Thanks Maureen Kirk for taking action on the Cal Water rate hike – time to put some heat to Mayor Sorensen’s seat

2 Sep

Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk has filed paperwork with the CPUC to become a “party” to the recent rate increase application made by Cal Water.  She’s been keeping me informed of the process. Here is a notice about the first hearing on the matter. Of course it will take place in San Francisco.

 

9/21/15
9:00 a.m.

ALJ McKinney
Comr Sandoval

A.15-07-015 (PHC) – In the Matter of the Application of CALIFORNIA WATER SERVICE COMPANY (U60W), a California corporation, for an order (1) authorizing it to increase rates for water service by $94,838,100 or 16.5% in test year 2017, (2) authorizing it to increase rates by $22,959,600 or 3.4% on January 1, 2018, and $22,588,200 or 3.3% on January 1, 2019, in accordance with the Rate Case Plan, and (3) adopting other related rulings and relief necessary to implement the Commission’s ratemaking policies,
Commission Courtroom, San Francisco

The pre-hearing conference is the first open forum in the general proceeding. Its purpose is to determine the potentially affected parties, specific issues, and to develop a preliminary filing and hearing schedule. After the conference, the Administrative Law Judge issues a scoping memo that lists the issues raised during the pre-hearing conference and a schedule for addressing these issues in the general proceeding.

Section (a) of Rule 1.4 of the CPUC’s Rules of Practice and Procedure provides the ways in which an interested person/organization can become a party to a proceeding. 

(a) A person may become a party to a proceeding by:

(1) filing an application (other than an application for rehearing pursuant to Rule 16.1), petition, or complaint; (the term “application is not referring to a form, it is a formal document that the party creates and submits to the CPUC)

(2) filing (i) a protest or response to an application (other than an application for rehearing pursuant to Rule 16.1) or petition, or (ii) comments in response to a rulemaking;

(3) making an oral motion to become a party at a prehearing conference or hearing; or

(4) filing a motion to become a party.

As such, this 9/21 Prehearing Conference is one forum at which Butte County (or any other affected entity) can request to participate as a Party.

I think this is a job for the Mayor, or the Vice Mayor, the City Manager, Assistant City Manager, or some other paid representative of the city. I will send this notice to Mayor Sorensen and City Manager Orme. For one thing, I was just reading over the rules for their travel expenses, and they can afford a lot better hotel than me. For another thing, as elected officials and staffers, they will get a lot better reception from the CPUC people than I would.

I was very disappointed with Sorensen’s limp-wristed motion at last night’s council meeting – a presentation from Cal Water? You mean, an opportunity for Cal Water to pitch the rate hike? 

I informed Mayor Sorensen about the application for this rate hike back in early July, days after it was filed. I sent him the case information and contact information.

Since I informed Supervisor Kirk she’s filed the paperwork to become a “party” and she’s needling the county to apply for “Intervenor” status and formally oppose this rate hike.  

The city of Marysville had a presentation from Cal Water August 18. Directly after that presentation they voted unanimously to apply for “Intervenor” status and formally oppose the rate hike.

Meanwhile Sorensen is only now asking to agendize a presentation?  

It’s time to write those e-mails, tell him we want Intervenor status, we want a formal protest.

How will Obama’s “Cadillac health plan tax” affect city of Chico?

1 Sep

 

I heard the term “Cadillac Plan” in reference to public and quasi-public pensions and healthcare plans a few years ago. These are “defined benefits” plans – as it was explained to me, this means, the pensioneer is guaranteed payment, no matter the economy. Meaning, we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for these benefits that we were never allowed any oversight in negotiating, no matter that our jobs are headed overseas, and our homes are threatened with foreclosure.

Let’s face it – we never would have agreed to pensions or healthcare benefits for which the employee pays little to nothing, and  we certainly would have chortled and guffawed at pensions of 70 – 90 percent, available at age 50-55. But we weren’t consulted. 

These contracts are still negotiated behind closed doors without public  oversight. They show us what they’re doing, between sessions,  but it’s not like we’re allowed to push some button and throw the whole thing out when it sounds crazy. And how would we know – have you seen the kind of double-talk these things are written in? 

