Why, after two years of unprecedented budget surpluses, is the city of Chico still so far behind on infrastructure maintenance?

10 May

I got a really rude comment from a city employee named Jeremy Lazarus.

You’re article is completely full of lies. As a City of Chico public works employee who struggles to feed my family, I take your words as an attack on myself and my children. You lie in every article you write concerning pension liability. You never have any receipts for your claims. FYI, I am also a conservative. You clearly have zero understanding of city operations and how they are funded. I’m open to a conversation but you owe me and my coworkers an apology for these attacks and pinning the public against us hard working fellow TAX PAYERS.

Wow, there’s a mouthful. Receipts for my claims? All I could respond with was that I get my information from staff, from agenda reports, and from the budget, posted on the city website.

Thanks Bob, for your response to, “You lie in every article you write concerning pension liability.” Bob responds, “Every article? Well, the unfunded pension liability numbers from past discussions were taken straight out of the City’s CAFRs reports. Are you saying those numbers are lies?

Taking all the name calling and emotions out of this, ask yourself one simple question. Can the taxpayers afford the pensions? Looking at the current unfunded liability and its current growth how can the answer be yes?

Thanks for that rational take Bob, we need to keep our heads here. Mr. Lazarus is a new employee, and he’s not management, so it’s true, he doesn’t make the kind of salary the department heads are making, and he pays more of his pension costs (due to the “Pension Reform” act of 2013). But his argument that I’m a liar is irrational. I have to wonder if these people are being told by management to argue anybody who takes a dim view of the tax measure. No holds barred.

He says he’s “open to a conversation” – well, here’s a question for you Mr. Lazarus – how come there are people all over the incorporated city who have been waiting years to hook up to sewer? What’s the hold up? The city had an unprecedented surplus the last couple of years, due in part to Camp Fire relief and COVID emergency funding, not to mention sales tax revenues generated by both of those and other emergencies. How come the sewer lines are still not complete?

Becca reports, “We bought a house in North Chico 15 years ago. Through the whole process everyone made sure to point out that the house had been annexed into the city for services namely, sewer hook up. I probably don’t need to say anymore for you to know where I’m going with this. That’s correct. 15 years and I’m still sitting on a delapidated septic tank that I’ve invested in repairs what the hookup fees are. Here’s the fun part. City lines were put in all the way down a main street EXCEPT THE LAST 2 BLOCKS where it DEAD ENDS into another street that has lines in it as well. All plumbed except 2 blocks BETWEEN the two streets. When I called last year to get the what’s up, I was told I had to poll my neighbors, write up a request, submit it and wait. I was also informed it would take a while IF IT HAPPENED AT ALL as there were other “pressing” issues. So, there it is. Chico has not completed the leaching nitrates problem. The kicker for me as I understood the nitrate issue was take care of high nitrate areas first.

That’s outrageous. I’ve heard other stories at meetings and from neighbors, including the shock and awe of the city’s hook-up fees. So, how come so many people around town, including Becca above, are still waiting for the trunk lines to be completed on their street?

The other point she brings up is leaching nitrates, a problem we have heard much about since the 1990s. Old septic tanks and sewer lines were blamed. The city got grant funding to hook up households to existing sewer lines, for FREE. That’s great, but really unfair to those households who didn’t have trunk lines on their street. Why didn’t the city also undertake a push to finish trunk lines? The more people hooked up the more monthly fees they collect from those new households. It shouldn’t cost more to service more people, it should bring in more revenues.

The sewer fund, like all the city funds, is tapped every year by a certain percentage to pay for the unfunded pension liability, pension deficit, Unfunded Actuarial Liability, whatever you want to call it. Look in the budget, available on the city website, and put those terms into the F-search. Search “pension stabilization trust”. You’ll see exactly how much money is taken from infrastructure and services to pay the pensions. I found out, they take 10% of the UAL from every department fund to put into the PST (Fund 904), and the Pension Liability Reserve Fund (903), which are used to make the annual “extra” payments to CalPERS.

