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A lie will stick unless you call the liar out on it

17 Apr

Al Franken wrote a really funny book years back, before he became a politician, you might want to check it out –

It’s not balanced, or fair, but it’s sooooo true! And it’s not just “the Right,” either. They all lie. Have you heard about the latest attempt to keep voters from knowing the truth about tax measures? 

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/bond-issue-transparency-still-under-assault/

Dan Walters:

“Two years ago, in a rare display of support for transparency in government finance, the Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown required local governments and school districts to tell voters how proposed bond issues would affect their property taxes.

That would seem to be just common sense and good government, but local officials complained that Assembly Bill 195 would be too difficult to implement. Their real motive, however, was a fear that telling voters that their tax bills would increase might discourage them from voting for the bonds.

It’s a good thing we have Dan Walters, because our local media have fallen in with city staff and council to run their tax measure campaign, both the tv news and the daily running at least a story a week about how we need a tax measure to fix all the problems brought about by years of poor management and self-service. I finally had to ask ER reporter Laura Urseny where she got the numbers regarding how many Camp Fire evacuees are still residing within the Chico City limits.

I covered that here:

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/04/12/orme-estimates-10-15000-refugees-living-in-chico-based-on-nonregistration-couch-living-trailers-parked-on-streets/

I knew they didn’t have any numbers, or I’d have asked, “how many people from the burned areas already drove into Chico five or more days a week to their job, already shopped in Chico regularly, already used Chico roads and services?”  I already know the answer – probably more than half the people – more like two thirds – in the affected areas already came to Chico, drove our roads, used our retail sector, our post office, and other services, on a regular basis. 

But a lie will stick unless you call the liar out on it. So I wrote the following letter to the ER.  

Stories in this newspaper claim the city of Chico “has absorbed many displaced Camp Fire victims.” When I asked one reporter for a specific figure, she paraphrased the city manager as follows.

“He [Mark Orme] said he doesn’t have hard numbers from FEMA because of nonregistration, couch-living, trailers parked on streets etc. He said  the city is still using the  10,000-15,000 estimate.”

A FEMA map shows a great many of the roughly 20,000 evacuees have spread out around Butte County, California and the US, with no figures for Chico.  Staff is simply using numbers that suit their purpose.  To date, Staff has used their “estimate” to excuse poor road conditions, crime problems, housing shortage and cost, and now a “$5-6,000,000” roundabout.

Staff admits they have deferred road maintenance in Chico since long before the Camp Fire. The city’s welcome mat for transients is the source of our crime problems. The short-lived boom in the Chico housing market immediately following the Camp Fire has been over for some time – there are 247 listings on Trulia. The proposal to place FEMA housing near the Eaton Road interchange has been abandoned.

Staff is pressing for a tax measure using Camp Fire evacuees as bait. Dan Walters points out “the underlying real reasons, such as to cover rapidly increasing employee pension and health care costs.” Chico’s pension deficit is over $130,000,000.  The Wall Street Journal reports, “despite bull market, pension plans in miserable shape…”

Staff needs to fess up, and pay their own pensions. 

 

Keep rattling your chains – write letters to both papers, tell them we know where the money is going

31 Mar

Dave Howell wrote a great letter to the News and Review, taking on the pensions. Thanks for going to the trouble to write these letters Dave, I know it’s not easy to get a letter in the N&R. 

The problem is pensions

Re “Taxes and police” (Letters, by Martine Stillwell, March 14):

Martine Stillwell is justifiably outraged that our city’s politicians are pushing a tax increase to fix the roads after letting them fall into disrepair thus increasing the cost to repair them.

I wonder how much more outraged she would be if she knew that tens of thousands of our tax dollars are being paid to an opinion research firm to sell us that tax increase. And that doesn’t include the cost of the city bureaucracy’s staff time.

