Garry Cooper: “Ask them where all the money you paid already went.”

11 Oct

When I attended a Finance Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago, to hear Mark Sorensen’s plans to foist a bond on us for more pension fodder, I tried to raise a few questions about how our streets and roads are maintained now, how that’s paid for, and why the taxes we already pay are not sufficient. I asked about new roads I saw going in at new subdivisions off Hwy 32 and Bruce Road, and about road widenings provided for those subdivisions. The road widenings on Hwy 32 and Bruce were specifically necessitated by the Forgarty and Meriam Park subdivisions, as per a threatened lawsuit from CalTrans.

Before chair Mark Sorensen could tell me to shut up, I got staff to report that the Forgarty streets were paid for with $6 million in Redevelopment Agency funding, or RDA. RDA is borrowed bond money, it’s estimated to cost $3 in interest for every dollar spent. 

I have to wonder, how much RDA money went into those new streets at Meriam Park?

Soooo many questions – and too many people like Sorensen telling me “that’s enough, Ms. Sumner!” (Ah, in friendlier days, it was “That’s enough Juanita!”)

That meeting was pretty contentious. When tax advocate Stephanie Taber went on a ramble about how “the liberals”spent all the money and that’s why we need a new tax for street maintenance, committee member Randal Stone came across the table at her, looking like he wanted to grind her bones to make his bread, saying, “I don’t know which council you’re talking about, but we inherited the streets…” 

All I know is, the city of Chico has come after three of my houses in the county, telling me and my neighbors we’d get better services if we’d agree to annexation. We weren’t really told our rights – it’s actually doable to fight annexation, a neighborhood protest could overturn it. But we were led to believe it wasn’t fightable, so we rolled. I remember Dan Nguyen-Tan telling me, “just think, you’ll be able to vote in city council elections…”

And then we watched the streets in front of all three houses go to hell without maintenance. Here’s the thing – at House #2, the county started a resurfacing job. We were right off Palmetto, and the county had come in, taken it down to the base, and was about 2/3’s of the way through the job when the city annexation went into effect. They supposedly had an agreement that the city would redo gutters, curbs, sidewalks and the ends of driveways, which were left hanging a good 10 – 12 inches above the surface of the new street. We waited and waited, but the city didn’t come. We used our neighbor’s sideyard, with permission, to  get into our driveway. Three households driving across this woman’s side yard to access their houses. 

And then one night a neighbor on our street had a stroke. The ambulance could not get to her driveway, and had to run across neighbors’ yards with the gurney to get her out. She was about 95 years old. She died.

I called the city to tell them what happened, and the  guy who answered the phone was very flustered and apologetic – he didn’t know our street had not been completed.

Welcome to the city of Cheeeko!

The city has long had a policy of pay the pensions first, and worry about service later. In about 2006 then city manager Tom Lando floated a memo of understanding, signed by council, linking city salaries and benefits to “revenue increases, but not decreases…” 

Read that a  couple of times.

Salaries went up, 14, 19, 22 percent! Every year, until we figured it out. We started a collective bitch. The council responded by signing new mou’s – this time, they agreed to pay the employee share of benefits. For years management, along with PD and Fire, paid nothing, absolutely nothing, toward pensions of 70 – 90 percent of their highest years wages. Salaries had gone up – for example, Lando’s salary went from about $65,000 a year to over $100,000. By the time he retired he was making about $180,000 a year. His successor came in at $190,000/year. Now Mark Orme is making over $220,000 a year. 

We raised the collective bitch again, and they agreed to pay some of their benefits. Oh my, 4 percent! Well aren’t you special! So council gave them raises to cover the new payments. All’s well that ends with a  good public screwing!

We pay over 30 percent of their benefits now, add their 4 – 9 percent, and CalPERS wants 50 percent. For now – as time goes by, with CalPERS questionable investment policies, they will eventually want the full 100 percent. So begins the arm-wrestling match over who pays.

Mark Sorensen wants the taxpayers to foot the bill. Ask him why – I’ll answer that – because Mr. Sorensen has wrangled himself a sweet little job as city manager of the nonsense town of Biggs. That makes him a ward of CalPERS. While he doesn’t make half the salary Orme makes, he still depends on those benefits, he’s  got a growing family and a big old gated mansion to take care of. So he’s a soldier for CalPERS. 

The consultant who attended the meeting had all kinds of ideas about getting the public to go along with this scam. But his one warning was, tax measures are hard to pass, and opposition can overturn their little rowboat. The consultant actually suggested that they identify possible opponents and try to smooth them over – promise them stuff!   Get somebody else from the community to invite them out for coffee and snacks, and try to talk them out of opposing.

And, like consultants I’ve listened to at Chico Area Recreation District meetings, he said it was important to keep the measure a secret as long as possible, while surveying selected recipients – they use demographics to find out who is most likely to go along, and they call those people. One CARD consultant said it was very important not to include negative comments in surveys. 

At that point, having wasted enough of my morning, I got out of my chair, picked up my stuff, smiled at Sorensen, and walked out of the little stuffy room. As I walked out I said, very clearly, “there will be opposition, you can count on it.” 

And I was right. I’ve never met Garry Cooper in my life, I’ve never spoken to him, he’s never come to my blog or commented on my letters when we had Topix. So I was surprised and glad when he wrote the following letter to yesterday’s Enterprise Record.

 

The city of Chico wants to ask you to pony up tens of millions of dollars to repair the roads.

Ask them where all the money you paid already went. They will point out that about 80 percent of your money went to salaries of the public unions who, upon every election, donate generously and tout their valuable “endorsements” to the candidates most likely to give them better hikes in wages and benefits.

For instance, you have firemen in Chico bringing in over $200,000 and with base salaries of over $150,000, who are allowed to retire at age 55 with 90 percent of that for life. Most have rental homes and IRAs due to their generous salaries. You, the working class hero, who must work until 65 to get your average $1,200 Social Security retirement, are being asked to pony up more. Is that fair?

Sure, they will claim firefighting is dangerous, but so is roofing, operating heavy equipment, truck driving, and working on oil rigs. Just the stress of struggling by the average Joe in Chico whose salary is in the $30,000 range puts more pressure on one’s heart than those who hop in their $60,000 pickup and tow their $50,000 RV to fish on their days off after collecting their rents from you.

I have no problem with wealth and income, but getting your riches on the backs of the the poor by bribing politicians is wrong. These union agreements are illegal and voidable.

— Garry Cooper, Durham

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2 Responses to “Garry Cooper: “Ask them where all the money you paid already went.””

  1. Jim October 11, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    Garry Cooper’s comments are spot on. The City is reckless with spending, taking lavish care of themselves and not serving the taxpayers.

    It’s High Noon in Chico, and we need a new Sheriff.

    • Juanita Sumner October 11, 2018 at 12:09 pm #

      I agree, and thanks for the reference to one of my fave movies.

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