City manager Mark Orme, Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin behind the chatter for a sales tax increase

23 Jun

I’ve been trying to engage our city “leaders” regarding the trash tax –  according to City Manager Mark Orme, “the Muni Code Ordinance (which is on Tuesday’s [June 20] Council meeting) is going forward for final reading.  This allows for the City to entertain the Franchise Agreements (Ordinances) which will come back on August 1st – originally they were anticipated to return in July, but due to the Council’s, yours, and other members of the public’s feedback/input we are negotiating further to ensure clarity and that the best deal is had, under the circumstances.  Therefore, the action for Tuesday will lead to further discussion and approval or disapproval of the new franchises in August.”

I have a lot of problems with this “franchise agreement”, the main problem being that it is a tax in disguise. We all know the city is standing in front of a pension shitstorm with a tennis racket – their tennis racket appears to be a quarter cent sales tax increase.  At the May 16 city council meeting – at about 1:14:44 – local government shill Stephanie Taber got up to the podium and told council we need to raise taxes. Here’s the link – 

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=673

I was not surprised,  but since Taber used to be a regular attendee of the old Chico Taxpayers Association meetings, I had to ask her what the hell she was thinking.

“Wow, what a tiger you are! Raise Taxes! 

I got a better idea Steph – why don’t you just get out YOUR own checkbook, donate all the money you want to the salaries and benefits, and leave the rest of us out of it.

Thank you! Juanita”

She replied, 

“First off, let me say that I would, along with other Chico residence have to “open my checkbook” and pay whether the city did this as a sales tax or GO bonds that would affect property taxes..either way I’d have to pay too.

The city would only raise 4 to 4.5 million per year if they increased the sales tax by a quarter cent.  Many of the city streets now utterly failing (there is a list in the 17/18 budget and discussed at Finance) would cost at least that much to now totally dig up and replace because of lack of maintenance during the Schwab years.  That is when millions of gas tax money was diverted to maintain S&B for city employees and to keep her in office along with Holcomb, Gruendl, Walker, Nickel, Flynn and that whole regressive crew.

The sales and/or GO Bonds that I think we must look at would be only used for infrastructure.  The funds coming in would be ear marked and put into a separate account that could be verified and restricted.  We’ve seen this new administration’s (Chris Constantin in particular) ability and willingness to do that and as long as we have fellow concerned citizens willing to spend a bit of time following the income and expenditures in a particular account I don’t see a problem.  Problems arise when administrations lie and hide as our state government is doing with the gas tax increase that the voters had no opportunity to weigh in on.

I’m a bit surprised that this is seen as a “Republican” /”Democrat” issue … there is no ideology involved in this.. it is simply a recommendation that we raise revenue (tax or GO Bonds) for a specific problem, infrastructure, that would benefit the entire city.   Today we are currently short 14 to 16 million and that figure will only go up if we sit and do nothing..to me that is not an option.”

Signed, “st

She always blames everything on the liberals, even now that the conservatives have been in power for almost two years. She also seems to forget all those meetings we sat at over the years, watching money transferred out of whatever restricted fund and into the General Fund. She even mentions the gas tax, which went entirely to salaries and benefits through “allocation” – a process Chris Constantin formalized as the rule of law almost as soon as he got hired here.  It’s now policy to keep funds balanced through transfers, any time a fund is low it’s city policy to take money from other funds to balance it, restrictions my ass.   At least before we saw when funds went into the red, now they just cover up with “allocations”. There’s a budget “appropriation” – that means “taking” – in almost every fucking agenda.

“Today we are currently short 14 to 16 million and that figure will only go up if we sit and do nothing…”

Who the Hell is “we”? I think the word we’re looking for here is “them,” or how about, “embezzlers…

I will say, she’s got a point – “Problems arise when administrations lie and hide as our state government is doing with the gas tax increase that the voters had no opportunity to weigh in on…” you mean, like the garbage tax Steph?

But there you see the puppet master – “The funds coming in would be ear marked and put into a separate account that could be verified and restricted.  We’ve seen this new administration’s (Chris Constantin in particular) ability and willingness to do that…”

I’ve known this woman for some years now, I’ve watched  her face light up every time Chris Constantin or Mark Orme paid her special attention. One day Mark Orme just put his arms around here after a meeting and gave her a big squeeze. These guys have her in their back pocket. It’s their work she’s at now. 

I heard it from a little shill…

CARD gives director raise to cover her benefits share while programs are failing and non-management hours are being cut

18 Jun

I’m sorry, I’ve been busy with my own life, and have made a pointed attempt to ignore CARD. The public didn’t seem to be overly worried, so I figured – let them do their worst, maybe a new tax is the boot to the ass the voters need to WAKE UP!

