City’s new budget, as usual, puts the pensions ahead of everything else

20 May

The word for the day is “stagflation”. There will be a quiz later.

City of Chico passed a new budget the other night. When my family does a budget, we write down all the stuff we usually spend money on and see where we might be able to tighten our belts, you know, quit eating out, quit buying new clothes, don’t use the car too much, etc. When the city of Chico makes their budget, they look at how much money is or might be available, and then go about finding ways to spend it.

And in my family, when we come into a windfall, we think of ways to spend it that will have long term benefits, like fix the roof or update the plumbing. You know, spend money to save money. But look at some of the drunken sailor on Saturday night kind of spending the city of Chico has done with two years of unprecedented budget surplus. Did they fix the street in front of your house? Did they give more people free sewer hook-ups to solve the nitrates problem? How about cleaning up the park and cutting some of those dead and dying trees away from the power lines before the town burns down?

Feeling pretty confident in light of record windfalls, council increased the city budget by roughly one third, $68 million, to about $211 million a year. Unfortunately this is all “windfall money” – “federal pandemic funding, such as the American Rescue Plan, and other project grants, such as from the Department of Transportation.” Most was allocated to the police department, increasing their budget to almost what the entire city budget was when I started this blog. Then $12.2 million to the Unfunded Actuarial Liability, or Pension Deficit – up from $11.7 million last year. As for roads, I did not see any specific figures or projects mentioned in that report. No mention of the sewer or nitrate. No specific park projects. Just increases for the cops and the pensions.

Road improvements and affordable housing remain top issues to address in the coming fiscal year, according to the report, along with allocating a portion of this budget to operating its new homeless pallet shelter site. Overall, however, its largest financial challenge is its increasing contributions to CalPERS retirement benefits to city employees, both past and present. “

Talking to a reporter from Ch 7 news, Chico interim city manager Paul Hahn confirmed my belief that the pensions come before “ public safety issues that we could like to address in greater detail. The whole issue of fentanyl and drugs in our community... “

That’s it folks, if we want to see any of our real problems addressed, we have to pass their sales tax measure. “There’s a lot of projects we’d love to fund but just don’t have the resources for,”says Hahn. “That’s part of the reason why there’s a discussion of an additional sales tax measure that could be on the ballot this November.”

Yes, just “part” of the reason. The other part is the bond Bob has been mentioning. Coolidge has said he wants to use sales tax proceeds to secure a bond or bonds. For what he didn’t say, but remember, the city tried to get a Pension Obligation Bond, that’s their real intention, is pay off the pensions without any additional contributions from the employees.

Hahn also said most of the funding for the pensions comes from CalPERS investments, that’s simply not true. The taxpayers pay the biggest share, paying both the payroll “employer” contribution AND the ENTIRE annual “catch up” payment – you see they’ve budgeted $12.2 million this year, up a half million from last year. That came out of our operating budget, at the expense of our streets, our sewer system, our parks and our general quality of life and feeling of well-being. Meanwhile the employees pay as little as 9% of their own retirement costs.

Hahn seems like an idiot, I always respected him as county CAO, but he comes off very insensitive to the situation of the taxpayers. He says “Their [the employees] retirement comes from some contributions from the employees, contributions from the city and most of it comes from, basically, investments in CalPERS. Just like your 401(k)…

What an ASS – this guy is the city manager, he’s managed the county, and he doesn’t mention THE TAXPAYERS? And then he ASSumes we all get 401(k)’s? What planet does this guy live on? Oh yeah, he lives on that little planet, out there somewhere, where everybody makes in excess of $100,000 a year, and their pensions are GUARANTEED BY THE TAXPAYERS.

Here’s the story they posted on KRCR news – please note, they call it “taxpayer dollars”… –

https://krcrtv.com/news/chicos-upcoming-211-million-budget-proposed-to-tackle-homelessness-roads-and-housing

“Stagflation” next time, on This Old Lady Calls Out the Bullshitters

Right now we have an opportunity to eliminate two management positions – tell your district rep we need to cut our “top heavy” management instead of raise taxes and rates on the working class

17 May

Inflation – it’s the ‘I’ word. You’ve seen it – the price of almost everything my husband and I buy at the grocery store has increased sharply lately, having been steadily increasing over the course of the COVID shut-down. Here’s an example – I eat a lot of bananas – bananas have gone up about 20 cents a pound over the last two or three months.

