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Willmann tries to pretend she doesn’t have anything to say about her own salary

12 Sep

I attended the last “informational” meeting hosted by Chico Area Recreation District General Manager Ann Willmann. What’s interesting about these meetings is watching Willmann put her spin on the truth. 

First of all, although this was the least-attended meeting of the three I’ve been to, the folks who did show up seemed a lot better informed and asked good questions. Second, Willmann has had to incorporate more information into her presentation, obviously in response to questions and comments made over five meetings, as well as my letters to the editor, and, who knows what communications she has received from other members of the public. She’s on the defensive, and it’s not just me that’s putting her there.

I almost laughed out loud when she started into her spiel about CARD losing money over the Camp Fire. She started to explain how the county of Butte puts alllllll the property tax into a big pot, or “bucket”. Then they dip  out 1% of the total and divvy that between all the agencies that receive property tax money, including CARD. So what I hear is, towns that have their own rec districts are paying to support CARD. That’s great. 

But another man interrupted her, reminding everybody the state is “backfilling” that lost money, to the tune of $200,000 a year, for the next three years. Willmann seemed to lose a little bit of steam over that, admitting he was right, but adding that, gee, she just didn’t know what was going to happen after that three years. Well Annie dear, houses will be rebuilt, will be worth more than they were before the fire, and property tax revenues will go up. She knows that, but she is trying to tell us the Camp Fire resulted in less revenues for CARD. She really thinks she can bullshit that point – I was glad to hear somebody who has been paying attention pull the cork out of her ass. 

The questions people raised at this meeting gave me hope.  This parcel tax is not a done deal.  In fact, if there was a stronger response from the public, CARD board members might even decide not to put it on the ballot. Yesterday, as I listened to Willmann give more details about the survey CARD paid EMC to run earlier this year, I became more and more convinced the survey was actually more negative than Willmann is letting on.  CARD board and staff members are desperate to make the public agree to put a new 30 year tax debt on themselves.

The board has allowed themselves to be duped into believing a tax is the only way out of their current pension disaster. Willmann has repeated The Big Lie throughout this lecture series of hers – she sounds like an old mobster – once you’re in CalPERS, you’re IN!  She has a mouse in her pocket – “we” have to buy “our” way out. 

Well, I do believe, if they don’t do something, the agency will become insolvent trying to pay their pension deficit. But, Willmann refuses to talk about the best option – the best for everybody, including the taxpayers. The employees need to start coughing up more money out of their own pocket. They need to start paying 50% of their pension now, and that needs to increase to 80% over the next 10 years. The taxpayers already provide these people with more than generous salaries, to be expected to pay double what we pay in salary by way of these pension bail-out payments is way beyond reason, it’s unsustainable. CARD staff have completely forgotten their mission to serve the public, choosing instead to enrich themselves. 

And here’s another important thing they need to do – take salary freezes now, and when the freeze is over, cap raises at inflation. Inflation averages about 2% a year. General Manager Ann Willmann just took an 11% RAISE, from $113,000/year to $127,000. Her old benefits package was about $29,000 – this will go up, what, another 11%? Remember, this woman has bragged about paying 8% of her pension – 8% of her salary, which would amount to $12,000. For a pension of over $88,000/year, with cost of living increase, for the rest of her life.

Willmann says the pensions are out of her hands? Bullshit. She says “this needs to be handled at the CalPERS level and the legislative level…”

But local gadfly John Merz got to the truth when he asked Willmann, “how’s your union representation?” Yes, full time CARD employees, 35 according to Willmann, are represented by 2 separate unions, divided between management and “workers.” Willmann admitted that “classic” or management members still get their “2% at age 55” formula. I can’t explain the 2% – when I asked Randall Stone to explain it to me he was hostile and refused – but I can explain the “55”  – Willmann can retire at 55, with 70% of her highest year’s salary, which at this point, would amount to almost $90,000/year. With an automatic cost of living increase every year. 

