Archive | March, 2013

CARD 2012-13 budget

31 Mar

Sorry I couldn’t figure out how to post a visual of the budget – click on the link below for the information I used in my letter to the Enterprise Record:

2012_2013 Final Budget (4)

Jennifer Hennessy off to Temecula – a geography lesson!

29 Mar

I was just looking over the stats for today and it looks like everybody’s talking/reading/thinking about Jennifer Hennessy.  You know she “resigned” yesterday, from her position as city finance director. This on the heels of lots of criticism at a meeting I missed earlier this week, detailed in a pretty nasty little report in yesterday’s paper. 

At Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting, which I missed, due to being too tired from snowboarding my ass off Monday at Tahoe to get out to another stupid 8am meeting, there was a frank announcement from Planning Services Director Mark Wolfe that our “development fund” is some $10 million in the hole. Yes, that’s MILLION – 1-0-000-000. 

This is not a secret, Mark Sorensen. This subject has been kicking around in meetings for years. I been kicking it around, for one. The developers do not pay their way, some developers pay less than others, etc. They use all this staff time and pay nothing. I mean, “$taff time,” you know, those people in that building Downtown, more than 100 of whom rake in over $100,000/ year, just in salary.

All the sudden it’s a big deal? Where was all the angst when they decided just last year to “defer” developer fees for Downtown development? 

When I bitch about stuff, it’s just bitching, ever notice that? 

The newspaper article did not flatter Jennifer Hennessy, in fact, it sounded like they were insinuating something. I’m not going to speculate. I already have, many times, read up. 

I’ll tell you something funny though – Jennifer just “resigned” yesterday, but as of an hour ago, at about 6:30 pm, the Enterprise Record, with glowing remarks from Mark Sorensen, announced the hiring of a new finance director. 

This stinks, oh boy does it stink. It’s like when I smell something in my refrigerator, and I know it ain’t right, but I’m too busy to drag everything out right at the moment. I’ll get time, you turkeys, believe me, and it’s turkey season right now. 

Here’s something else funny – Hennessy is headed for one little pimple of a town – Temecula. Not far from Hemet!  And, co-inka-dinkkally – Temecula is in the middle of  the creek without a paddle, like Hemet. Last fall they fired their city manager and then their finance director, the latter of which will be the position Hennessy is stepping into. I don’t know if they’ve replaced their city manager. 

According to Nelsy Rodriguez of the Press Enterprise, “On Nov. 5, exactly eight days before the City Council voted unanimously in closed session to place him [city manager Bob Johnson] on paid administrative leave, Johnson sent an email to all city employees announcing the creation of a ‘transparency sharepoint page’ containing information regarding city salaries and benefits and official communication between the city and union representatives, among other information.”

Verrrrry iiiinterestink!  There’s a barrel of stinking fish here, a barrel full.

 

They can’t fix our streets because they’ve taken up all the money for their salaries

25 Mar

The city of Chico is currently perpetrating a sewer scam on residents all over town. They’re telling people septic tanks are causing a nitrate problem in our groundwater, but that was proven false about 20 years ago.  Ask Jane Dolan – back in the 90’s, when the city tried to force all kinds of people onto sewer, she and others asserted correctly that the nitrates in our drinking water were coming from cattle ranching above town and fertilizer use along Chico Creek.  The project was dropped.

But, I sat in on a meeting years back with Colleen Jarvis, Dan Nguyen-tan, and current city councilor Scott Gruendl, during which they expressed the need not only to raise the monthly fee for sewer, but the need to get more people on sewer  in order to pay for the expansion of the sewer plant out by the river. 

There is so much to this story, I hate to tell it. I just heard more at another meeting Downtown recently. See, if you’re on sewer, your poop goes to this plant out in the orchards west of town, you can smell it for miles when you drive out there toward Scotty’s or head for Willows. There it is “treated” – read up on that yourself – basically, the sewer treatment plant has nothing on septic tanks, it IS just a big septic tank. 

The difference being, after your poop goes through your septic tank, it is leached into your yard. When it goes to the sewer plant, it is sent to the Sacramento River.   The pipe leads to leach lines buried under the river bed. 