Steady public pressure has made slow changes. “New hires,” meaning those newly hired employees who have never worked for any public agency, are now required to pay 50 percent of their own pension and benefits. The police department has taken in a couple of new recruits from the academy over the last few months, but Chico mostly hires people who are already in the stream, and they are allowed to go on paying 9 – 12 percent.

The police recently agreed to pay 12 percent, up from ZERO percent, only if they were given generous pay raises. Right now they are pushing for a “step system” with automatic salary increases, salary minimums, and “compaction” increases – whenever a subordinate’s salary comes within a certain distance of their supervisor’s salary, the super’s salary automatically increases. Salary increases raise their pension and benefits expenses – for employees who have been “in the system,”  over 30 percent of that expense is shouldered by the taxpayers, the rest still rides on a bucking bronc of a stock market. Cal Pers is demanding more be paid by the employer/employee every year. So far our “fiscally conservative“council majority is allowing the employee to ride pretty cheap, while the taxpayer is expected  to pay more to run along behind the truck. 

Or, in this case, the Cadillac Escalade. 

The other day I finally heard about the “Cadillac Plan Tax.” Wow, how did I miss this? I know, I usually am skeptical of taxes, but this one might just pass the mustard for me. It seems, health care plans worth more than $10,200 for an individual and more than about $27,000 for a family will be subject to a (sit down) 40 percent tax.

Am I hearing, tax the public workers?

That’s what the unions heard way back in 2010. They went to Obama, who gave them a reprieve til 2018. So, that’s why we’ve been hearing about it again – they’re reprieve is about to expire, and the unions are beating the drums to get it dumped. Here’s an interesting article on that, from 2010:

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/details-emerge-on-white-house-labor-health-care-agreement

But, here’s the thing. It’s not a tax on public workers, it’s a tax on their employers. Oh, shit – that’s US! Here’s an article I found from about a year ago – the state of Vermont was predicting it would cost them $9 million a year.

http://vtdigger.org/2014/11/24/cadillac-health-plan-tax-expected-cost-state-9-million-start/

And here’s Obama, trying to modify our behavior again:

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150302/NEWS/150309985

But the tax also was viewed as a way to reduce the number of health plans that have little cost-sharing and premium contributions, which some argue contribute to the overuse of healthcare. President Barack Obama has been quoted as saying the excise tax will discourage “these really fancy plans that end up driving up costs.” Lavish executive-level health plans and collegiate benefit packages, like Harvard University’s, have been oft-cited targets.

But oh oh, he might have got his pants caught on his own pitchfork – 

“However, many collectively bargained policies fall into the Cadillac bracket as well.”

And here’s the truth – public employees pay less and get more than the taxpayers.

The Health Affairs study, published Monday, sought specifics about what kind of health benefit packages unions provide for employees. People with union plans have lesser out-of-pocket obligations and don’t pay as much per month toward their premium as others with employer-based insurance, but the surprise was “the magnitude of the differences for certain things,” said Jon Gabel, a healthcare fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors.

For instance, families in collectively bargained plans paid about $828 per year toward their premium, or about $69 per month, according to the study’s surveyed data. That compared to $4,565 for the average employer-sponsored family plan, or about $380 per month, according to 2013 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I don’t know if this pending doom scenario has caught on yet with our city council. The last time I looked, council members were getting packages in excess of $10,000. They choose the package they want, and only pay 2 percent of their salaries – the mayor only makes about $9,000, so he pays about $180 a year for a policy worth about $21,000.  Other councilors get similar policies but pay less because they make smaller salaries. Who wrote that? Will they pare packages down? Or will we pay more? 

I’ll try to keep an eye on this. 

 

 

It’s time to press our elected officials about this water rate increase – Chico Mayor Mark Sorensen requests Cal Water rate hike be agendized for public discussion

27 Aug

I am on the notice list for the city council and so I receive the agenda about a week ahead of each meeting. Next week’s agenda had a huuuge surprise – Mayor Mark Sorensen has a request up to agendize a discussion about the Cal Water Rate hike.

