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Dan Walter: School officials and school unions are teaching students that it’s all right to run up credit card bills, blame others for overspending and then cross their fingers that someone will bail them out

11 Feb

After I wrote my analysis of CARD’s use of their expensive Cal Park Lakeside Pavilion facility, I read this piece by Dan Walter:

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/school-districts-set-poor-example-for-students/

Walters is talking about various California school districts, but what he says also applies to our local recreation district – ” it’s all right to run up credit card bills, blame others for overspending and then cross their fingers that someone will bail them out.”

That’s becoming standard public agency policy these days, and it’s not just the pensions, but poor spending decisions by policy makers. I mean, blatant decisions, like spend $385,000 on a remodel for council chambers, or paying a million borrowed dollars on a crapped out old building and then several hundred thousand fixing it. 

But most poor spending decisions seem to involve public salaries and benefits. Walter reports ” In 2017, when Sacramento Unified’s teachers were threatening to strike, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg mediated a new contract that gave teachers an 11 percent raise. Later, it emerged that the salary increases would come from a reserve set aside for pension fund payments.”

In Chico, both the city and CARD have set up “pension trust” funds, allocating money from other city funds, to pay down their pension deficit. this is in addition to what taxpayers already pay toward pensions on a monthly basis. We pay their payments monthly, and then we’re on the hook for an annual payment that increases every year – this year, $7,598,561.  Former CARD finance director Scott Dowell now runs the city finances, so he set up both funds. He says these funds save money by avoiding penalties from CalPERS. What it amounts to is embezzling money from one fund to another so you can spend it any way you want. 

In Sacramento, contrary to the  rules for one of these “trusts”, they spent the money to give their teachers an 11 percent raise. Of course, you know what those raises are going to do to those teachers’ pensions, right?

As soon as Chico Unified passed Measure K in 2016, district finance mangler Kevin Bultema told the board they were still looking at deficits caused by raises given teachers. He told me in an e-mail that if they didn’t get more money they’d cut programs. 

Walter’s point in this piece is that the schools are setting a poor example for the kids. I’d say,  government in general is setting a poor example for everybody. 

 

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Maybe we just ought to call it “Willmann Pavilion”!

10 Feb

Last Saturday (Feb. 2) I attended a “special” meeting of Chico city council. The most “special” thing about this meeting, besides the $3,000 consultant who ran it, was the location – Cal Park Pavilion? Not only is this facility remote and out of the public eye,  the city paid $472 for less than eight hours in a shabby little meeting room when they’ve got newly remodeled rooms available not only at city hall but at the old municipal building just down the street. 

For Pete’s sake – they just poured almost $400,000 of Comcast ratepayer fees into new IT, carpet and furniture for the council chambers. But they decide to convene out at Cal Park, on a stormy Saturday, instead of their centrally located, newly refurbished chambers?

I asked the consultant why the weird location and he said he needed a space to hang his blue display sheet – about 5′ x 7′ – and plenty of room for the attendees – 7 council members, about a half dozen staffers, and maybe a dozen members of the general public. 

I didn’t press him, or ask staff, cause they just lie.  The real reason was they didn’t want the public in there watching, seeing what is done with taxpayer funds, and how stupid and self serving council members are. 

Another question it raised for me was the way CARD uses Cal Park Pavilion. They paid a million bucks for the building, rotten roof and all, but with interest payments totaling almost $100,000 a year, they’ve hardly touched the principal. They poured several hundred thousand dollars more into repairs, including fixtures that serve no functional purpose that were either added or removed at the suggestion of the contractor. The contractor made fun of the outer looks of the building, referring to The Flintstones, and the board approved a $75,000 cost overrun. It’s not their money, and that’s how they spend it.

You don’t spend that kind of money on a facility that has no return value. Park Pavilion was supposed to be a money-maker for CARD, hosting weddings and other private affairs. It’s a  beautiful site, the big room is nicely done with huge windows overlooking a well-kept private lake. You’d think people would be lining up to use it.  When CARD rented it to a “non-profit”group that is looking into building a grandiose new recreation center south of town, I asked CARD staff about the rates.