But new employees – PEPRA – would have to wait until age 65. Why’s that?  We saw in the last post how different employee groups and different public agencies pay different amounts. When I asked Willmann about this discrepancy between what CARD pays (14%) and what the city of Chico pays (21 – 31%) and then what the different “bargaining units” pay, she  got kind of flustered, told me I’d have to wait for a member of her staff to get back to me. “I don’t want to spread misinformation…” 

Well, there’s obviously bargaining going on here – that’s why they call them “bargaining units”.  Willmann admitted to Merz that the employees are represented by a paid union member.  Who represents the taxpayers in these bargaining sessions? Three  pensioners (Lando, Nickel and McGinnis), a political operative (Worley) and an idiot who goes whichever way the wind blows (Donnan).

So it’s not, as Willmann would have us believe, up to CalPERS, or up to the legislature. It’s between her and the board, in closed sessions to which the public is not admitted. 

Maybe it’s time to start writing letters directly to the board. 

 

 

Dave Howell: Do they take us for fools?

29 Aug

I’ve seen some interesting letters to the Enterprise Record lately. A lady wrote the other day saying Chico streets are in such horrible condition she hates driving her car around Chico. I hear that – we just traded our son our F-150 for his tiny Chevy Cavalier. The F-150 sat higher off the ground, I could see the potholes but I didn’t feel them so keenly. The little Chevy feels like a Radio Flyer headed off Dead Man’s Hill, every crack in the road goes right through the seat covers, and sometimes there’s the sound of metal on asphalt as we hit a particularly bad hole. 

And of course, my 1956 Raleigh Superbe has seen her days, those skinny tires tooling along the park and neighborhood streets. I hit a pothole Downtown one day coming home from a meeting – ha ha, I was looking at another pothole instead of watching the street in front of my wheels – and CRASH! My bike basket flipped off the mounts and landed in the street. My feet slid off the pedals, which caught me right across the shins. And my bike seat stuck me one right in the small of my back. God I was so pissed off. 

There’s potholes on my street that look big enough to eat a stroller, complete with attached mom. But if you want to see something that looks like a third world country, head over to the neighborhood bordering the freeway off East Avenue, behind the old McDonalds and the abandoned For Kid’s Only Store. Check out the South Campus neighborhood, imagine out-of-town college parents seeing that for the first time.  

Sure everybody knows Chico streets are a mess – but do they know why? The city is going to tell everybody, in their campaign for a sales tax increase, that the streets are horrible because there aren’t enough revenues. But you know, if you go to meetings and listen to Constantin and Orme, they’ll admit that maintenance has been purposely deferred, while the city has been making, as CARD’s Ann Willmann likes to call them, “aggressive payments” on their pension deficit. 

So it’s good to hear from letter writer Dave Howell, who has it right – it’s the pensions. 

Howell asks, “will the people be fooled?” Well, he seems to be doing his best to prevent that. And thanks for the shout out Dave, I appreciate it.

Hats off to Juanita Sumner for shedding light on CARD’s tax increase measure. CARD has been considering a tax increase for years and has spent over $100,000 of our tax dollars on high priced consulting firms in an effort to get a tax increase measure on the ballot.  One consulting firm they paid openly brags about its ability to help get tax increases passed.  Yet CARD’s attorney claims these consulting firms are merely involved in informational surveys.  Only a fool would believe that.

The fact is that CARD, like the rest of local government, has made unsustainable compensation promises to its employees, especially regarding pensions. These promises are devouring money that should be going for infrastructure.  Like CARD, the City Council has used our tax dollars to hire a high priced consulting firm for a proposed tax increase.  The push for tax increases from our local government is all about unfunded liabilities that are unsustainable.

Without true reform we will face endless rounds of tax increases in a futile effort to fund unsustainable liabilities.  Scores of cities and counties raised taxes in the last several years and not one has solved their unfunded liabilities problem.  All passage of the latest round of proposed tax increases will do is kick the can down the road a couple of election cycles, but our local politicians and bureaucrats will never admit this.

Will the people be fooled?  We will find out next March when CARD’s tax increase will be on the ballot.

Dave Howell, Chico

Defined benefit plans must be fair to taxpayers, they must be financially sustainable, and the participants must pay their fair share.

26 Aug

CARD has another “informational” jam session this Wednesday evening, 7pm, at the CARD center on Vallombrosa.   I will be out of town, but hope others will attend. I must say, those meetings have been informational.

So, I wrote a letter to the editor about it!

I learned a lot attending two of Chico Area Recreation District’s parcel tax informational meetings.