“Friday, August 21, 2015 8:02 AM – I do hereby request to add to a future agenda a presentation and discussion of California Water Service Company’s rate cases filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, and the subject of district consolidation. Thanks! Mark Sorensen “

Pardon my surprise, but I’ve been including Sorensen in my inquiries about this rate increase filing ever since July 8, when I sent him the article from Market Watch announcing the application. But he never responded, so I didn’t have any idea what he was thinking.

I wish people would contact Sorensen now, immediately, and tell him we want the city to become an “Intervenor,” which means a formal protest of this rate hike. The county has become “a party,” which means they get notices of what is happening with this case, but in order to make a protest, they have to file for “Intervenor status.”

It’s easy enough to become a party, just file the paperwork. The paperwork for Intervenor is a little more complicated. A CPUC employee admitted to me that we’d be better off having our county or city counsel fill out this paper work. The requirements are vague, there’s a disclaimer that states if you don’t cross your t’s and dot your i’s correctly your application could get round-filed.

Write to the full council – send it through Clerk Debbie Presson, that’s makes it formal. That’s debbie.presson@chicoca.gov

Tell them we want a full protest of this rate hike, the consolidation, and the other items listed by the Office of Ratepayers Advocates, which were not listed on the notice sent out to Cal Water customers.  One thing they’re asking for is elimination of the 10% cap on WRAM. I sent that notice to Sorensen, as well as the notice from the city of Visalia, which has gained Intervenor status on behalf of their district.

It’s time to PUSH!

Meet the New Boss – same as the Old Boss

27 Aug

Yesterday I attended the Finance Committee meeting Downtown, and found out the “salary schedule” plan Human Resources had hatched out of Reanette Fillmer’s head is as bad as I thought. I was surprised to hear Ass City Manager Chris Constantin say so. He says it will not only amount to automatic raises without review, but it will tie the city’s hands somewhat in negotiating salaries with new employees. He and Manager Mark Orme are passing along a negative recommendation to council. 

Fillmer’s little gal from Human Resources argued that it would set maximum salaries, but Constantin aptly pointed out – it sets up minimum salaries too, and they’re too generous to be competitive in our favor as employers. 

The committee – Mayor Mark Sorensen, Vice Mayor Sean Morgan, and council member Randall Stone – also rejected the salary schedule, but are recommending other changes to employee policy, regarding severance and other items. I don’t understand all of this stuff, but I hear interesting things. The severance package is important, according to Constantin, because “it’s not just about the employee getting money when they leave, it’s about them signing away their right to sue…” The stuff you hear at these meetings. 

I’ll tell you what I got out of that conversation – and yeah, this is just my best guess – the cops and fire department want automatic pay raises, and Fillmer was going to hand them over through this new salary schedule BS. I knew she was going to be bad news. Her sole purpose on council seems to be backing the public safety unions in their money demands. 

The next item involved the city’s purchasing practices. I remember listening to Constantin when he came here, telling us the various departments were just buying their pencils and paper and other supplies as they wished, some of them had caches of the stuff. At the end of the month they’d just present their bills to ex-Finance Director “Lucy Goosey” Hennessey and she’d pay what she could and turn the rest over to the red column. 

Apparently this is still going on. At one point Administrative Services (Finance) Director Frank Fields said, “we have to get it through to the department heads – you’re out of money, stop spending…” But, he still wants to raise the discretionary spending limit (what they can spend without permission) from $1,000 to $2,500.

And it’s not just about paper and pencils. There’s stuff in there about management being allowed to throw little soirees within certain amounts – and they do. The other day Mark Orme threw a little gala for Comcast. He got to use the big scissors and everything. Apparently Comcast just put some money into their infrastructure for a change, and that’s a reason to cut work and throw a party at the taxpayer’s expense. Maybe if I’d been invited my nose wouldn’t be out.  Maybe if this meant better Comcast service for me, my nose wouldn’t be out. 

