CARD consultant says bond is a No Go, so Lando suggests CARD pursue a sales tax increase!

17 May

Despite the weird experience I had Monday at the CARD finance committee meeting, my husband and I rode our bike down to last night’s regular board meeting to see what CARD’s consultant had to say about the survey run a couple of months ago.  

CARD was testing the waters for a bond or property assessment, insinuating they would build a new aquatic center and gymnasium when what they really need is a bailout to pay their pension premiums. CARD employees get the same CalPERS deal as the rest of the public sector, and they pay NOTHING toward their own benefits. We the taxpayers pick up their entire “employee share”. Of course, that’s for the management who have benefits and pension – most of the people who actually do the work to keep your parks open and somewhat clean are part time workers with neither benefits nor pensions.

At Monday’s meeting, board member Jan Sneed loudly ranted at me that I was accusing CARD of being dishonest – yes, I am. Read the survey for yourselves – where does it mention the $397,000+ CalPERS side fund payoff, over $350,000 of which came out of the now-empty capital projects fund?  They try to tell us they’re going to build an $8 million aquatic center off of a $20 – $52 assessment?  Maybe Sneed would like to explain why the pension fund pay-off is left out of the survey paperwork?

I guess that’s because these survey people like to, as the consultant from SCI Consulting Group  put it, go at it “blind.” Meaning, they make no attempts to educate the survey respondents, they just ask them leading questions. When I’ve studied the consultants that do these surveys, I’ve found, it’s not set up to find out what people really want or think, it’s set up to lead people into wanting or thinking what the client wants them to want  or think. Got that? It’s part of the consultant’s job, not to gauge a community’s willingness to pay more taxes, but to make them think they’re willing to pay more taxes.

From their website,

“SCI is proud of our industry leading success rate with new ballot measure for funding public agency capital improvements and services.

Part of their service includes “implementing a comprehensive strategy for clearly communicating the issue to the public.”

So, I wish I’d thought to ask this consultant (actually, a very nice woman name of Melanie Lee), “why did you throw up all that stuff about an aquatic center and gymnasium instead of being honest about wanting the money for pensions?” I would think that question kind of answers itself, but Ms. Lee is a professional analyst and very honest and forthcoming – I think her answer would have been interesting.

I did hear what I wanted to hear – she reported that the results of the survey were disappointing. For one thing, they sent out 10,000 surveys and only got about 1800 back. I’d call that a wash, but I remember past surveys that have run with less than 500 respondents, so I won’t discount this one. I just kind of wonder what CARD spent on it, is all – just to send a giant wad of tree pulp to the land fill. 

But for another thing, the surveys that were returned indicated there’s little support for any kind of leech on our property taxes, whether it be a parcel tax, or an assessment. Both came back with less than the recommended amount of support to pursue a ballot measure. 

Ms. Lee also summarized the remarks people made at the end of their surveys – bad economy; recent passage of Measure E, prop 30, and other tax increases; and “government spending”.  

And before she left, she offered the board some great advice –  spend the next couple of years “maintaining and improving the park district”. In the meantime, open up a dialog with large property owners and apartment dwellers – the groups who least supported the idea of a tax.   Above all, she reminded them, “a good campaign starts years ahead.” 

With that Ms. Lee gathered her stuff and headed out the door. Before she was even out of the building, Tom Lando moved that the board consider having the CARD attorney “look into” a “sales tax measure.”  It was as if he missed the consultant’s last words – “the economy, other tax increases, and government spending.” Is he deaf? Dumb? Or really, really smart? 

He brought up the survey he’d run over a year ago, when he wanted the city council to put a sales tax increase measure on the local ballot. He said at last night’s meeting, he’d got over 60 percent approval.  And I guess that sounds accurate – the idiot majority passed Prop 30.

I’m assuming Lando was afraid to run his sales tax increase on the same ballot with Prop 30 – so he thinks waiting two years is going to do any good? Prop 30 raised sales tax to 7.5 – now what, 7.75? 8? 

I know, that doesn’t sound like much. So I have to remind you again what it pays for – for example, the general manager of CARD makes over $112,000 in salary, and we still pay his entire “employee share.” They bottomed out the coffers, of our tax dollars, to pay their pensions. To me, that’s stealing. They’ve stolen from the funds that were supposed to pay for the upkeep and replacement of public facilities to enrich themselves. 

I know my comments weigh heavily on the staff down at CARD, I’m sorry, they think I’m just a bitch. Well, I’d be an idiot to put up with what they’re doing. Steve Visconti, in his closing remarks, wanted to make sure everybody knew, the results of that survey “in no way reflect the way people feel about CARD…just bad timing…”

Then he went on to laud “staff”, meaning himself, I believe, for a recent award from some award givers regarding their website and the transparency of their agency. I must admit, Visconti and finance director Dowell have given me answers to my questions and also documents I’ve asked for. But never once in these “public” conversations has the true reason behind this tax grab come up – they keep talking about needing money to “fund this” or “fund that.”  And when I’ve brought it up in letters to the papers, I’ve gotten attacked. That’s not transparency, that’s a cloud of suspicion, as far as I’m concerned. 

As the meeting was ending up, Lando made one last forceful pitch, even a motion to have his sales tax measure idea brought to agenda, or at least agendized for a committee. I’ll keep you posted – their next meeting is June 5. 

One Response to “CARD consultant says bond is a No Go, so Lando suggests CARD pursue a sales tax increase!”

  1. Tax Target May 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Remember, no matter how high taxes are they are never high enough.

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