I knew the pension cost is divided between employer share and employee share. But, I didn’t know,  for years CARD paid not only the employer share, but the entire employee share.  General Manager Ann Willmann said the agency now only pays 14% of their total CalPERS costs, resulting in a $2,800,000 pension deficit.

I misunderstood the Public Employees Pension Reform Act, thinking employees would pay 50% of their actual pension cost. Instead, they are only asked to pay 50% of CARD’s total payment of 14%. CARD employees agreed to pay an additional 1% of the employer cost, making their total contribution an unsustainable 8%.

Willmann also mentioned “aggressive payments” made toward the pension deficit itself. Whenever there is a downturn in the stock market, CalPERS demands more of it’s members, and the taxpayers are expected to pick up the tab. CARD created a “Pension Stabilization Trust”. Willmann admitted that maintenance to facilities like bathrooms has been deferred while the agency diverted funding to the pension trust.

Instead of new taxes, we need true pension reform.  Starting in 1999, CalPERS and powerful union lobbyists  pushed through unrealistic and unsustainable salaries and benefits for agencies all over California. These agencies have funded their pensions by cutting services and deferring maintenance – putting their pensions ahead of their mission to serve the public. Defined benefit plans must be fair to taxpayers, they must be financially sustainable, and the participants must pay their fair share.

 

The pension deficit is the difference between what public employees expect to get and what they are willing to pay into it

5 Apr

Well, anybody who saw my last post and then saw my letter in the News and Review can see that I had to edit dramatically to get my letter in.  When I sent my original letter to the address I’ve used for years, it was sent back, rejected for size? And I was told to use the form letter mechanism on the N&R website, which only allows 150 words. Snip, snip, snip – I still got my point across, and it was a good exercise. 

Write those letters folks! When do I find the time? When I’m so pissed off I can’t sleep. Writing letters to the editor will save your teeth, believe me!

I sent the following letter to the Enterprise Record two days ago, watch for it, and write your letters too. Just yesterday Dan Walters ran a column about the spending of taxpayer money to pass revenue measures that will only end up being squandered on the pension deficit –

https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article228799774.html

so people are thinking about this subject. Write now!

And don’t just write to the papers, forward to the city manager mark.orme@chicoca.gov and CARD general manager Ann Willmann annw@chicorec.com

Chico Area Recreation District board and staff have spent over $100,000 on consultants to help them pass a revenue measure  but have yet to show the taxpayers that they can be trusted with money.

In 2014, CARD staff reported a pension deficit of $1,700,721 .  Only five years later, that deficit has ballooned to $2,800,000, despite nearly $1,000,000 in “side fund payoffs”.  

CARD staff announced they have “set aside” another $1,700,000 for payment toward the  deficit, having admitted they have deferred maintenance to various facilities for years, including Shapiro Pool, which was closed permanently last year.

CARD only started asking employees to pay toward their own pensions in 2013, but management staffers pay 6% or less, with the general manager paying only 2 percent of an $108,500 salary.

CARD staff describe the pension/unfunded liability as “What we owe to CalPERS because of the difference in their guesses.”

Wrong.  The pension deficit is the difference between what employees expect to get (70 percent of their highest year’s salary at age 55) and what they want to pay for it (less than 10 percent of their salary). For example, the general manager pays $2170/year toward a pension of  more than $75,000.  That is not sustainable.

CARD staff have used taxpayer revenues to enrich themselves while ignoring their mission. Now they tell us we need to pass a revenue measure, or they will further defer maintenance, close facilities, and cut programs. At the same time offering a grandiose new sports facility south of town? Let the board of directors know how you feel about that, at annw@chicorec.com

 

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. 

 

Book In Common: PLUNDER! How Public Employees are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, by Steven Greenhut.

25 Jan

I’d been waiting over a week for a book I’d ordered online that should have been delivered within a couple of days. I kept checking my PO box, by this past Monday, I worried it had got lost. Yesterday it finally arrived – well, I got it yesterday. I’m guessing it arrived at Chico post office about a week ago.