The highest contribution any employee group makes toward the pensions is less than 30% – I got that in a spread sheet from Chico City Human Resources Dept. The taxpayers pay the rest, with CalPERS making one poor investments performance after another. And then we pay the entire “extra” payment, with interest. Somehow, despite increasing “extra payments,” City of Chico deficit just keeps going up, currently about $150 million. So we drive on sub-par streets and put up with nitrates in our ground water, we put up with violence in our streets and homes while our parks and public spaces are overrun with crime and garbage, but our deficit just keeps going up. The taxpayers have paid enough, it’s time to look at the employee contribution.

Not only would I propose that the employees pay more, I’d propose that they contribute the same percentage into the pension “extra” payment funds established by the city, the Pension Stabilization Trust and the CalPERS Unfunded Liability Reserve Fund.

But here’s something I’ve said for a long time, and I wish Mr. Lazarus would do his homework, cause I think he might agree with me here – we need to cut management, and make them pay more. We need fewer management and more workers.

What do you think Mr. Lazarus?

4 Responses to “Why, after two years of unprecedented budget surpluses, is the city of Chico still so far behind on infrastructure maintenance?”

  1. Jeremy Lazarus May 11, 2022 at 9:04 am #

    What do I think? I invited you to a conversation and left you my email. I have yet to hear from you. Is it cowardice that you do not want a conversation? I can assume this is the case since you didn’t bother to reach out. Yes, the city is top heavy. Yes, we need more workers. What incentives are offered to recruit qualified personnel?…..Low pay and a pension that only pays 60% at age 62 after 30 years of service while paying 3% above the maximum employee contribution. You’ve continuously made the claim that pension liabilities have caused a lack of services and a worker shortage. You’re smart enough to know that correlation is not causation. What is the basis of your assumptions? Again, I’m open to conversation to find out why you insist on pinning the public against it’s city workers.

    • Juanita Sumner May 12, 2022 at 6:11 am #

      Jeremy, you are very hostile, why would I give you my personal email Buddy? Calling me a liar, now a coward – you really are from Glenn County aren’t you?

      I’m sorry, I’ve seen your salary information – low pay?


      A maintenance worker making over $45,000/yr in salary, with another $22,000 benefits package – I don’t call that low pay Mr. Lazarus. That’s a pretty nice package for a kid your age. In fact, given your tenure in Glenn County, you have racked up almost $25,000 in pension deficit, with what, less than 10 years under your belt? Making a lot more than your peers in the private sector. And you complain about paying “3% over above the maximum employee contribution” – you mean, you’ve so generously agreed to pick up 3% of the “employer” contribution? Well, BFD. You need to pay 50%, or your pension system will tank, do you understand? Why should I pay your salary AND your retirement? And then put up with crapped out streets and park, and continuous increases to the sewer rates?

      Maybe you could answer Becca’s question without a philosophy lecture. Give her the causation of her situation, which is directly correlated with a lack of funding and a lack of suitable laborers down at the city. Cause all the money goes to your pensions.

      If you want a “conversation” we’ll have it here.

  2. bob May 12, 2022 at 8:24 am #

    “…a pension that only pays 60% at age 62 after 30 years of service”

    The vast majority of people in the private sector get NO pension. If you are lucky you have a 401k with a match of a few percent and typically you have to work a number of years with your company before you are fully vested. And if you move to another company you have to start all over with vesting. And many people in the private sector don’t even get the employer match.

    So you have to save the vast majority of the money yourself from your income. If you invest in the traditionally “safe” investments you are guaranteed to lose as your investments will not keep up with inflation. And if you go into other investment vehicles you could lose a portion of what you put in.

    This is nothing like a guaranteed pension indexed to inflation.

    • Juanita Sumner May 13, 2022 at 6:47 am #

      Thanks Bob, Jeremy seems to think he’s entitled to more money than the taxpayers who foot the bill, and too stupid to see how unsustainable the whole thing is. CalPERS is a house of cards, held up by false promises of investment returns and increasing demands that the taxpayers pick up the tab.

      Furthermore, the taxpayers are held out of closed session bargaining – I never promised you anything Jeremy. Or your wife, or your kids. I’ll say, anybody who ‘struggles’ on the package you’re getting needs to learn how to handle money better.

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