The drivers – gas and utilities. It’s not hard to see how those commodities affect the price of everything else.

You can scream at Joe Biden all you want – he can’t hear you. Better to scream at your local politicians, your county and city representatives. They have done nothing to help, in fact, they’ve gone about raising the cost of living with just about every action they take. Tonight the city of Chico is talking terms of sale with Cal Water, offering them the city sewer system. YOUR sewer system folks. You’ve watched Cal Water hike your water rates, wait until they’re in charge of the sewer!

The city of Chico has already allowed Waste Management to jack up your garbage fees and impose new fees, they’ve stuck Comcast with fees that are passed along in your cable bill, and they’ve allowed PG&E to raise rates at will without any protest to the Cal Public Utilities Commission. Now they want to sell the sewer to Cal Water, just for money to pay down their pensions.

Don’t wait until Cal Water tells you they are jacking your water AND sewer rates to pay for those pipelines running up the Skyway, carrying sewage and water from Paradise ($$$$$$$). Say something NOW. Tell your district rep you know this has to go before the voters, and you’re going to join Chico Taxpayers Association in opposing it.

And tell them you are going to work hard to beat their sales tax measure. It’s a SHAKE DOWN Folks. The city’s biggest debt right now is the pensions, don’t let them fill your pants with lies.

I’ve had a little gadfly city employee coming around telling me to put a sock in it – I’ll say, join me Jeremy. You’re a worker, we need more guys like you, but we need them to be affordable. Your wages raise the price of everything, Mr. Lazarus, your pension deficit is KILLING OUR TOWN. You need to get that through your head, and then tell your co-workers to step up and pay more of their own benefits.

And we need to join together to demand cuts to management. Why do we need TWO CITY MANAGERS? Let’s promote Jennifer McCarthy to city manager and get rid of the Ass Mangler position. We also just lost Admin Services Director Scott Dowell, and his assistant ASD is now the “interim” ASD – just promote her, and dump her old position. Let’s get rid of that double-team in every department, we’ll SAVE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN PENSIONS AND BENEFITS.

Be vigilant and be active, we can do it.

UPDATE: I just received the agenda for next weeks Finance Committee meeting – they are jacking up the builder fees, which just raises the cost of housing – this is how the city of Chico GETS EVERYTHING WRONG.

Why, after two years of unprecedented budget surpluses, is the city of Chico still so far behind on infrastructure maintenance?

10 May

I got a really rude comment from a city employee named Jeremy Lazarus.

You’re article is completely full of lies. As a City of Chico public works employee who struggles to feed my family, I take your words as an attack on myself and my children. You lie in every article you write concerning pension liability. You never have any receipts for your claims. FYI, I am also a conservative. You clearly have zero understanding of city operations and how they are funded. I’m open to a conversation but you owe me and my coworkers an apology for these attacks and pinning the public against us hard working fellow TAX PAYERS.

Wow, there’s a mouthful. Receipts for my claims? All I could respond with was that I get my information from staff, from agenda reports, and from the budget, posted on the city website.

Thanks Bob, for your response to, “You lie in every article you write concerning pension liability.” Bob responds, “Every article? Well, the unfunded pension liability numbers from past discussions were taken straight out of the City’s CAFRs reports. Are you saying those numbers are lies?

Taking all the name calling and emotions out of this, ask yourself one simple question. Can the taxpayers afford the pensions? Looking at the current unfunded liability and its current growth how can the answer be yes?

Thanks for that rational take Bob, we need to keep our heads here. Mr. Lazarus is a new employee, and he’s not management, so it’s true, he doesn’t make the kind of salary the department heads are making, and he pays more of his pension costs (due to the “Pension Reform” act of 2013). But his argument that I’m a liar is irrational. I have to wonder if these people are being told by management to argue anybody who takes a dim view of the tax measure. No holds barred.

He says he’s “open to a conversation” – well, here’s a question for you Mr. Lazarus – how come there are people all over the incorporated city who have been waiting years to hook up to sewer? What’s the hold up? The city had an unprecedented surplus the last couple of years, due in part to Camp Fire relief and COVID emergency funding, not to mention sales tax revenues generated by both of those and other emergencies. How come the sewer lines are still not complete?