One problem here being, the leach lines lay just about exactly where M&T Ranch pumps water for their huge agricultural and animal preserve operation.  Also, the river naturally “meanders,” and this has left Chico’s sewer leach lines “high and dry” several times, resulting in millions of our city dollars being spent on re-doing the lines. This seems to happen about every 10 years. The manager from M&T recently came to a meeting Downtown, where he described a plan to stabilize the river banks by building these enormous rock “jetties,” but he didn’t say who was going to PAY FOR IT. He did say the Sacramento River Conservancy is dead against this project and they’ll fight in court – more $$$$$$$!

I’ll tell you another problem I made them admit at the meeting – the sewer plant has “accidents” – funny word, huh? Cause “accident” means, during a big rainstorm, raw sewage can be and often is discharged into the river. Ask any River Rat, they’ll tell you their turd cloud story. It seems to stick together, as it floats in the river, like a brown cloud. What is that? you ask yourself – yes, I’ve seen human turds floating in the river, and too many to have been just some old fisherman crapping off the side of his boat. 

But the city of Chico has managed to perpetrate the sewer scam on the unwitting – in fact, a friend of mine over in Chapmantown was “allowed”, along with many neighbors, to hook up free of charge! No hook up fees, that’s how desperate they are to get people on the system. Cause once your house is hooked up, it’s a guaranteed fee every month, a fee they can raise at will. The meeting I sat in on with Gruendl, Nguyen-tan and Jarvis was about just that – raising sewer fees to cover the cost of expanding the sewer system so the state would allow us to build more housing. Jarvis argued they should raise the fee immediately, some $15 a month – “let’s be honest with people,” she said –  but Nguyen-tan and Gruendl, cagey bastards – they didn’t want to piss people off, they wanted to raise it incrementally. They won. 

I’ll tell you what Jarvis wasn’t being honest about, was the reason. She would have let people go on thinking this move to sewer was for public health when it was really about revenues for the city. She was a pretty cagey old broad herself. And if you disagree, you didn’t know her, so shut the hell up.  

And now they’re winning the silent battle to get more people on sewer, even when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with their septic tanks. A well-maintained septic tank should cost you less than $100 a year, while sewer will cost you some $40 a month.  And you’re not paying for service, you’re paying salaries Downtown.

Yes, they need the money badly Downtown. They aren’t even paying for the sewer upgrade, they’re paying their own salaries. This is another problem Downtown – they were paying many salaries and benefits and pension premiums out of the recently disbanded RDA. The RDA had a credit card, and they spent wildly on whatever they wanted – one year they gave developer Tom DiGiovanni $7 million in RDA money, that’s how wild.  The new successor agency is limited to about a million and a half a year.

Would you believe, they were even paying the city council salaries out of the RDA?  

So, now, $106,000 a year engineer Bob Greenlaw says they don’t have any money to repair the streets. That’s the same song I’ve been hearing Downtown for years. At one meeting, Jennifer Hennessy said, point blank, the gas tax receipts, which we were told were legally supposed to be spent on road maintenance, are spent instead on salaries Downtown.

This city council and $taff are handing us nothing but bullshit.  If you people reelect Gruendl and Goloff  in 2014, you’re saying, “Yes Mother, may I have another!” 

Here’s the story from the Enterprise Record:

By ASHLEY GEBB-Staff Writer
Posted:   03/24/2013 01:30:12 AM PDT
CHICO — While Chico residents lament residential road conditions, officials say the damage was not caused by the nitrate compliance project, and is not fixable anytime soon, thanks to limited funding.Residents on Pillsbury Road reached out to the city this week with complaints about potholes and broken pavement they say is the result of a state-mandated project to convert residents from septic to city sewer.

But, those roads — like many others throughout Chico — were in disrepair long before the project, said senior civil engineer Bob Greenlaw.

Construction does exacerbate conditions, but funding restrictions limit the cash-strapped city from making better improvements, he said.

“It’s not that we are not paying attention to this, but right now the funds are there for the most part to patch things up and keep them safe,” he said. “Those are our priorities — is the road safe, is it stable? Does it look good? No. Does it ride good? Ehh, maybe not the best.”