The reason for the awful condition of our infrastructure and the reason for this tax increase are the unsustainable cost of government employee compensation, especially pensions. For many years money for infrastructure repair has been siphoned off for raises and unsustainable pensions. Does she know our bureaucrats have pensions worth millions?

Yet instead of pension reform, our politicians believe that in a county with low wages, very high living expenses and a 21 percent poverty rate, the answer is to pass a tax increase that hits the poor the hardest.

I wonder if Martine and others will be outraged enough to vote in the next election against the tax increase and the politicians who push it and encourage others to do the same.

Dave Howell, Chico

In the same issue this letter appeared, editor Melissa Daugherty bitched about the park budget being shorted these last few years – but she didn’t mention why?  So I wrote a letter about it.

Melissa Daugherty is correct (3/28), Bidwell Park has suffered deferred maintenance since massive layoff of park staffers over the last six years. The park department was absorbed into Public Works, where director Eric Gustafson oversees not only the park, but the airport, city buildings, street trees, right of way zones, street cleaning, traffic safety, city vehicles, and the sewer plant.

Like Dave Howell said (3/28), the problem is “the unsustainable cost of government employee compensation, especially pensions.” I’ll add, management top-heavy.  Twelve  management positions overseeing the park, including Gustafson, cost over $1 million in total compensation. The park division only has five “maintenance workers”, amounting to less than $300,000 in total compensation.

While staff defers maintenance in the park and other infrastructure all over town,  they continue to pay almost $20 million a year toward their pensions, about $8 million of that toward the pension deficit. At the April 2 council meeting, staff recommends renewal of the CalPERS agreement, requiring employees to pay only 11% of the cost of their pensions, the taxpayers expected to pick up the deficit.

As long as council and staff continue to place the pensions ahead of the public, infrastructure will continue to be short changed, including Bidwell Park.

Juanita Sumner, Chico 

I got my information from publicpay.gov (GCC, secretary of state)

https://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/Cities/City.aspx?entityid=79&year=2017

and the city website – management contracts are available on the Human Resources page.

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/labor_agreements_home.asp

At the GCC website, you’ll see, the park budget also pays for several police/traffic officers, interns, and two “administrative assistants”. The city has to bring in Salt Creek inmates because they don’t have enough workers. And management is without a clue.

Eric Gustafson spends most of his time in meetings, same for “Resources Manager” Linda Herman. I’d bet my last $5 they don’t even own an appropriate pair of shoes to walk in the park. Both are clinically obese, and neither has any kind of credentials suggesting they are qualified to run a park. 

The city continues to use the park and other sagging infrastructure to press for a revenue measure – I think we need to press for some firings Downtown. Starting at the top, with Mark Orme, followed by Chris Constantin, Scott Dowell, and every department head. It’s time for a tick dip. 

Speak now or forever hold your hands over your behind

13 Mar

I was thrilled to  read letters from Dave Howell of Chico and Steve and Lorraine Christensen of Oroville. I speak to people all the time who feel Californians pay too many taxes, but people seldom get around to writing letters about it. I think it’s important to let your “civic” leaders know how you feel, let them know you’ve had enough, let them know you’re ready to do something about it.

Now that the city of Chico has made it clear they will pursue a tax measure, I’m not mincing words – Mark Orme needs to  go. Old Yiddish proverb – when the fish stinks, it’s the head of the fish that stinks!

Orme claims he’s done a lot to lead out city out of deficit, but he’s overseen the siphoning of money from various departments into the pension deficit. Rather than fess up and pay more of his own salary toward his pension, he continues to take pay increases while offering up a mere 11% of his base salary toward his benefits, FURTHERMORE adding a tax deferred IRC 457 to his package. This guy is enriching himself out of the public cookie jar, time to slap his hands.

Write those letters!

  • letters@chicoer.com
  • chicoletters@newsreview.com
  • debbie.presson@chicoca.gov

At the February 27 Finance Committee meeting, city manager Mark Orme said he has resisted revenue measures in the past, but that Chico’s current situation calls for a new tax to mitigate the impacts of the Camp Fire evacuation.