This meeting was all about the State Auditor. The State Auditor determined that Chico was at high risk for financial collapse and put us on the red list. They were threatening an AUDIT, which I think they should still do, but will be satisfied  if they see that Frank and the boys  are putting some awesome overtime into talking about the budget. All they need to be doing is manipulating funds to make sure there are no deficits. They talked about that new ordinance at the last meeting I attended – whenever a fund is low they just steal money from another fund. It’s called “allocation.” Fields admitted there were severe  shortages in some funds  – one fund short by $6 million – but those deficits will be “allocated away.” In fact, some of them will be “allocated” to the Finance Committee meeting we just sat in yesterday. All those staffers – including the fire department employee who sat silently behind me through the whole meeting – will have their salaries for yesterday morning paid out of the funds discussed. 

So, yesterday’s meeting wasn’t about solvency, it was about pleasing the State Auditor and avoiding an audit. They sure are afraid to be audited, is what I’m hearing. 

Fields said as much about 100 times, he’s very “frank”. There were four items for recommendation in his report – three had to do with bookkeeping, but the fourth was just fluff – an ordinance stating that the city would use local vendors whenever possible, even  if they couldn’t beat prices from out-of-town vendors. Mark Sorensen said this idea was “ridiculous” because it would mean turning away a vendor who might be located “200  yards” out of the city limit. 

I think it’s counter-efficient. The bid should go to the lowest offer, unless that vendor is known  to be sub-par. But, Sorensen and the team recommended this be “redefined” by the city’s law consultants and brought back. I can’t imagine how much that is going to cost, for an ordinance the mayor has described as “ridiculous.” Then Fields said it didn’t matter – the auditor was only interested in the first three items. The local purchasing ordinance “clearly sends a message that the city desires to do business with local vendors.” That’s the same kind of feel-good crap people like Sorensen and Morgan complained about when the liberals were in charge.

Meet the New Boss – Same as the Old Boss.

Visalia files formal protest of Cal Water’s recent rate increase proposal

26 Aug

Good news from Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk – the city of Visalia has filed a formal protest of their rate increase case. Of course it’s a separate filing but at last the attack seems to be on.

PROTEST OF THE CITY OF VISALIA TO CALIFORNIA WATER SERVICE COMPANY’S APPLICATION TO INCREASE RATES FOR WATER SERVICE IN ALL ITS DISTRICTS

I. INTRODUCTION Pursuant to Rule 2.6 of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure, the City of Visalia (“Visalia”) files this protest to the application of California Water Service Company (“CalWater”) for an order 1) authorizing it to increase rates for water service by $94,838,100 or 16.5% in test year 2017, 2) authorizing it to increase rates on January 1, 2018 by $22,959,600 or 3.4%, and on January 1, 2019 by $22,588,200 or 3.3% in accordance with the Rate Case Plan, and 3) adopting other related rulings and relief necessary to implement the Commission’s ratemaking policies. CalWater’s application first appeared in the Commission’s Daily Calendar on July 14, 2015, therefore this protest is timely filed.

II. ISSUES IN DISPUTE As a general matter, Visalia intends to address the reasonableness of the revenue requirements requested by CalWater in its districts in general, but in the Visalia District specifically, and the associated ratemaking mechanisms on behalf of all ratepayers. Visalia does not know at this time which specific issues it will focus its analysis. It is likely that Visalia will address issues similar to those addressed in the last water company general rate case, personnel, general office, capital, special requests, and, if applicable, rate design. Visalia may also address additional issues as its analysis proceeds.

III. PROCEDURAL MATTERS A. Proceeding Categorization and Need for Hearings Visalia agrees with CalWater’s categorization of this proceeding as “ratesetting” and need for hearings. B. Proposed Procedural Schedule Visalia does not have a schedule to propose at this time but does request that hearings be held at several locations in which Cal Water operates, and that Visalia be a location for a hearing.

Wow, that seems simple enough, but  try writing stuff like this in layman’s language and see how fast they lay their hand across your forehead – NEXT! I’m hoping our county counsel will do something like this, and this morning I sent a note to Chico Mayor Mark Sorensen and City Mangler Mark Orme, asking for some action on their part.