Becca reports, “We bought a house in North Chico 15 years ago. Through the whole process everyone made sure to point out that the house had been annexed into the city for services namely, sewer hook up. I probably don’t need to say anymore for you to know where I’m going with this. That’s correct. 15 years and I’m still sitting on a delapidated septic tank that I’ve invested in repairs what the hookup fees are. Here’s the fun part. City lines were put in all the way down a main street EXCEPT THE LAST 2 BLOCKS where it DEAD ENDS into another street that has lines in it as well. All plumbed except 2 blocks BETWEEN the two streets. When I called last year to get the what’s up, I was told I had to poll my neighbors, write up a request, submit it and wait. I was also informed it would take a while IF IT HAPPENED AT ALL as there were other “pressing” issues. So, there it is. Chico has not completed the leaching nitrates problem. The kicker for me as I understood the nitrate issue was take care of high nitrate areas first.

That’s outrageous. I’ve heard other stories at meetings and from neighbors, including the shock and awe of the city’s hook-up fees. So, how come so many people around town, including Becca above, are still waiting for the trunk lines to be completed on their street?

The other point she brings up is leaching nitrates, a problem we have heard much about since the 1990s. Old septic tanks and sewer lines were blamed. The city got grant funding to hook up households to existing sewer lines, for FREE. That’s great, but really unfair to those households who didn’t have trunk lines on their street. Why didn’t the city also undertake a push to finish trunk lines? The more people hooked up the more monthly fees they collect from those new households. It shouldn’t cost more to service more people, it should bring in more revenues.

The sewer fund, like all the city funds, is tapped every year by a certain percentage to pay for the unfunded pension liability, pension deficit, Unfunded Actuarial Liability, whatever you want to call it. Look in the budget, available on the city website, and put those terms into the F-search. Search “pension stabilization trust”. You’ll see exactly how much money is taken from infrastructure and services to pay the pensions. I found out, they take 10% of the UAL from every department fund to put into the PST (Fund 904), and the Pension Liability Reserve Fund (903), which are used to make the annual “extra” payments to CalPERS.

The highest contribution any employee group makes toward the pensions is less than 30% – I got that in a spread sheet from Chico City Human Resources Dept. The taxpayers pay the rest, with CalPERS making one poor investments performance after another. And then we pay the entire “extra” payment, with interest. Somehow, despite increasing “extra payments,” City of Chico deficit just keeps going up, currently about $150 million. So we drive on sub-par streets and put up with nitrates in our ground water, we put up with violence in our streets and homes while our parks and public spaces are overrun with crime and garbage, but our deficit just keeps going up. The taxpayers have paid enough, it’s time to look at the employee contribution.

Not only would I propose that the employees pay more, I’d propose that they contribute the same percentage into the pension “extra” payment funds established by the city, the Pension Stabilization Trust and the CalPERS Unfunded Liability Reserve Fund.

But here’s something I’ve said for a long time, and I wish Mr. Lazarus would do his homework, cause I think he might agree with me here – we need to cut management, and make them pay more. We need fewer management and more workers.

What do you think Mr. Lazarus?

BC! You magnificent bastard! I read your comment, and you’ve hit that nail right on the head! We’ve got FLEAS!

7 May

Did you ever get so disgusted you just couldn’t move? Couldn’t act? Couldn’t even COMPLAIN? That’s how I’ve been feeling lately, I call it “blog stop”. It’s like being in front of a moving train in a stalled car. Should I get out and make a run for it? Or just keep cranking the key and mashing on the pedal? If that were really the situation, sure, I’d bail – I have good insurance. But I like my home in Chico, I like my friends, I have DNA at the cemetery, and we’ve invested a lot of money here.

I know, we’re all making tough decisions right now. Gotta keep a clear head, not a good idea to make important decisions in a panic.

For me, the focus is how the city spends money, and right now, most of the money is going into the pensions. Here’s what BC had to say about it:

As you know, it all comes back to employee pensions and benefits. Until those items come under control there will never be money for anything else.