Staff response: “It is a $500 deposit that is refundable to you. For a Saturday it is $3400 separate from the deposit and for a Friday or a Sunday it is $2800 separate from the deposit. We can do an hourly rate which is the same deposit and has a minimum of 8 hours and that is $225 per hour.

Lakeside is $225 Per hour weekdays and weeknights. There is no discounted rate for this building.”

No discount? But Every Body Healthy Body only paid a total $500 for a 5 hour rental of the big main room – essentially the entire building, tables, chairs, dishes, the Whole Shebang. Just a couple of years later, the side meeting room is almost as much? 

Who decides the rates and who gets a discount? Director Ann Willmann. I asked her about the discount rate for EBHB, knowing one of the members of that board, Brad Geise, is a long time associate of Willmann’s through Aqua Jets. Willmann’s kid was in Aqua Jets, Geise was the director of Aqua Jets, and Aqua Jets has used CARD facilities, so I know she’s pretty chummy with the guy.  She responded as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“Hi Juanita, I authorized the $100 hr/fee. As CARD’s general manager, I have the discretion to adjust facility rental rates for use by community agencies and organizations particularly when they have objectives and purposes similar to and compatible with those of CARD. If there are no pending inquires for use of a facility or no programming taking place, we would recognize the opportunity for some revenue where otherwise there would have been none.”

So what’s she’s saying, is she gets to give her friends discounts, but the rest of us, who pay the bills by way of our property taxes, get no discount. Hey, why don’t you call up, and ask her, what dates is the Pavilion not being used, and ask for a discount rate for your kid’s wedding on one of those dates? 

You won’t even find rates on the website, you have to ask Staff. Which leads to special people getting special prices, is what I’m hearing.  What I’m also hearing is nobody wants to use the goddam thing unless they know Ann Willmann and expect to get a discount. 

https://www.chicorec.com/lakeside-pavilion

When was the last time you attended or even heard of a private function there – a wedding, company party, a business convention even? The only functions I’ve heard of were the EBHB party (complete with catering and table service) and this recent “special” council meeting. 

CARD offers programs there, like free movies for the residents of Cal Park, exercise classes, stuff like that. But I’ve never known anybody who participates in those programs, so I don’t know how well attended they are. 

Frankly, I think the Pavilion is an expensive train wreck, losing money, losing money, losing money. I don’t know who decided to buy it in the first place, but they spent way too much money on it, especially given the extensive dry rot they found throughout the building. They’re still paying the interest on the loan. 

I looked at the budget available at CARD’s website for reports on the Pavilion but only found one reference to $3,000 spent on “maintenance”. I assumed CARD staff is responsible for keeping track of these figures in some form of “Income statement, Statement of income, Financial results statement, Earnings statement, Operations statement,” or what my loan officer at Wells Fargo referred to as a “profit/loss report.”

https://www.cardfellow.com/blog/guide-to-profit-and-loss-statements-pls/

My husband and I are landlords, we’ve done profit/loss statements every year for our taxes, on each separate rental. We have to keep track of all the expenses, and all the rent – we even have to report any money we withhold from deposits, and account for every dime. We also have done PL statements anytime we’ve wanted to get or refinance a loan.

I’ll tell you a little secret – my husband and I went through the whole refinance obstacle course a couple of years ago, turning over document after document, answering many snoopy questions. We were finally turned down because our rents aren’t high enough. They said our debt/income ratio was out of whack, that we should raise our rents and call them back in a year. 

But it was a good exercise for us as business owners – we keep our rents low to keep good tenants, so we’ve started keeping a keener eye to expenses. We decided to sell a rental because it was getting old and the expensive repairs we’d made when we bought it were starting to need to be made again.  For example, at the rents we were charging, we never would have recouped the expense of another new roof. We’d also been replacing old windows one at a time for years, but were down to the big, pricey windows that would have to be done when the house was vacant, maybe even require permits. We had to make a business decision to suit ourselves and our kids, so we sold to a family that could afford to dump a bunch of money into repairs and remodeling. Losing the rental income was a shock, but we had to realize the repairs would have driven us further into debt. We make these decisions and we suffer the consequences ourselves, that’s the private sector. 

But CARD is a public agency, it’s not their money to spend, and they need to be more accountable to the taxpayers. So I asked Willmann for a PL report on the Pavilion.