To: mark.sorensen@chicoca.gov, mark.orme@chicoca.gov
 
Hi Fellows, 
I’m forwarding this I got from Maureen Kirk – the city of Visalia has filed a formal protest of their water rate increase. It’s time for the city of Chico to look into this. 
You can check with Maureen, the county is thinking about filing also. 
I would file myself, but looking at these forms and having discussed the subject with a CPUC employee, I realize I’d need legal help that is already available to you. 
I don’t know how much you know about this rate increase. Cal Water is also asking for consolidation with the Oroville and Marysville and Willows districts, which have outrageous infrastructure costs due to many years of neglect of their systems. According to a separate protest filed by the Office or Ratepayer Advocates, Cal Water has made requests that are not included in the public notice, including but not limited to an elimination of the 10 % cap on WRAM. 
I can forward you the information from the ORA if you are interested. You can get more information from Maureen. 

Thanks for your anticipated attention to this matter, Juanita Sumner

Please send a simple note like the above to the Marks, ask them nicely to act on this rate increase. If we can get enough people to protest this thing, we have a very good chance of turning it back.

Utility rates on the rise – good news, our county supervisors may be riding to the rescue

24 Aug

Today we got our PG&E bill. Do you read your PG&E bill?  It’s more interesting than your cereal box, certainly, but oftentimes raises more questions than it answers. 

I save my bills, partly to collect my Utility Tax Rebate, but mostly because that’s the only way a person would know how PG&E manipulates the rates. I know, but I still don’t understand. It’s complicated.

I don’t have to tell you that, I mean, you read your bills. Right?

I compared this most recent bill with the bill from the same period in 2014.  They’ve drastically raised Baseline and Tier quantities (the amounts you are allowed to use) while at the same time raising rates, so it’s hard to tell where it all settles.  I see my family used 150 less kilowatt hours than this same period last year – wow, good for us! But, here’s the thing –  that’s 150 kwh at Tier 4 (.33/kwh) – that would have cost me another $49.50 if I actually used it. So, I figure, I shaved that much off my usage, I’d see a significant difference in the total amount due.  But, my electric charge for this period is only $3 less than that same period last year, when I used 150 kwh more.

 I just don’t get that.

Hey, I finally did get  that Cal Water rate increase insert that had been casually left out of my latest water bill. If you didn’t get that insert, which was supposed to explain the latest rate increase proposal and tell you how you could participate in the CPUC decision, please call Cal Water Customer Service Manager Renee Thatford, at (530) 893-6380 and ask her to send you one. 

Although, the insert does not tell us everything Cal Water asked for in their proposal.  In the very defensive insert, Cal Water insists they are only trying to “ensure that water rates accurately reflect the cost of providing water service,” and that consolidation with the Marysville, Oroville, and Willows districts will “improve affordability“, but they don’t say, what costs or whose affordability.  What they are leaving out is their annual pension costs, and also that they were denied their last rate increases in some districts because they were too onerous for the ratepayers to bear. Now Cal Water is trying to hide costs for those districts in Chico!

And lastly, they say they will, ” develop administrative efficiencies.”  I will speculate that means, more money for salaries, benefits and pensions. Maybe somebody from Cal Water has a better explanation, I’ll be glad to run it.

“Reasons for Increase” 

  • 3.5% of the increase is for projected water supply costs
  • 96.5% of the increase is for water infrastructure improvements

I don’t understand that 3.5% “projected water supply costs” – we have our own water here, they should give us more itemization there. And then, notice how they’ve lost the “develop administrative efficiencies” thing already and gone straight to “water infrastructure improvements” – they need to itemize this stuff. 

And there’s a lot more that’s not in this notice. You can read the whole proposal at Cal Water’s office on MLK Parkway here in Chico, or you can send a written request for a paper copy to their San Jose Office. 

Be sure to read that carefully – the Office of the Ratepayer Advocate has already filed a formal protest of this action based on the following complaint, including these “Requests not included in the Proposed Application”.  