But you know, I can’t turn my head when I read stuff like this – they cut part time workers again, complaining that program revenues were down, but had the absolute gall to raise manager Ann Willmann’s salary.

http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20170615/card-mulls-over-proposed-2017-18-budget

Urseny wrote,  “In a closed session movement, the board approved a review of Willmann’s performance, approving a raise that covers her CalPERS retirement payment, a little more than $2,000.

Are you getting that? $2,000 for 70 percent of her highest year’s salary, with COLA, at age 55.  This for a woman who has badly mismanaged CARD, following the pattern her predecessor set in place – management salaries go up at the expense of the part time staff who actually run the programs. CARD’s mission needs a closer look – are they there to maintain our playing fields and neighborhood parks, or are they there to raise money to cover their own salaries and benefits? 

They made a poor decision to take over the Chico Creek Nature Center, which was almost $200,000 in debt to the city of Chico for the loan taken to build the $800,000 “classroom” next to the old building that houses the exhibits and poor creatures in cages.  CARD refused to be responsible for the debt – leaving it to be paid by ????? – while they made their plans to profit off the day camps. As badly run as CCNC was, their books in total disarray, at least they kept those camps going, for years.  CARD brought in a new group to run the center, projecting all kinds of profits to pay down their $1.7 million pension deficit, and the new group has already walked away. Meanwhile, the district has closed down after school programs formerly run by CARD – another revenue stream gone. 

“CARD is grappling with a slight reduction in the program-based revenue, primarily because private-based THRIVE education program won’t be using the Chico Creek Nature Center due to space constraints and because Chico Unified School District will not be offering an after-school program at Marsh Junior High.”

CARD is tanking, and the board gives their mis-manager a raise, her salary already over $120,000, plus her benefits package, for which she pays 2 percent. And the raise covers her 2 percent, how nice of us.

Board members Sneed, Mulowney and Ellis are up for re-election in 2018.

 

 

What does Cal Water have planned for the properties the tanks are sitting on?

13 Jun

Cal Water has announced that Chico’s old water tanks – located at three different sites surrounding the old city grid – are not earthquake rated and must be torn down. They say retrofitting is pretty much out of the question – “estimated at $800,000-$1.2 million each, compared to $150,000-$200,000 each for removal.”

Some people are upset at the loss to Chico’s historic skyline, but today I got a comment from Leonard Costa, who is skeptical of the cost and reasoning behind the removal.

“someone trying to justify their job condemned our water towers. An earthquake at that magnitude would level our town so the towers would be the least of our worries. So why waste our tax dollars taking them down?”

Good question Leonard, I have to wonder myself. While I hate to be capricious about safety, I have to ask – what kind of event would it take to knock over those towers? What magnitude earthquake or storm would be able to do that? 

I ask because I’m not convinced Cal Water is worried about that. I think they really want to sell the property the tanks are sitting on.

They mention that Dan Gonzalez of the Meriam Park development group would like to buy at least one of the tanks for it’s historical value. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised of the Meriam Park group would like to get a hold of at least one of the lots the tanks sit on. They’ve been wanting to build Downtown – live/work units – for years, first proposing a complex located at the city parking lot that hosts the Saturday Farmer’s Market, and then another at the site of the old Petersen building on East First Street, bordering the section of Chico Creek front known as “Lost Park.”

Both of those proposals were shot out of the saddle. We found out how much political clout the Saturday Farmer’s have and we also found out that section of Chico Creek at “Lost Park” is contaminated from years of dry cleaning activities in that building. Meriam Park principal Tom DiGiovanni tried to convince the city to clean it up, but given the city’s financial situation that didn’t go anywhere. 

So  now, I’m going to make my guess, the Meriam Park group has been wheedling Cal Water to tear down those old towers and make that land available for development.

Watch and see.

 

Fillmer needs to go in 2018

8 Jun

I’ve been trying to follow the trash tax conversation since  2012. At some point it went underground, and every time I’d ask Mark Orme for an update he’d tell me it wasn’t ready for the public yet. He kept giving me dates that it would be “rolled out,” but those dates came and went as the city wrestled with the haulers over the deal. 

Ever watch “Repo Man”, with Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton? Then you know what the “repo man grab” is. This deal was a fight between two big dogs that both wanted to eat the ratepayers, they were just squaring off over who got what.

They only started talking public about this deal a couple of months ago, and the revised ordinance they approved Tuesday night was available to the public, on the city website, for less than a week. I got it from the clerk Friday, because I’m signed up to get the agendas. For some reason she had trouble getting it out – she usually has these in my mailbox on the Wednesday before the following Tuesday council meeting. 