She doesn’t have one.

Hi Juanita, we don’t have specific reports for the income at Lakeside Pavilion. Our facility revenue is posted to two accounts. Indoor Facilities or Outdoor Facilities. If you have a specific request regarding Lakeside, I am happy to send you the information. I would just need a date range you are interested in. Thanks, Ann

Oh my god. Really? I realize, public agencies don’t pay taxes. But, 

“Your P&L also tells the tale of how profitable your business is or is not, and the timeframe of your major profits and losses. If you’re in a seasonal business, you know that certain times of the year are lucrative and others slow. Those operating businesses not especially subject to seasonal ebbs and flows can determine a company’s most and least profitable quarters via examining the P&L, and figuring out the circumstances. Regular review of your P&L tells you what areas of your business generate the most profit and which generate the most costs.  It also allows you to look for trends that may not be apparent until you see them in black and white.”

Well, duh!

And the Pavilion isn’t the only facility they own. Given their style of book keeping, how are we supposed to know what they’re doing?

CARD is not held accountable by the taxpayers, that’s the problem. They operate in a pretty slipshod fashion, spending money with no limits because the taxpayers are always there to bail them out. 

And that’s just what they’re looking for in the revenue measure they are trying to put on the 2020 ballot. Or worse, a mailed assessment, in which only property owners vote and the amount of property owned determines the “weight” of each vote. 

How do you find out what they’re up to? You have to attend meetings, held each mid-month on Thursday at the CARD center on Vallombrosa. They don’t keep real minutes, and those aren’t even posted with any regularity, so if you want to know what’s going on – and let the new board know what you think – you must attend a meeting sometime. They’re easy – starting promptly at 7pm and over usually by 8pm. 

https://www.chicorec.com/board-meetings

Or just bend over, put your hands over your eyes and ears, and close your mouth. 

Dan Walters: illegal use of taxpayer money continues to be a problem “because local prosecutors and the state attorney general’s office ignore complaints about its illegality”

6 Jan

I’m not alone in my complaints about misuse of taxpayer funds to run tax increase campaigns – here’s what Dan Walters has to say about it:

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/finally-a-crackdown-on-misuse-of-taxpayer-money/

Here’s something the city of Chico and CARD have both done.

“Local governments hire “consultants” to poll voters on what tax and bond measures they would find acceptable, to draft those proposals accordingly and, finally, to run so-called “information” campaigns to persuade voters to approve them.

It’s so blatant that firms seeking lucrative contracts openly boast of their successful campaigns, eliminating any doubt that they are truly political operatives.”

I’ve sat at meetings listening to these consultants, all they talk about is how to get the public to pass revenue measures. I’ve seen their websites, bragging that they can pass tax measures.  Sit in on a meeting sometime – and then look around the room and add up the staff salaries. That’s spending of taxpayer money to promote a tax measure, it’s right in front of our faces, like that big elephant that just took a giant dump on your carpet. 

Furthermore, Walters says, “The practice has ballooned because local prosecutors and the state attorney general’s office ignore complaints about its illegality. Indeed, local district attorneys often benefit from the higher taxes.”

Didn’t I just say that in my last post – theButte County DA and all his hangers on benefit from every tax measure that comes around the pike – it just perpetuates the salaries and pensions. He’s not going to answer a complaint from a citizen – we are forced to take our gripes to state agencies. 

I told you about the complaint that Yuba County citizens took to the FPPC with the help of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. They charge that a recent tax measure passed in Yuba County, Measure K, was passed illegally with only 54 percent, when it was written as a special tax requiring 2/3’s voter approval.  Another Yuba County citizen, Territorial Dispatch contributor Lou Binninger, has taken up the issue of the use of taxpayer funds to promote the measure. 

Unfortunately the FPPC (all on public salaries and benefits) has sent back Binninger’s complaint, saying he needs “evidence.” 

We all need to use our eyes and ears people, because nobody is going to come riding in to save us.

 

Text tax dropped – what will they try next?

17 Dec

Wow, it was good to see people get their panties in a  rumple over the “text tax” – upset the lobster pot a little.