City staff has been  calling for a tax increase since well before the Camp Fire.  They wanted to tax our cell phones. Then they said garbage trucks were wrecking our streets and added a franchise fee to our rates. Long deferred street and park maintenance. Transients  straining public safety agencies.  Now it’s the evacuees.

But on February 27 Orme finally acknowledged the “elephant in the room” – pensions. The city spends almost $20,000,000 annually on pensions. About $8,000,000 of that goes to the pension deficit.

Orme insisted staff has learned to “live within our means.” Really? The city manager’s base salary has gone from $192,000 to $207,500 since his hire,  but his total pay is over $225,000,  including perks such as a $400/month car allowance. Tack on another $82,000 in pension and health benefits, including $18,000 for an IRC 457 added to his contract just last year.

Orme only pays 11% of his base salary for a pension of 70 percent of his highest year’s salary at age 60.  This is how the deficit was created, the employees expect a lot but only want to contribute a  fraction of the cost.

The question isn’t whether we need a new tax, but why the taxpayers should bear the burden of a pension deficit created by public employees.

Juanita Sumner

“Special meeting” of city council, held at Cal Park Pavilion on Saturday at 8:30am in a dumping storm – think they really wanted anybody to show up?

6 Feb

I’ve signed up for various city meeting agenda notifications, and the other day I got a notice for a special city council meeting. It bugged me so much wondering what they were up to, I got out on the highway in a howling rainstorm to drive up to California Park Lakeside Pavilion to find out.

It just seemed weird. Saturday before the Super Bowl, weatherman making winter storm warnings, and they decide to have an 8:30 am meeting at the Pavilion.

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, following Mayor Stone into the  building. I found the rest of council and various staffers making their greetings and chit chat in one of the small meeting rooms that line the main hall. A big blue sheet was hanging on one wall next to the viewing screen. Three tables were set up in the middle of the room and a line of folding chairs was set along one wall.

A man immediately walked up and admired my rain boots. I must admit they are very attractive, and practical too. We introduced ourselves. His name was Scott Winter, and he said he would be running the meeting. His business, he said, was “Human Performance,” or, “how to get people to show up.”

So, I had to ask him, it just popped out of my mouth – if you want people to show up, why would you have an 8:30 am meeting on a Saturday in a howling storm at an out-of-the-way building with  little or no notice to the public?

Dammit, no wonder I can’t make friends or influence people, my mouth has no damned kill switch.

He looked shocked, and then recovered, saying he needed a room that would accommodate “everybody”, as well as his big blue sheet – he gestured toward the wall with the big blue sheet.

Well sheesh, there’s walls all over council chambers, and that accommodates hundreds. There are two meeting rooms at the city chambers that are at least as big as the room they used at the Pavilion.

The meeting got started, Winters showed a video of another consultant who talked for about 15 minutes about “collaboration,” and how you have to let your defensive down to be constructive when working with a group. 

After the video Winter handed out a sheet of questions each person was supposed to ask themselves about their own defense mechanisms. 

And then, Winter handed out sheets of sticky sided paper, several sheets for each council person, and asked them to list their goals for council in the coming year.

Suggestions ranged from “more enjoyable council meetings” to “more money for the city” and “house all homeless” Some of the suggestions were repetitive – that’s what the big blue sheet was  for – Winter hung the sheets of paper on the sheet and the group went about trying to put the suggestions in groups.

Meanwhile, we members of the public sat along the wall, being told we were not allowed to participate. 

Wow, this guy sure knows how to get people to SHUT UP, not sure if he really wants to get them to SHOW UP.

By about 10am the consultant and some members of the group started to get a little peevish. Not everyone was cooperative, I won’t say who, but I could tell Winters was  getting impatient. Nothing was being accomplished, and several members of council expressed confusion over what they were being asked to  do, and what was meant by some of the suggestions on the board. Most were vague to the point of stupid.