II. ISSUES

ORA is still reviewing Cal Water’s Application, but has identified several issues that it intends to review and potentially address during this proceeding.

A. Requests not Included in the Proposed Application Should be Stricken

The application includes multiple requests that were not included in the proposed application. The Rate Case Plan states “[t]he application shall conform to the content of the PA (Proposed Application), as approved by ORA.”1 Pages 16-17 of the General

Report of California Water Service (dated July 2015) include the following new requests not included in the Proposed Application:

o Special Request: Eliminating 10% Cap on WRAM Amortization

o Special Request: Continued Authorization for Balanced Payment Plan

o Special Request: Permanent Credit Card Program

o Special Request: Temporary Metered Service Tariff

o Special Request: Public and Private Fire Protection Tariffs

o Special Request: Rule 15 Main Extensions Clarifications

o Eight Additional items were added to the Special Request regarding Memorandum and Balancing Accounts

As ORA was not given opportunity to perform a deficiency review on these requests, and these requests do not conform to the content of the Proposed Application as approved by ORA, they are outside of the scope of this application and should be stricken.

Maureen Kirk has got the county board of supervisors to support a formal protest of this action too. For more information, write to Maureen Kirk, 3rd District Supervisor, at mkirk@buttecounty.net, and ask her how you can  help. 

 

$taff seems to be setting up a scheme by which they can raise their own salaries without council oversight – read it for yourself

24 Aug

There’s a city Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, 8:30 am. There is a ton of interesting stuff in the agenda, including what looks like pay raises for the police and fire chiefs. 

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/finance_committee/8-26-15FCAgendaPacket.pdf

As usual, it’s loaded purposely by the clerk so that it can not be cut and paste, you will have to troll through the whole thing yourself, like I did. 

Frankly, the reports are so thick I don’t quite understand them, but I did see copies of a pay chart and a budget that were chock full of stuff you people should know about. $taff is also recommending policy changes that should not be swept by the public in an 8:30 am meeting. It looks like they are setting up a scheme by which they can bypass council and the public and give themselves raises. 

$taff and Council just finished telling us what great shape the city is in financially – why does the budget show a $7 million General Fund deficit?  The figures are confusing – on one line it says there’s $12 million plus in the sewer fund – on another line it’s shows a $3 million deficit. And the Park fund looks tapped – somebody better tell Tom Lando, cause he’s told CARD he will try to get money for the Aquatic Center study out of the city park fund. 

That reminds me – Lando and other CARD board members have been having “Intergovernmental” meetings with members of city staff and other agencies. These meetings are not noticed on the CARD website. I’ve been asking for months to be added to the notice list. First Steve Visconti told me I’d be added but never did, and now I’ve got new director Ann Willmann giving me the dis. She told me she’d add me after the July meeting and now they’ve had another meeting for which I have not been noticed.

I don’t care if I called her a human potato – I’m not taking that back, she deserves worse. She can call me what she wants, but as long as she accepts salary and benefits at the expense of the taxpayers, I’d like to see her do her fucking job.

NOTE: Willmann finally got back to me yesterday, excusing herself for being out of the office Monday. She said, “In regards to your question, the Board’s standing committees are consistently listed on the Agenda for the Regular Board Meetings.  This allows the Committee members to report to the Board and provide information if there was a Committee meeting.  However, all Committees do not meet monthly.  The only Committee meeting that was held between the Regular Board Meeting in July and the August 20, 2015 Regular Board Meeting was the Finance Committee.  We are aware of your request to be notified of upcoming Intergovernmental Committee meetings as well as AFAC meetings, and we will notify you when we have meetings scheduled for either of those committees. ” 

Yes, the worthless wad of Brown Act allows them to list stuff in their agenda that may or may not be discussed at the meeting. It also allows them to have sub-quorum meetings (not enough members of the committee to vote) without noticing the public at all.

Well, there you see, she’s said she’s aware of my request to be notified. But, if more of you don’t start paying attention, it’s not worth my time to bother with this crap. 

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