When I read it, the things that stuck out to me the most are the requirement that we have and pay for a yard waste bin – 

  • after 5 years of drought many people have taken out lawns and big trees have died. The only thing you can put in those bins are leaves and grass clippings.
  • this is not free, it’s a requirement, and therefore should be subsidized for low-income households. I’ve been telling Orme that since 2012, but he would never respond
  • this means another truck stopping in front of my house – they said they would reduce trucks – liars!

The other item that bothers me is that trash service is not required.  That means, the burden of increased costs will fall on those of us who do the right thing and get trash service. It shoves out the lower-income households who can’t afford it – great! 

I wrote to the entire council one last time to try and get them to consider these points, forwarding them the conversation I’d had with Waste Management staffer Ryan West.

Hello Council,

I am forwarding questions I had asked of Waste Management representative Ryan West regarding the most recent revision of the trash tax deal, before you tomorrow night.  The only item he did not answer satisfactorily for me was regarding mandatory yard waste pick-up.   I understood yard waste would be optional, but Mr. West tells me it will be required. Wow – trash service is not required, but if we get trash service, we are required to pay for yard waste service. As I explained to West below, I don’t need yard waste service, why should I pay for it?  

One more thing I’d like to bring up with you folks is, if service is not mandatory, this will raise the rate for those of us who opt in. If service is mandatory, I believe the city must offer a subsidy program for low-income residents. This needed to be discussed publicly and still should. 

The whole thing needed more public discussion. I’ve been trying to follow this for about four years now, and the deal you have here is not what was talked about at the meetings I attended. Also, these meetings were poorly noticed, at times when the general public would not be able to attend. I think this whole thing was run under the radar because you know people would see – it’s a tax. Right Mark? And I quote, “Let’s call this what it is, a trash tax.” 

By any other name, this deal still stinks.

Juanita Sumner

Of course I got no response. The next night they approved the deal without discussing either point. I was frustrated, so I wrote a second note, but this time I only included Mayor Sean Morgan and Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer.  

Notice 

I will not pay for yard waste service I don’t need. If you move forward with this deal, you are depriving me of affordable service, and I think that’s going to come back at you later.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

I do think they are breaking the law, but we’ll see what happens. Meanwhile, I got a surprising response from Vice Mayor Fillmer.

How come the others that voted for it are not on your email?  Are you discriminating?

That’s it, that’s her whole response. As if she didn’t get my earlier e-mail. What is this, seventh grade? This woman is not only our vice mayor, she’s worked in the public trough for years, and runs her own “human resources” agency. I’d like to have an explanation for the yard waste requirement, but I get “are you talking to me!?!”  

I responded:

Ms. Fillmer,

When I wrote to the entire council on this subject earlier this week I got no response, so this time I just sent to the Mayor and Vice Mayor. Yes, I think you’re right – by definition, that is “discriminating – having or showing refined taste or good judgment.”

I have tried to follow this garbage tax conversation since 2012, attending various meetings. When the subject stopped coming up at meetings and  I asked Mark Orme for further information, he repeatedly told me they weren’t ready to show the deal to the public (I still have the e-mails he sent). The deal was not shown to the public until recently, and this most updated version was available to the public for less than a week before council approved it. 

The yard waste requirement only came up recently. Why? After 5 years of drought, people all over town have taken out lawns, trees and shrubs have died.  I have a large property but my needs are suited by a small compost pile. As a landlord I am constantly pruning trees – tree branches  are not allowed in the yard waste bin.  The rules for yard waste bins allow only leaves, grass clippings and small plant waste – why are we required to pay more for a service we don’t need when I am forced to make regular trips and pay to take my yard waste to the compost facility on Cohasset? This was never discussed in front of me, it never turned up in meeting minutes, and it really just looks like a bone you are throwing to Waste Management so they can jack up our rates.

Please explain to me any other good reasoning you might have behind this requirement. And maybe you should ask Mr. Orme or Mr. Ewing if required yard waste service will have to carry a low-income subsidy from the city. 

Fillmer is also trying to tinker with the city’s pension system – she’s trying to make new employees pay more but old, or “classic” employees will not pay. Mark Orme and Debbie Presson just got raises to cover their new pension shares. Orme’s salary was already over $200,000/year, and Presson’s raise takes her to $142,000/year, but they pay less than 10 percent of their own pension. 

Fillmer is up in 2018. She needs to fold up her legs and go home. 

Told ya so, told ya so, told ya so!

3 Jun

Wow, look! The Enterprise Record is acting like a newspaper! Now, that’s news!

http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20170602/increasing-retirement-plan-rates-will-constrict-chico-city-funds

Next Tuesday night, council will offer clerk Debbie Presson a 2 percent raise, to $142,000/year, to get her to pay 3 percent of her pension.

