Here’s how the city hides payments toward the pension deficit

18 Jan

I got the agenda for next Wednesday’s City of Chico Finance Committee meeting – if you want to know how your money is being spent, these are worth a read:

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/1.23.19FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

The agenda includes the Finance Department’s monthly report – make yourself read through the gobblety-gook of numbers and acronyms, it gets easier to pick things out. Use Google search for any term (including acronyms) that you don’t understand. 

I like to scan down and look for certain things – I like to see where revenues come from, I like to see where they’re spent. They move this money like peas under nut shells – certain funds are restricted to certain uses, but somehow they manager to “allocate” money from one fund to another, and then they can spend it the way they please.

You need to remember this when the city starts talking about their revenue measure. Right now the talking heads – including members of the public that have too much influence over council – are arguing between a sales tax increase measure and a bond. Whichever way they  go, they will need to decide between a “special” tax and a “general” tax. Currently, a “special” tax requires 2/3’s voter approval, while a “general” tax only requires a simple 51 percent. 

But it doesn’t really matter in the end, because once they get the money, they can “allocate” it right into their own pockets. 

Look at the report and watch for the word “pension”. Right away I find “CalPERS UAL payment” – that’s for the unfunded pension liability – the difference between what public employees have paid for their retirement and what they expect to get. Last May city Finance Director Scott Dowell informed the Finance Committee that the city’s UAL is over $129 million. 

The UAL payment is made once a year. This payment is separate from the regular pension payments made monthly – those are mushed in with salaries and benefits, you’d have to ask Dowell exactly what the city pays per month. 

The 2018 pay out for the UAL is $7,598,561. That’s seven million, five hundred and ninety-eight thousand, five hundred and sixty-one dollars. Say it out loud a few times, you pay for it.

Because this money doesn’t come from the employees. They pay anywhere from two percent to nine percent of their monthly pension costs. The taxpayers float another 25 – 30 percent. The rest makes up the floating liability. Here’s how the city of Chico transfers this liability onto the backs of the taxpayers.

When I asked Scott Dowell where the money for these payments comes from I got the following answer:

Fund 903 has two inflows:

1.       Each City fund that has payroll is charged a percentage of payroll for the applicable share of the estimated annual unfunded liability payment.  That amount is transferred to Fund 903 from each applicable fund.  These transfers are used to pay the annual unfunded liability payment to CalPERS out of Fund 903.

2.       The second inflow is a direct transfer from the General Fund to the Fund 903 approved by the City Council.  There was an initial transfer from the General Fund to Fund 903 of $541,455 for the year ending June 30, 2017.

Let’s look at that.

1.        this is how they hide the payment – “transfers” – they take payroll money. Look at the budget, you see “salaries and benefits” in each department’s expenditures, nothing about paying down the UAL.

2.        and there it is – “a direct transfer from the General Fund  to the Fund 903 approved by the City Council.”

The General Fund is a cookie jar with no restrictions. I’ve sat at meetings and watched money being transferred from other, restricted funds, into the GF, so they can spend the money the way they want. This is “allocation.” 

So when they tell you a  tax measure will be devoted to “street maintenance” or “public safety,” here’s what that means. 

  • CalPERS unfunded pension liability payment for 2018 – $7,598,561.00
  • Roughly half goes to “Safety” (cops and fire) – $3,660,240.00
  • An increase over last year ($6,547,673) of $1,055,888.00

 

3 Responses to “Here’s how the city hides payments toward the pension deficit”

  1. bob January 19, 2019 at 9:43 am #

    Good work!

    It’s vital for the public to know that with a general tax increase the politicians are under no obligation to allocate ANY money for road repair. And even if they float a special tax, they could still divert existing road money into the general fund where it will go into their pensions.

    Dan Walters is right when he says, “Local tax hikes are all about pensions.”

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