Meanwhile, according to Rueters, “protesters angry over gas taxes and the high cost of living have been blocking roads across France, impeding access to fuel depots, shopping malls and some airports.” People have been killed, I don’t know how many. An organizer complained on Deutsch Welle News that the government is leaving Parisiens like her with less money to spend, small businesses are failing as a result of both high gas prices and low sales. The French economy, she concluded, is tanking because of over taxation.  

Welcome to California. The California Public Utilities Commission, saying they want to use the money to support “low-income” programs, tried to tack another tax onto our cell service, wiggle it in among the stack of “fees” already listed in the fine print on the back of our bill. Thank goodness for the Federal Communications Commission, although, I don’t understand the ruling, I’ll take it. I don’t think they should be able to tax us by way of our utility bills, but I’m not running the circus.

And what a circus it is! Our taxes already provide transients with free cell phones, give me another straw for my camel’s back why don’t you? 

How soon we forget – I almost have. In 2012, the city of Chico tried to get the voters to approve a tax they’d been collecting illegally, a cell phone tax. Even after the tax had been declared illegal by way of a lawsuit in the 1990’s, cities all over California were still collecting it, the same man had to sue each city individually, including Chico, to make them stop collecting it. Instead of stopping collection, and refunding the money to users as is the law, current city councilor and former mayor Ann Schwab wrote a measure for the 2012 ballot to trick voters into making it legal. 

When friends and I approached voters at venues like the Chico Farmer’s Market, we were shocked to see how shocked people were about this tax – they’d never looked very closely at their bills. And you had to look very closely. So they couldn’t believe the city was actually taxing their cell phone usage, on a percentage of the total bill. They got mad pretty fast. The measure failed. The city had to give refunds. 

That scam and this recent ploy by the CPUC to tack another tax onto our phone bills reminds me – they know what’s legal and illegal, and they don’t care. They will try anything to get more revenues. Right now the city of Chico and CARD are using taxpayer money to hire consultants who conduct “surveys” and write leading ballot measures to try and trick the voters into raising their own taxes. Don’t fall for it. And write your letters to the editor now, tell them you’re not falling for it. Maybe we can save them (ourselves) the cost of another ballot measure.

 

CARD still after their revenue measure – another consultant?

10 Dec

Today someone from the California Park and Recreation Society read several posts I’ve written here about Chico Area Recreation District’s attempt to pass a revenue measure. I followed them back to their site and they seem to be an legislative advocacy group, but I smell bond consultant.

http://www.cprs.org/p/cm/ld/fid=1

CARD has spent at least $100,000 in the last few years, on one consultant after another, trying get the public to support a revenue measure. The consultants all say the same thing.  Like the consultant that spoke at a recent city of Chico Finance Committee meeting regarding the sales tax/bond measure the city is pursuing – they need to find out what people want, and then promise it to them if they’ll only vote for the revenue measure. But the surveys are always leading – they suggest things like sports stadiums, grandiose aquatic centers.  The guy at the finance committee used an ice skating rink as an example. 

They all talk about demographics – statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it.  Yes, they study the local voting rolls, neighborhood trends, who lives where and how they vote. And then they target those people in phone surveys. This was all explained by Bay Area consultant Ruth Bernstein at a CARD meeting I attended in 2016. 

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2016/12/20/card-plans-phone-survey-for-late-january-to-promote-new-funding-measure/

 “We know demographics.”  she said. She talked about picking and choosing who got called, using the voter roles. At one point a board member asked her if the survey would be conducted when the students were in town. She answered, “we’re not going to have a big  student turnout in 2018, so why include them in the survey?” So, she gets to decide who gets included in the survey. 

The whole thing is so deceptive – Bernstein also noted that people are generally distrustful of phone surveys, especially if they are done by out-of-towners. She complained that a lot of people use caller ID now, and won’t answer an area code they don’t recognize, so her company uses a mechanism that presents the caller-id with the local area code. 

Bernstein only surveyed 400 people, all handpicked – does that really represent our town? 

Another thing every consultant says is that it’s tough to pass these measures if there’s any opposition.   So part of their job is to snoop out the opposition. I think I felt a cold nose at my rear end today. 

 

 

 

 

Are CARD and city of Chico crossing the “fine line between legally disseminating information and illegally advocating for or against a ballot measure”?

22 Oct