The nitrate project is funded by a state revolving fund loan that limits fund uses, Greenlaw said. Repairing or overlaying the entire roadway after sewer lines are laid is not an eligible use.

That’s little consolation for some residents.

“I don’t see how it makes sense to leave us with streets in such horrible condition,” said Jane Evraets, a 33-year-resident of Pillsbury Road. “Maybe it’s not a good idea to tear up something if you can’t put it back together to where it’s decent.”Now that contractors are mostly finished, main trunk and laterals are filled with fresh asphalt but the surrounding road is pocked with cracks and holes.

“Our roads have been destroyed,” said Sylvia Brock, who has lived in the neighborhood for 28 years. “They weren’t perfect but they were a heck of a lot better than they are now.”

She attended every public meeting about the project and said the city has not upheld its promises.

“They were supposed to restore the roads to pre-existing conditions,” she said.

Brock and Evraets would like to think attention to the problem will change it, but they have their doubts.

“We’ve been given no hope. No one has said, ‘In X amount of time,’ or ‘We are working on it,'” Evraets said. “It’s, ‘We hear you, but there is no money.'”

Residents near Enloe Medical Center addressed the City Council in January with similar complaints and were given a similar answer.

Near Enloe, the $500,000 to $1 million cost to resurface and make other improvements to a 12-block area was to be funded by the Redevelopment Agency. When that funding source dissolved, the project came to a halt.

It and other projects throughout the city, such as streets that needed resurfacing before the nitrate project, remain on a to-do list.

“The public always saw some roads being paved before through different sources of funds but those are now really limited,” Greenlaw said. “Now, it’s down to either the grant funds … or gas tax, and that’s not been available.

Some roads might have been slated for resurfacing back when funding was available but it was postponed because of the nitrate project. The city didn’t want to invest in resurfacing only to tear up the roads again. “The city definitely has a desire to freshen up the roadway surfaces and not just in the nitrate areas but in all roadways within its jurisdiction,” Greenlaw said, noting the city has 300 miles of streets, 187 of which are residential.

He expects staff soon will present the council with road infrastructure conditions, funding needs and a ranking of necessary projects. The city can then develop a multi-year plan for improvements.

“These are not the conditions we would like to keep the roads in,” Greenlaw said. “We will get out there and get back to it, but it’s going to take a little while.”

Brian Nakamura wants to keep the public out of the contract talks – some sunshine!

20 Mar

Several years ago, because of inquiries and complaints on the part of various citizens, including myself, Chico city council made a verbal agreement with the public, recorded in the minutes of the meeting, that they would “sunshine” future cop contracts  before they voted on them.   So, if you look at the agenda for March 5, you will see the proposed cop contract.

I went over this in a letter to the Enterprise Record:

The tentative Chico police contract is available in the March 5 city council agenda packet at 

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/city_council.asp

 Some highlights:  
 
Page 33: the taxpayers will continue to pay most or all of the health insurance premium. 
 
Page 34: the taxpayers will pay the employee’s full life insurance premium based on salary plus lesser policies for spouse and children. 
 
Page 35: the taxpayers will pay the full long term care insurance premium.  
 
Page 42: the taxpayers will continue to pay both the “employee’s” and “employer’s” share of pension premiums, for current employees only.   For employees hired on or after January 1, 2013,”the city shall not pay any employee contribution, and those employees shall pay the entire employee contribution rate of 50 percent…”  
 
Page 43: “City agrees to the establishment of a retiree Medical Expense and Health Insurance Trust…funded by monthly contributions made by the city…” of more than $300/employee. 
 
Chico Police currently boasts 147 full-time employees. They claim to be short of staff, but still demand very generous salary and benefit packages for current employees. Their demands place not only the public, but the police themselves, at risk. This contract also creates a dangerous disparity between existing and incoming employees.  There’s already an issue of “compaction” between lieutenants and sergeants, two lieutenants have filed formal complaints.  
 
Brian Nakamura recently announced a $50 million deficit  related directly to the “unfunded pension liability”. When will the CPOA bring a rational proposal to the table?
 