City mangler Mark Orme just cut himself a similar deal.

It’s just a ball ‘o confusion! You sure can’t hide!

 

Maybe now we’ll get more bounce to the ounce?

 

This is getting pretty funky!

Lou Binninger: “Is the voting system trustworthy?”

2 Jun

Last Fall when I asked Butte County Clerk Recorder Candace Grubbs a few pointy questions about missing ballots, thrown-out ballots, mis-addressed ballots, etc, she really got nasty with me, declaring that I was accusing her of something. It made me think of that line from Hamlet – “The lady doth protest too much…” She whirled around on the defensive faster than the Arkansas Razorbacks.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2016/11/02/grubbs-resents-my-asking-questions-about-missing-ballots-thrown-out-ballots-undeliverable-ballots/

Contrast Grubbs’ reaction with that of Yuba County Clerk Recorder Terry Hansen when asked about voter fraud in Yuba County (Is the Voting System Trustworthy? by Lou Binninger )

http://territorialdispatch.biz/component/edocman/?task=document.viewdoc&id=331&Itemid=0

The piece starts out with a notice that Hansen will be asking English non-proficient voters to send in a request for bilingual ballot booklets, but when Hansen seems open to chat, Binninger goes on to ask a few questions about voter fraud, citing one surprising instance of recent fraud right there in Yuba County. “Before Hansen’s tenure charges were filed against a city council candidate
for registering numerous individuals using a pool hall address. “

I was invited years ago to a meeting at District 2 Supervisor Larry Wahl’s office, he liked to have people sit around a table and discuss current issues, I respected that. Another person at the meeting was Mark Sorensen, former Chico mayor and current city council member. We got into a casual conversation in which Sorensen asserted that he had studied the voter rolls – available at the door of every precinct on election night for the public to peruse – and he’d seen the name of a prominent local person who listed his address as the building that houses the Jesus Center. We supposed that the man must live out of the city limits and wanted to vote in council elections, which is totally illegal. It set me to wondering – how many people register at their work addresses here in the city of Chico for the same reason? At a rental property? At their friend’s house? 

When I posed these questions to Grubbs, she went madder than a wet hen, again accusing me of accusing of accusing her of something. I asked, at that time, if I was allowed to purchase the voter rolls for inspection – I was perfectly willing to pay for them – but she said I had to be a registered PAC to be allowed to even see the rolls. They’re public information, like I say, they’re posted right at the door, on a post, of any polling precinct, for the public to inspect, but she said I had to be a PAC!

I’m not accusing her of anything, but she sure acts suspicious.

Terry Hansen describes new measures that are being put in place, assuring us that it will be easier for county clerks to keep track of who is registered where, when they move, even when they die. It sounds as simple as, the various counties are finally communicating with each other.  In past, it was entirely possible and I’d say probable, that people all over California – and the nation – were registered at various addresses as they moved from district to district, town to town, county to county, even state to state, simply because the people who run the system – county clerks – don’t stay up on this information, they don’t drop you from your old address when you register at your new address. This allows some people to be registered in multiple voting precincts, even in one town. 

I had at least three people complain to me that they still received voter information for people who had not lived at their house for years, in some instances, had moved completely out of state. 

As optimistic as Hansen seems about the changes, I believe the system is as strong or weak as the people in charge, and I believe the incompetence and entitled attitude of our public workers will perpetuate voter fraud. 

 

 

 

Sorry to lose Mark Wolfe

26 May

Thanks so much to my friends who have contacted me about my roof – we’re getting it taken care of, and it’s not going to cost too much.

It’s good to have friends!

 

Speaking of good people, I was sorry to hear Mark Wolfe is retiring. First of all, he’s only 55 – I’m disappointed he’s chosen to take advantage of the pension system when he’s got a good 10 years of service left in him, at least.  Second, he was a competent and conscientious employee who told the truth about the expenses the city was incurring with various stupid projects, whether anybody would listen or not.

For example, I was sitting in a morning meeting listening to former police chief Kirk Trostle’s plans to tax local alcohol vendors. Wolfe tried to inform the group several times that staff had already put over $35,000 worth of time into studying Trostle’s proposal and it wasn’t feasible, why put more staff time into it?   Finally,  former city attorney Lori Barker informed everybody it was illegal for a local entity to put a tax on alcohol vendors – there went 35 thousand bucks. 

Some staffers care, I think they’re just out-numbered. I guess that’s why Wolfe is leaving – it would be very demoralizing for a decent person to work for the city of Corruption.