It was too big for my PO box, I know the routine – they put a key in your box that goes with one of the big boxes in front of the annex. I retrieved the package from the big box and immediately noticed – a postal worker had scrawled a box number in big black letters across the front of the package, unfortunately, it wasn’t my box number. My correct box number was listed in the address box on the front of the package, neat and tidy.  Postal worker transposed the numbers, in big black writing, so the key went to somebody else’s box.

Here’s where human decency comes in. Somebody else got my package, saw it wasn’t for them, and put it back in the stream. They may even be the same person who wrote the correct number above the transposed number. 

When this happened at my house, my neighbors got my packages. Both packages were clearly marked with the correct address, but mail man delivered them to my neighbors. Neither neighbor bothered to return the package to my clearly marked box on the street, both opened the packages, even though they were addressed to someone else. We got the packages back because my husband went door-to-door. 

Neither neighbor apologized for opening our packages, we let it go and stopped having stuff shipped to our home. 

Of course Christmas is a horrible time to get or send packages, we all know that. But I order a lot of household goods from an online seller in Vermont, and I had to have some stuff delivered in the first weeks of December. Right in the middle of the flood of evacuees driven out by the Camp Fire. But my package had a tracking number, I watched it move slowly across the US, and then I saw it had been delivered to Chico Post Office on Vallombrosa. But it wasn’t in my PO box, I kept waiting. Finally I went in very early one morning to ask for it. The man who called me up to the counter wouldn’t take the tracking number I’d written down, or look at the message on my phone that said the package had been delivered. He turned and disappeared into the back – which was a mess of packages laying all over the floor – and when he came back 15 minutes later he said there was no package. 

I looked him in the eye and shoved the tracking number at him and said real nice but firm, “please check the tracking number.”

He was huffy but he took the slip of paper. This time he was gone for 10 minutes, but by Gumm, he brought me my package. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind but the line behind me was starting to go out the door, so I said Thank You! with a big shit-eating grin and got the hell out. 

My family has received Christmas packages that have been ripped open, stolen from, and taped back together, so I  guess I was lucky to get my package intact.

Now the book, mis-marked by a post office employee. I’m getting sick and tired of the level of service we get from public workers. We bought a house in Paradise in exchange for an old rental we sold in Chico. My son was living in it at the time of the fire, luckily he had gone to work before the fire had hit town, and was safe. I’m thankful for that, but dealing with the county in the aftermath hasn’t been the least of our worries.

We were quick to send in our ROE – Right of Entry – so the county could get going with the clean-up. I understand the clean-up will take a long time, but when we didn’t hear anything about our ROE, I e-mailed them asking if it had been received. A fellow named Matt called my husband a few days later in response to the e-mail, saying we needed to submit a new insurance declaration from our policy, the old one we sent had expired when our policy turned over recently. They knew that for over a month, but didn’t contact us until we inquired about it. Is that going on all over Paradise?

And then yesterday we received a packet, sent in a custom “Butte Recovers” envelope, with  custom stationery inside, a letter telling us how important it was to complete the ROE form. They had included the entire form, over half a dozen pages. The letter was not addressed to us, it was a form letter, so I’m guessing they sent one to each and every address that had burned in the fire. 

How much did that cost? At 50 cents a letter? I’m guessing at least a few thousand bucks. Not to mention the custom printed stationery. How about $taff time, folding all those papers and shoving them in those envelopes, then running them through the stamp machine?

Here’s the irony I’ll leave you with – the book I ordered – PLUNDER! How Public Employees are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, by Steven Greenhut.

Think the post office workers knew what was in my package? 

I’ll describe Greenhut as a government watchdog, journalist, and public advocate. His articles have appeared in papers like the Orange County Register, LA Times, San Diego Union Tribune. This book was written in 2009 – before I started blogging about what’s going on in Chico, before I ever even heard of the pensions. So, it’s history for me, finding out exactly how public employees garnered their power and position. 

I’m calling this our BOOK IN COMMON, if you’d like to get a  copy, I bought mine used for 99 cents, cost $3.99 to ship. It’s in great condition, and so far I’ve enjoyed reading the forwards by Congressman Tom McClintock and Mark Bucher, who co-authored a late-nineties attempt at requiring unions to “at least ask members before using their money for politics…”

So come on along, learn some recent history, maybe find out what needs to be done to turn back the tide of entitlement that is drowning our state.

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.