Winter had to get on his soapbox and remind these people, they have lost the trust of the public, been sued for Brown Act violations, and needed to start being more transparent. That, apparently, was the dilemma that necessitated a “special meeting.” 

At this point I had to leave – my time is worth something. I wasn’t being allowed to contribute, the public had been let in out of legal necessity. And I’d heard plenty.

I had to wonder, what is Scott Winter’s time worth?

So I wrote a note to staff and asked – Winter got $3,000 for his day playing little children’s games and calling a bunch of brats on the carpet. Another $472 for the room at the Pavilion. 

Why was this a “special meeting”? Why not schedule and notice a regular workshop? Winter told me it was because he is very busy, but his friend Mark Orme had called him in Poland to tell him it was really important so as soon as he got home they’d made arrangements for the meeting. I didn’t ask him why the Pavilion, I think it’s pretty obvious they didn’t really want anybody to show up.

 

 

A lot of our problems in Chico and Butte County could be solved with term limits on elected officers

11 Sep

I’ve been receiving interesting comments at the “Join Us” page.  I couldn’t ignore the common thread in these comments.  People are questioning the management of Butte County Behavioral Health and Chico Police Department. Scott Rushing, the father of Tyler Rushing, who was shot in an encounter with Chico PD, points a finger at our District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who has ruled each and every shooting by Chico PD as “justified,” resulting in a lot of criticism and a number of lawsuits against the city of Chico.

Mary, who says “ I have experience being on both sides of the equation. I worked for the State hospital system and bcbh,” confirms what I’ve seen – excessive bureaucrat salaries. She says other counties are doing a better job for less money.

“The plain truth is that BCBH facilities employees sit back in their cozy offices, collecting six figure salaries, socializing and planning their own week end retreats and seminars. For the many state tax millions spent on local centers, there isnt much effectiveness. There aren’t any services available for severely mentally ill. The money spent on these inflated salaries could be used to create crisis houses for acute cases. San Diego County has these facilities all over their county. They cost about 1/5 per bed per day of what the full fledged inpatient facilities costs. Each person gets therapy, a visit with a psychiatrist and a social worker planning their release. 21 days is the max stay. And it is intensive and effective. Patients do cleaning and cooking and have chores.”

I agree with her summation.

“We need a new system. Our current BCBH leadership seems to be a mutual admiration society who protect and promote one another yet are living in a bubble supported by way too many mis-spent funds.”

She’s right, go to a meeting sometime, that’s exactly what I’ve seen. It’s literally maddening listening to these idiots bloat about their private life and making crude jokes about what’s happening to Chico. When I complained to Supervisor Maureen “Don’t Let the Screendoor Hit You On the Ass” Kirk about an entrenched homeless camp less than a mile from her own house, she joked about moving to a Del Webb Retirement Village. She also denied that the county takes transfers for the money – $550 a day for a minimum 45 day hold – what an idiot she is. I’m glad to see her go, but I believe her anointed successor Tami Ritter will be even worse. Ritter was a short-term manager of Torres Shelter, but was asked to leave by the board.  I can’t believe Kirk endorsed her, maybe it is time for Maureen to spend a few days in the PUFF. 

This breakdown in behavioral health services, as well as poor management of local shelters, has made for more stress on the police department, I’ll admit that. I get around Chico on my bicycle, I know what the cops have to deal with.  But instead of going to the board of supervisors and asking for an end to the transfers that bring these criminals to Butte County/Chico, the police department meets the problem with excessive force and demands for more funding. They’ve just announced an end to the “Street Crimes Unit,” saying they don’t have enough officers to split between the college campus and the rest of town. They’ve made this threat, in one form or another, through chief after chief – give us more money or we won’t do our jobs…

There doesn’t seem to be any rational, middle ground at Chico PD. Either they ignore the problem, the city of Chico excusing them with “4th and 14th Amendment Rights”, or they plow right in and kill somebody. And Scott Rushing is right – District Attorney Mike Ramsey never holds them accountable for their fatally poor judgement.