Juanita Sumner, Chico

I read  the entire contract, and was really interested in what the council had to say about it – turns out, “sunshining” does not mean, “public discussion.”  They posted the contract on the agenda for the public to see, but when that item came up at the end of the meeting, Mayor Goloff simply closed the meeting. She didn’t even mention that the contract was available for public review.

I’m not the only person who’s miffed about that. Below read Stephanie Taber’s e-mail to city council and Brian Nakamura:

6.3 on the agenda last week was the sun-shinning of the new CPOA MOU.  Apparently based on a conversation between the City Manager and the city’s chief legal strategist there was no mandate that there be an open discussion regarding the contents and that is now sufficient to just place it on the agenda.  I do not recall that as a decision by council during discussions regarding transparency and sun-shinning.  I object.  I think it is necessary for the City Manager to justify why this MOU is being placed on the agenda for apparent approval without regard to the cost to the city taxpayers.  No fiscal impact – really?

There is no dispute that Public Safety consumes the majority of the General Fund budget.  There is also no dispute that those employees under the Public Safety umbrella deserve the wages they make.  But that is where the consensus ends for many of us.

Why has the city not mandated that current Public Safety employees pay their share of retirement benefits?  The County was able to negotiate a gradual down-tick of employer pick up of their retiree benefits over a three year period.  Why hasn’t the city taken the same approach?

Why hasn’t the city discontinued the $300 per month per employee toward the employees “retirement trust fund”.  That is an incredibly costly benefit – $3,600 per year for one employee, in ten years that is $36,000; 20 and that’s $72,000.  And how many Public Safety employees do we have?  Do the math. What is the justification for that?  What private employer in Chico provides a similar benefit?  And this has been in effect since 2007.

In these tough economic times, City employees who make 2, 3 and even 4 times the wages of those working for private employers, not including very generous city benefits, need to consider shared sacrifice.I see no evidence of that in this current agreement with Chico Police Officers Association.

Perhaps it is time for the city to consider the hiring of a profession labor negotiator to deal with the unions.

Stephanie Taber

Apparently, Stephanie found out, this was Brian Nakamura’s decision.

He’s Mark Sorensen’s pit bull, Sorensen needs to answer for this too. 

UPDATE: Mark Sorensen responded to my e-mail query, but I’m out of town this weekend – I’ll get back to it on Monday. Unless there’s wi-fi in my cheap motel room. 

Measure J was just the test run for the sales tax increase

12 Mar

Brian Nakamura forwarded along Jennifer Hennessy’s answers to Stephanie Taber’s questions from last week’s city council meeting.

Stephanie’s questions, below in black, with Hennessy’s responses in blue, and my smart ass observations in green:

1) What/who is the source of information that is now being used to verify the $500 loss (or whatever the current figure is) in revenue due to the defeat of Measure J?  At the offset of the proposal there was no definitive way of separating how much revenue was received based solely of cell phone calls and texting and how much on land line costs.  At least that was my understanding.

Answer:  City staff will be able to determine Measure J’s impact over time, as Telecommunication companies stop collecting the tax on cell phones and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services.  Future UUT revenue will be compared to revenue collected prior to the notification to the companies to cease collection of this tax. 

Wait, this doesn’t sound right. For one thing, in December, Hennessy reported a loss of $500,000 to the General Fund, and blamed it directly, in so many words, by name, on “the loss of Measure J.” There was no doubt in her mind, our budget had been hit broadside to the tune of $500,000 by the petty taxpayers who defeated that ill-begot scheme. Now she tells us, she won’t know how much, til “over time”?   She’s our budget director, in charge of our financial “IN” and “OUT” boxes, and she doesn’t know where our money comes from? She gets checks all year from the phone companies, but she doesn’t keep track of how much? That answer sounds fishy to me on a number of levels. 

2) Are telephone tax collections a separate revenue line item that can be compared month-to-month and year to date?

Answer:  Yes, revenue collected for Utility Users Tax on telecommunication services is reflected in the City’s General Fund, under account 40492. 