Correct, as of now, the biggest debt the city has is the CalPERS liability. The city has established two funds that are dedicated toward this debt, the money can’t be spent on anything else. These funds are filled by allocating money from every other city fund, from the roads to the sewer. Isn’t that weird – the roads fund isn’t restricted, the sewer funds isn’t restricted, but the pension fund is restricted to one purpose? Paying the pensions. That should tell you exactly where the city’s priorities lay. Because “the city” isn’t made of citizens, it’s made of employees.

The outsourcing of city services such as sewer and water is just another symptom of the bigger problem. The service gets outsourced. You would think that the personnel who used to provide the service and their benefits and the costs would all be a net savings after the asset was sold. But the payroll never goes down, the expenses never go down and the taxpayers are left with an additional cost to pay in addition to their property taxes.

BC, you magnificent bastard – my apologies to your mother – but you have hit that nail, hit it hard! Right on the head! Like I’ve said before, they are double-ending us on these services. First they take our taxes on the ruse that they will do something for our benefit, and then they outsource those services to an agency we have to pay AGAIN! No, they don’t fire the employees when they sell the sewer, and we’re on the hook for their pension deficit anyway.

You can outsource legal services, you can outsource document services, you can outsource the fire and tDOWN,,, you can outsource almost every function that city government should provide and so the tax base coming in can be used for pensions and benefits while no services are provided.

Yep, there it is – they will sell the sewer, and take the money into their pension funds, and then we will have to pay Cal Water’s ever-increasing rates to flush our toilets.

We still have to pay the employees TO DO NOTHING. All they do Downtown is work toward funding their pensions, those embezzling bastards. It’s like having fleas.

Time for hard decisions that will change Chico forever

29 Apr

How to get back on the horse…

I could have gone to the Finance Committee meeting yesterday morning, but I was in a really bad mood, I might have said some things I couldn’t take off the record.

You might have read about it in the paper this morning. Yes, the city wants to sell the PUBLICLY OWNED sewer to Cal Water, who will arrange another deal to hook up with Paradise. And sewer rates will follow water rates, heading straight for the sky. If you have a Cal Water account, you know they’ve been raising rates for years. I still have bills that say 58 cents a ccf, now it’s almost $2. And the tiers they instituted have killed trees throughout town. My family has lost three big, mature trees over the last 4 years, and a row of young oaks last summer, all due to Cal Water restrictions. Good bye Paradise, and Good bye to the Chico you thought you knew. It’s going to be too expensive to live here if you don’t have a public salary, and you sure as hell won’t be able to hold on to those big, shady trees.

Here’s the only good news I found in my research – they have to put the sale before the voters. How do you feel about it?

Biscuit has left the building

27 Apr

Well, I’ve lost my buddy, my pal and my friend.

What a fashion maven. Here we are, headed out on patrol with Badges.

Chico will never be the same.

City of Chico talking to Cal Water about selling the sewer system – get ready for rates to go up no matter what happens

25 Apr

Let me set the tone of my life – my sixteen year old dog Biscuit is dying, my vet is out of town, so I’m sitting here with her, waiting for the ball to drop. ‘Scuse me if I’m a little bitchy and distracted these days.

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Here’s Biscuit snooping out a pile of bum trash in Bidwell Park.

She’s been my right arm for years, my snoop sister, my beee-atch. You’ve seen that old bumper sticker – “The more I know people, the more I love my dog…”

But life goes on, that’s for fucking sure. Just when you think you can let it all go in grief, you find out, that’s exactly when people will take advantage. In fact, you know what I’ve learned from my canine friends? You ALWAYS need to be paying attention!

And thanks to Frank and Greg for kicking me in the ass with this news – the city of Chico is talking to Cal Water about selling the sewer.

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/4.27.22_fc_agenda_packet.pdf?1650644504

Read Cal Water’s proposal, they want to buy the sewer treatment system. What does that mean? For one thing, Cal Water can raise rates with nothing more than the tacit and slam dunk approval of the California Public Utility Commission.

The other thing that occurs to me is that the city must be in a heap of deep shit to have to sell the sewer facility. Come on – sewers and dumps are a gold mine, people have to pee/shit and throw out their trash, that’s just a given. So why sell something like that unless you have so mismanaged your resources you can’t hold onto them anymore?

The sewer has had financial problems for years. When he was still on city council, Mark Sorensen pointed out that the sewer fund was being eaten by salaries and benefits of employees that had absolutely nothing to do with managing anybody’s waste. Staffers have called for one rate increase after another, lately they’ve been talking about a “volume” charge – based on the amount of water the customer takes from Cal Water. That would include water that doesn’t go into the sewer – assuming you still have a lawn or garden to water, you’d be paying for that too.

