Bill, Bill, Bill – you need to listen more carefully next time

4 Sep

My grandparents were rice and nut farmers over in Glenn County, where we spent much of our childhood at their “ranch”. My grandma kept a nice yard, lots of flowers, and she couldn’t stand gophers. When we’d find a mound or a hole in the yard, we’d run in to get Gram, and she’d load a round into her old shot gun and follow us out into the yard.

Shooting gophers is a waiting game. Gram would locate the other holes, the “breathers,” and she’d set a hose in one, and then the cats and dog would take up another post, and then my grandma would set the barrel of that Remington right into that main hole. We’d watch, and then we’d wait, and then all the sudden, KA-BAAAAMMM! Gopher bits. And she’d then turn off the hose with a happy “By Gum!”, shoulder her shotgun, and go back in the house. 

Sorry for what some people might find a violent analogy, but what I wanted you to get out of it was the patience it takes to stop something from undermining your community and everything you’ve worked for. You have to watch, and you have to wait, and then you have to jump right on it, don’t let up, keep at it until you beat it. 

So I’ve been watching Chico Area Recreation District (CARD) and the city of Chico  for years now, since about 2012, since Tom Lando, former city manager and consultant who now sits on the CARD board, first floated a survey to determine the voters’ willingness to tax themselves. It came back embarrassingly negative. A subsequent CARD survey came back – “not enough support for a tax measure” was what that consultant said. But CARD kept spending money on consultants, finally going with the company that got the last school bond measure passed, EMC of Oakland. Their first survey was negative, but CARD paid for another just this year, and now they say there is enough support in the community to put a tax measure on the March 2020 ballot.

Really? Well, why didn’t they float a petition? The signatures they gathered would have been proof of people’s willingness to tax themselves. But you know they never would have got sufficient signatures, so they hired a company with money they should have put into maintenance and services to call 400 carefully chosen “respondents” with carefully written questions that would lead anybody to believe they needed to tax themselves. A company that boasts about getting tax measures passed.

I watched this unfold, none of it has been a surprise. And, I been waiting, and I’m ready to stand over their little holes, and hit them with the truth. KA-BAMM! Here’s another round. 

Bill Smith says the state has put CARD in a “tough spot”, restricting the agency to raising funds either through program user fees or public indebtedness – parcel taxes and bonds.  If he’d listened more carefully, he’d realize that CalPERS and CARD staff and board have put CARD, and the taxpayers, in  that spot. 

CARD’s General Manager stated at each meeting that staff has deferred maintenance on district infrastructure for years but continued to move money into their “pension liability reserve.” In fact, CARD’s 2019-20 budget shows a transfer of $700,000 into the reserve fund, and a $261,748 “side fund” payment toward their $2,800,000 pension liability. Remember, that’s in addition to the 6 – 9% of salary the agency pays monthly for each employee.

CARD’s budgets show that the revenues they receive from the  county – mainly property taxes and development impact fees – are up 8% over the last year.  Program user fees are up 9%. New subdivisions currently in the permits process, including those in the Camp Fire burn scar, will bring millions more in development impact fees and new property taxes.  These increases in revenue should be sufficient to provide for the future, since expenditures for services and supplies have only gone up 9%.

Meanwhile, salaries and benefits are up 11%, with no new employees. In fact, CARD’s General Manager, who only pays 8% toward a pension of nearly $100,000 a year, received a salary increase at the August board meeting, to $127,000/yr, further increasing the pension liability.

CARD’s current finances are unsustainable, and no parcel tax is ever going to suffice.

 

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