And here she says the opposite – that the revenue collected is kept track of in the budget?  Month to month? I looked in the budget, available under “Finance Dept” on the city website.

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2012-13CityAnnualFINALBudget_000.pdf

Yes, under the General Fund summary, page FS-1, Fund 001, Utility Tax is separated out – gas, electric, telecom, and water – but only year to year. I wonder if she even read Stephanie’s question all the way through. The fund is there, but we don’t see how much is added and subtracted, just the balance. Like she says for Q #1, we would have to have all the budgets, and compare that number from year to year, and we’d have to know how much money had been taken from that fund in order to figure out how much had come in over any particular year. She knows that stuff, or she should – why she can’t give us a straight answer is beyond me, and it just makes me suspicious of everything they say Downtown.

What they continue to say Downtown, is that Measure J is to blame for all our fiscal difficulties. This even as they sign that new cop contract – raises, especially for lieutenants, fully-paid “employee share,” the whole nine yards. And did you see those new cruisers they bought, just to be “traditional”? They’ve also raised department head salaries about $25 – 30,000 each.  Oh, but $900,000, or uh, is it $600,000 – oh, just $500,000? Really? Well that’s still a TRAGEDY! QUE LASTIMA! You rotten, petty taxpayers! You’re so stingy! 

This is their foot in the door for that sales tax increase, you just watch. 

And don’t forget, Frank Fields said he’d have the UT rebate application on the website “in the next couple of  weeks,” so I’ll keep you posted there.

The figures are in – Schwab, Gruendl and Goloff just flat LIED about Measure J

12 Mar

As most of you probably remember, Measure J, the cell phone tax measure, was promoted by Ann Schwab, Scott Gruendl, and Mary Goloff. I really have to hand it to them – they were the only ones with the balls of brass to put their names on this obvious money grab.  That doesn’t mean I have anything but contempt for this group, I’m just saying, I’d hand “it” to them, “it” being a big turd.

In the argument they posted in favor of the cell phone tax, Ann, Scott and Mary claimed, ” A loss of $900,000 a year would result in reduced police and fire services, road maintenance and park funds.’

Where’d they get that figure? In the same argument, they cited “the average cell phone bill of $50 per month…”. I remember doing the math, and asking, “how could that add up to $900,000 a year?” My husband said it was possible, but I had to remind him – only AT&T and Metro PCS – the two cheapest cell phone providers out there – collected the tax. How many people in Chico use those providers? We don’t know, but it’s hard to figure how these two providers, who cater to welfare recipients and other low-income customers, could possibly come up with $900,000 a year in tax.

Well, they couldn’t. In subsequent discussions, finance department employee Frank Fields estimated a truer figure of $600,000/year, and, at a December council meeting, Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy reported the actual figure at $500,000. Yes, exactly $500,000, no odd dollars or cents. Go figure.

This whole discussion has been highly questionable. So you know Stephanie Taber, she did the asking. She stood up at the end of the meeting and asked very pointed questions about the figuring for Measure J. Crickets chirped.  Mayor Mary Goloff thanked Stephanie but neither offered answers of her own nor questioned $taff. So, Stephanie had to e-mail her questions to Brian Nakamura, Jennifer Hennessy, and the council.  The first two deal with Measure J, I didn’t include the others because I want to focus here on Measure J. I’ll  get back to the others.

Stephanie’s letter begins, “Perhaps you were unable to jot down the questions that I asked so here they are again:

1) What/who is the source of information that is now being used to verify the $500 loss (or whatever the current figure is) in revenue due to the defeat of Measure J?  At the offset of the proposal there was no definitive way of separating how much revenue was received based solely of cell phone calls and texting and how much on land line costs.  At least that was my understanding.

2) Are telephone tax collections a separate revenue line item that can be compared month-to-month and year to date?

(Questions 3 and 4 left out)

Stephanie Taber

On Sunday evening Silly Manager Brian Nakamura e-mailed back, saying, “I wanted to share that Ms. Hennessy has provided draft answers for me to review and share and its my delay that is slowing down the response to your questions.”  And he said he’d get back to Stephanie, which I assume Stephanie will clue us in there when she has something.