And then there’s the Paradise deal – they want to hook up to our sewer system, meaning $$$$ – shouldn’t that deal be with the city of Chico? You don’t elect the CPUC, you don’t elect the Cal Water board, but you elect your council. I know that’s a thin line, but it’s better than nothing.

Talk to your district representative, tell them this deal stinks.

Chico Council plays Sophie’s Choice with city services in mailed survey; meanwhile, “CalPERS Unfunded Liability Reserve Fund” takes 10% of the UAL from every city fund

22 Apr

I’m thrilled to see some pushback against the city of Chico’s sales tax measure. For example, yesterday and today there were letters from names I haven’t seen in the letters section before, both calling the mailed “survey” into question. I’ve seen similar remarks, some of them very angry, on various social media sites, including Newsbreak.com

There has also been a city employee named Jeremy Lazarus, who has been trolling my posts and trying to deny that the city of Chico’s biggest debt is the pensions. He’s told me I don’t understand, and I should “get a clue”. Ironically, Transparent California reports that when Lazarus was hired by the city of Chico in 2019, he already had a personal pension debt of $24,305.22, created by his abysmally low employee contributions in Glenn County. The little trough skipper.

https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2019/chico/jeremy-lazarus/

Hey, you think Lazarus and other city employees have been told to troll the social media sites to spread the hype? While I have no evidence of that locally, I can relate that my son, when employed by a West Coast city for a short internship, was told to engage people regarding any negative information he heard about his employer, and set them straight. So I know it happens, and I won’t be surprised when I find out City of Chico employees are told same about the tax measure.

One letter writer brought up a point that also troubled me – the survey lists services that are all important, that every city needs to supply, or why be in the business of being a city? They tell us to rank these services – that’s bullshit folks, they are trying to Sophie’s Choice our asses. In the 1979 novel, later made into a very popular movie with Meryl Streep, Sophie is told she must choose between her two small children, one or the other, and that the one she doesn’t choose will be summarily executed.

The city’s survey says we must choose between essential services – “Public Safety, Addressing Homelessness*, Road Maintenance, Parks, Conservation*, and Economic Vibrancy*”. This isn’t really a choice, it’s a threat to cut one or all of these services if we don’t pony up a sales tax increase. (* These ridiculously specious terms deserve their own blog post)

Here’s what they left out – I just opened the city’s 2021-22 budget, here:

https://chico.ca.us/city-budget

I did a routine F-search with words like “pension stabilization trust”, or just “pension”, and here’s something new I found – “CALPERS UNFUNDED LIABILITY RSV FUND” – that’s Fund 903, page 115. That is separate from the “PENSION STABILIZATION TRUST FUND”, Fund 904, page 116. I knew about the PST, and so should you, cause I’ve mentioned it here about 365 times. But wow, another fund I haven’t heard of, with a 2021-22 balance of over $11.6 million. These bastards are finding new nutshells to hide their peas under every time I turn around!

Revenue sources for this fund include transfers from the General Fund. The description for this fund – “Fund to account for annual payments of CalPERS Unfunded Liability.” Apparently, they use this fund to provide revenues for the “Pension Stabilization Fund,” out of which they make the payments to CalPERS. See what I mean about nutshells?

And how is it funded? “Each department will set aside a set percentage of payroll costs to fund the annual payment of the CalPERS unfunded liability. A target reserve of 10 percent of the annual unfunded liability expenditure will be retained in the fund.

There it is – they’ve been TAKING 10 percent of the liability – now over $150 million – siphoned from existing funds – the road fund, the park fund, the sewer fund, etc. That’s why the street in front of your house looks like something from Downtown Kyiv right now, and the city is talking about taxing you based on the volume of water you get from Cal Water.

I guess I should thank Jeremy Lazarus for challenging me to prove this. He’s been calling me out, telling me to “get a clue.” Well, thanks, you Idiot, I got it, I got it good.

