-income garbage subsidy? If the city is going to require that we sign up for garbage service – including those of you who have been sharing service with a neighbor – then they must have a plan to subsidize low income households. No, I’m not a lawyer, I’m a decent person, and that’s what decent people would do.

My family has shared with our tenants for years, and we have a lot of friends and neighbors who find this to be a solution to “all those trucks in the neighborhood.” I’ve also known and heard about people who’ve made agreements with their neighbors to select the same hauler. I’ve heard from a lot of people who got together with neighbors over problems with Waste Management service, and switched as a group to Recology. I’ve told  Chris Constantin I had problems with WM for years before switching to Recology, and I want to stay with Recology.

It’s time to make noise people. If you are unhappy with this deal, I’d recommend writing a letter to the Enterprise Record or News and Review. Follow it up with a letter to council. CC Mark Orme mark.orme@Chicoca.gov  and Chris Constantin chris.constantin@Chicoca.gov

Letter: Taxpayers should be wary of Chico garbage deal

Taxpayers should be wary of Chico garbage deal

I do not want the same folks that negotiated the union contracts giving city firemen $200,000 a year negotiating the city’s garbage rates. When was the last time city negotiators had the taxpayers’ best interest in mind? I can’t remember any.

This isn’t Hemet. Chico taxpayers know the real reason for “franchised garbage” is so the city can bank the six or seven figure “franchise fee” from the haulers. The fee is really a “garbage tax” because the ratepayers will pay it every month in fees. As is typical, the tax will be squandered by the city to pay their exorbitant salaries and benefits.

City streets were designed for firetrucks, garbage trucks and empty city busses. The streets are falling apart because of the lack of routine maintenance. Cracks in asphalt have to be sealed, which is cheap preventative maintenance, otherwise water gets in and the freeze-thaw cycle breaks up the asphalt. There is no money to seal the cracks because we are squandering millions paying city firemen three times what they are worth.

If city streets necessitate the garbage tax, let’s dedicate every cent of the franchise fees as additional funds for street maintenance, in addition to what’s already being spent. Ha, ha, that will never happen.

As always, private enterprise would better serve the taxpayers than city control. There are already reports from the county that rates have doubled since the county adopted “franchising.”

Everyone will see who the real tax-and-spend liberals on council are with this one.

— Bill Smith, Chico

Something’s malodorous about new garbage deal

On March 1, new trash hauling rules began for the citizens of Butte County. Three waste hauling firms were granted hauling services by zones. The three firms are Waste Management, Recology, and Northern Recycling Waste Services.

Last August I switched from Waste Management to Recology since the three other homeowners on my four-house cul de sac were using Recology. Having an extra-heavy waste hauling truck breaking up our privately owned road made no financial sense, so I went with Recology to limit the heavy truck damage to our road.

At that time Waste Management was charging $58.27 for three months service while Recology was charging $68.07. Now I’m forced back with Waste Management at a price of $102.52, almost double the prior rate.

And if that isn’t enough of a kick in the head, they only pick up recycling every other week instead of weekly. I’ve no option but to put recycling in the weekly trash pickup every other week.

To coin a phrase, “Something’s rotten in Denmark.” This situation has a corruptive odor.

— Steven K. Sterzer, Chico

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