Time to chatter up 2014

13 Jan
Butte County Public Library, Chico Branch. Yes, it's humble, but public libraries are the silent guardians of Democracy.

Butte County Public Library, Chico Branch. Yes, it’s humble, but public libraries are the silent guardians of Democracy.

Today I think we had one of our most productive Chico Taxpayer’s meetings ever – thanks a lot to Bob Best for coming down to lead a very productive discussion about priorities for Election 2014.

A heavy frost greeted us at the library this morning, but thank goodness, the heater was on.

A heavy frost greeted us at the library this morning, but thank goodness, the heater was on.

We had a good turnout and everybody was up for a good discussion. We started with a brief update on Measure J – not much to talk about there, until the city gets around to allowing us to apply for our refunds. First they actually have to amend something in the charter to allow us to apply for our refunds directly from the city – the current ordinance says we have to try to get the money out of the cell phone carriers first. Yeah, that stinks, and all I can say is, they better slam-dunk that Tuesday night. I’m expecting a reply to that inquiry I sent to the Finance Dept. by Thursday.  I’ll keep you posted.

We spent the rest of the morning discussion the city’s “unfunded pension liabilities,”  comparing notes, and trying to come up with a plan of action.

‘unfunded pension liabilities,” is the money our council promised to pay our city employees in retirement but the city doesn’t  really have it. Council got talked into these crazy pensions (70 – 90% of highest year’s earnings, as early as age 50) by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), who promised that most of the money would come from the stock market.  In the beginning they let the city pay 18 percent of the total cost  (based on actual payroll).   Nine percent of that was deemed the “employer share,” and the other nine was supposed to be the employees’ share. In reality, the city pays most or all of the employee share. And now, CalPERS is raising the amount they want – currently the city is paying 26% and it’s going to go up to 31% within the next couple of years. Meanwhile, management (including $212,000/yr city manager Brian Nakamura) only pay 4%, the fire employees pay 2%,  and the POLICE PAY NOTHING. Only the classified staff – those making less than $100,000/yr, some of them in the $35,000 range, pay most or all of their share, at 8% – 9%.

The “employees’ share” paid by the city (“employer paid member contribution”) adds up to about $1.9 million a year.  Brian Nakamura has complained that the city lost about $900,000/yr with the defeat of Measure J.  He said that amounted to several cops, or a fire station. Just imagine (or get out your calculator) how many cops or firefighters you could hire with $1.9 million.

Bob Best reminded us that this budget deficit conversation has been going on for about ten years. I remember taking my son, now 17, to the morning meetings when he was about six years old. After one discussion he had asked me, if the city was in so much financial trouble, what was with all those brand new multi-colored Sharpie markers and that giant doodle pad Finance Committee member Scott Gruendl was waving around? Gruendl was trying to scribble his way through an explanation why a once-financially healthy city, with a budget surplus when Tom Lando took the helm back in the 90’s, had come teetering to the brink of bankruptcy. This conversation has gone on for all these years, and we are still poised on the brink of bankruptcy, with the same elected leaders who haven’t listened to us before. 

Today we talked about getting more people involved. So many times, people don’t hear about issues like the bag ban until they come before the council, and they’re already a done deal, one way or the other. The bag ban was in committee for a couple of years. The same tiny handful of people came time and time again, urging the committee members to forward a ban to council for approval, with the same little handful, including myself, knowing we represented a much larger group that was unable to attend these daytime meetings, but who weren’t going to like this ridiculous ban.  The meetings weren’t noticed, they weren’t covered by the newspapers, and they’re held at 8am on work days. So,  a lot of people, like the checker and bagger I talked to recently at Safeway, are only just now hearing anything about it. 

Jim mentioned today that a friend of his, hearing of the bag ban recently, asked how something like that could go by without a public vote. He had to remind his friend, she’d voted for the council members who’d said they would support the ban – hadn’t she done her homework?

Chico continues to elect leaders and then complain about the direction they are taking us, and then elect them again anyway. 

What motivates people to vote for a candidate? What issues are important to people? What are the issues that are important to you? We shouldn’t wait until Spring 2014 to sort our priorities out – we need to start thinking about this now. Bob also suggested we start finding the issues in which we share the strongest common interest,  try to focus our energy behind those goals, and get others to help us, spread the word.

What are your priorities for the 2014 election? What issues would you like to hear from the candidates on? Are you a candidate who is interested in running? Well, let’s hear about it. If you don’t want to use your real name or e-mail, don’t worry about it, just try to stay constructive.

Let’s start the chatter.

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