Let’s just call it “The Pallet Shelter Tax”

16 Apr

I was shocked when I went Downtown the other day and saw Downtown Plaza was still fenced off. And then I saw this story on the news:

https://www.actionnewsnow.com/news/chico-changes-its-focus-to-city-plaza-repairs/article_2cf3bc28-baca-11ec-a1a2-bbb329a05249.html

City workers have been focusing on other projects in Chico like the micro shelter site, but they want the plaza to be open by the end of the month for all the upcoming events in downtown.

This is more of their ploy to raise our sales tax – a subtle hint that the city is understaffed. Yeah, ever since 2013, when then city manager Brian Nakamura and his little toady Mark Orme gutted all the lower level staff positions – the worker bees! – and went about raising their own salaries and benefits. The archives (see right) are full of that, dig in and learn some Chico history! I’ve attended two meetings at which consultant Chad Wolford told successive councils city staff was getting “management top-heavy,” had “too much overhead“, and this was driving up costs while they were cutting services left and right.

We also see here the burden the city has taken on with their badly thought-out “plan to end homelessness”. Staff has been so busy – six-figure staffers by the way – putting up the pallet shelters, which were supposed to be put up by volunteers, that they don’t have time to do their jobs. They’ve allowed the plaza to fall into such a state of disrepair that they had to close it. They cite vandalism – how the hell was anybody able to commit vandalism while the damned thing was fenced off? For Pete’s sake, it’s right there, the cops can’t see vandalism going on through a chain link fence?

This is dereliction of duty, but they try to turn it around saying we don’t pay enough fucking taxes? Get the hell out!

Local gadfly Rob Berry opines that this is where the sales tax revenues will go, down the Homeless Industrial Complex drain.

For those of you who doubt it, and the many who have said it, expect the City to support the outyears for the Pallet project from the new sales tax. This from the explanation of what this tax can be used for: ‘• ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS: Providing solutions to address homelessness in Chico.‘”

You’re such a dummass Rob, you don’t see the real rabbit hole – the pensions. Who cares if they are working on pallet shelters or the streets, the sales tax revenues will be used to secure bonds that will be funneled into the Pension Stabilization Trust.

But the city knows people are pissed off about the illegal camps, and the filth and crime everywhere, and they will use it as a wedge to get us to approve their sales tax measure. Don’t buy it. Tell them they need to do their fucking jobs and pay a rational share of their own pensions and benefits.

Of course the city will continue to use taxpayer funding to forward this measure, and that is legal right up until June, when the county clerk will give it a letter designation. What letter should it get?

How about ‘P,’ for pallets and pensions?

How do you feel about the city of Chico using money that should be going to infrastructure to print up and mail out a batch of pro-tax advertising?

13 Apr

I got my flyer yesterday, and I was really disgusted. Not only did they use money that should have gone into the street in front of my house, but they are making some pretty false claims, and leaving out a lot of useful information.

I don’t know what to call this statement. “Unfortunately, our infrastructure and services have not kept pace with the unprecedented population growth…”

The Camp Fire refugees did not cause our problems in Chico. Infrastructure and services are behind because past councils, following the recommendations of city managers from Brian Nakamura to Mark Orme, systematically deferred maintenance and cut services while the money went to the pensions and benefits, particularly the deficits created by unrealistic employee contributions.

Former Public Works Director Ruben Martinez called it, “failure maintenance”. Meaning, they were not maintaining, but waiting until infrastructure like streets and bridges had become completely crapped out, and then doing cheap band-aid repairs. When the Guynn Street bridge fell away from it’s support beams, they just closed it, leaving residents to find a new route out of their neighborhood. They admitted the bridge had failed and closed it in 2017 – they still haven’t replaced it. Even though they say it is fully funded by Cal Trans. Maybe Spring 2023? What?

https://chico.ca.us/post/guynn-avenue-bridge-replacement-project

So, you see, we don’t have a money problem in Chico, we have a spending problem. This flyer is an example of a spending problem. Using taxpayer money to put forward a tax measure, and advertise it to the voters, may not be illegal at this time, but it’s hardly ethical.

If you received one of these, don’t send it back. They don’t ask for names, so this is not a true survey. Staff could fill out as many of these as they want and call it a survey. I recommend you contact your district representative and tell them you will not support the tax measure.

And here’s some history – how soon we forget! Former Chico city manager Brian Nakamura got fired from his post as Rancho Cordova manager for printing up flyers promoting a tax measure.