In the meantime, she answered Nakamura, ” As to the comparison one year against another to verify the $900K lost as a result of the defeat of Measure J, it would be of value to have that specific item as part of the quarterly report since a lot of taxpayers are skeptical of the figure. “

Yes, a lot of taxpayers are skeptical of that $900,000  figure – we’re damned sick of hearing it repeated. The News and Review used it in a February editorial, even after they’d printed Frank Field’s estimate back in November. I asked Robert Speer about it when I sent in a letter last week, he printed my letter and thanked me for it, but did not respond to my remark about the $900,000 figure.

What is this – the Big Lie? They think if they just keep repeating that figure, we’ll buy it hook, line and sinker? Well, that probably works when they’ve got both newspapers and the tv station to go along with them.  We need to get some folks writing letters, demanding answers to the “creative bookkeeping” they’re using Downtown. Ask questions people!

I did some asking – last week I dropped another note to Frank Fields over in Finance. I asked him, again, how many people have applied for and received cell phone tax refunds, and what’s the average refund amount? Frank is a sport, he got right back to me:

Ms. Sumner,
 
To date, we’ve processed 91 refund applications averaging $52.65 each.  In addition, I have another 10 or so applications waiting to be processed.
 
Finally, we’ll be posting the “UUT refund application” for the annual UUT refund program in the next couple of weeks.
 

Frank

Vielen Dank Frankster, that is just what I suspected above.  If the average refund is $52.65, that works out to $4.38 a month in tax – almost twice the figure Schwab, Gruendl and Goloff stated in their “argument for.” That would also make the average bill about $87 – again, almost twice the figure stated in the “argument for.” 

From the voter’s manual: “This rate, if applied to the average cell phone bill of $50 per month, would equate to a monthly charge of $2.25 as opposed to the current charge of $2.50.”

Boy, there it is – as Al Franken would put it, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” 

And here’s the link to that refund application:

http://www.chico.ca.us/documents/CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

So much for “pension reform”!

9 Mar

Yes, the people of Chico WILL pay over half the “employee share” for our new assistant city manager, for his pension and his health benefits.

At this past city council meeting, in answer to the issue of getting employees to pay their own share,  Mark Sorensen was saying that new employees would have to pay their own share!  Unfortunately, Sean Morgan reminded him, only if they come in from outside the California Public Employee Retirement System.

This new guy from Hemet, Mr. Orme, former assistant to our current city manager Brian Nakamura, WILL ONLY PAY 4 PERCENT.

Sorensen explained it to me in an e-mail:

The California law that passed last year requires that new CalPERS participants go into a lower benefit tier, and prohibits the employer from paying any of the ’employee share.'”

You get that – “new CalPERS participants” – not new employees. This Orme guy, transferring up here from city of Hemet, CALIFORNIA,  is already IN CalPERS. So, according to Sorensen, “Mr. Orme would not fall into that legal requirement that he pay the ’employee share.'” 

Gawd you just have to hand it to these people, they are pretty damned slick! The crap they pull, right in broad daylight. 

But Pollyanna Sorensen still stands behind this whole deal, like the steadfast tin soldier. He claims this new policy regarding, well, some new hires, will provide “some encouragement to move existing employees to pay their own ’employee share’,” promising, “there is a definate [sic] desire to move in that direction.” 

Desire on whose part, I’m asking. Not sure. He offers no further illustration. 

Let me color this in for you, my interpretation, see? There’s a lot of ugly jealousy among the ranks Downtown. First we have this problem of “compaction” between supervising lieutenants and their subordinate sergeants – the lieutenants are jealous because the sergeants use overtime to make almost as much as their lieutenants. Now I’m hearing from Sorensen, existing employees need to see it stuck to the new employees before they will do the right thing, maybe. This is sickening to me. I can’t formulate much of an opinion of our city workers. They seem like a pretty “Me” kinda bunch. 

And then you have our council. Sorensen says they’re working as hard as they can, but “trying to move 9 bargaining units and contract employees into that direction has not been easy.

Do tell. 

Have you ever noticed that the bad kids get all the attention?