As Rushing points out, this has resulted in lawsuits that have cost the city a lot of money. Just tragic waste.

 “Juanita Sumner points out the bureaucracy and increased cost, with little benefit, to civilians in need of mental health services. There are other inefficient departments in Butte County.  Taxpayers are also getting ripped off by the District Attorney Michael Ramsey and law enforcement leadership in your county. There are currently three active lawsuits against the Chico Police Department for lethal officer involved shootings. There is one active investigation by the Department of Justice, Attorney General’s office into the officer involved shooting of Tyler Rushing in Chico on 7.23.17. There are two active lawsuits against Butte County for excessive use of lethal force. There is a current legal action against former Chico PD sergeant Scott Ruppel for strangling a restrained suspect in the back of his police car just 22 days after firing two bullets into Tyler Rushing. Tax payers need to rise up and demand the resignation of Mr. Ramsey. From my point of view, he has promoted a “shoot first and ask questions later” policy in Butte County. Five civilians have been killed by officers in the past 18 months.Tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours are spent defending the aggressive actions of officers. The taxpayers are getting ripped off.”

We need to get rid of Mike Ramsey, who has been in an elected office for some 20 or more years because it’s hard to find a county resident who is both qualified and willing. When a Sacramento attorney ran against Ramsey people complained he was a carpetbagger, but do you really think anybody from Ramsey’s office is stupid enough to run against him? 

What we need are term limits. Here in the city of Chico we have a  term limits measure on the November ballot. It’s not retroactive, and it’s probably too long – three terms. Current council members, like old goat Ann Schwab, would be allowed to serve three more terms before they are out. Three more terms voting against Sit and Lie ordinances while voting for ordinances that  require homeowners to make major energy retrofits. 

What I would like to see for the county is a measure that would term out the long sitting losers like Ramsey and County Clerk Candy Grubbs. They’ve both been sitting in their jobs for too long, Grubbs has actually been caught using staff for her own private gain. It’s time to open the barn door and let out the flies.

 

 

 

City exploring pre-funding of pensions – do they ever do anything Downtown besides figure out ways to pay themselves?

16 May

Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, May 23, 2018 – 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.  Council Chamber Building, Conference Room 1

Committee members – Councilmembers Morgan (sean.morgan@chicoca.gov), Stone (randall.stone@chicoca.gov) and Chair Sorensen (mark.sorensen@chicoca.gov)

Next Wednesday the committee will hear reports regarding a fairly new scheme for skimming money off the taxpayers to fund employee pensions. Below is an article from Public Agency Retirement Services (another public retirement agency?) describing the benefits of this program. 

http://www.pars.org/2016/03/a-new-tool-for-pension-budgeting/

With our maturing public pension plans, we know that we should expect greater fluctuations in required contributions from year to year. And since we know big fluctuations are coming, our actuaries are warning employers to plan for it in order to ease the burden when big contribution increases do arrive. But how exactly does one do that? It’s not like big portions of your annual budget are discretionary spending.

If you’ve been in the position of sitting on extra cash, you will have quickly learned that there’s little you can do with that money to “prepare” your agency for fluctuating contribution requirements. If you give that extra money to CalPERS, CalPERS will apply it toward your unfunded liabilities, and it will probably make only a small dent in your annual required contributions due to their amortization rules. While paying down unfunded liabilities is always worthwhile, it won’t help you manage future year-to-year changes in required contributions. You could stash some cash in a rainy day fund, but that has its drawbacks as well. The good news is: we’ve got an answer for you. Duh, dah, dah, duh…. The Section 115 trust!

Here’s something funny – “ If you give that extra money to CalPERS, CalPERS will apply it toward your unfunded liabilities, and it will probably make only a small dent in your annual required contributions due to their amortization rules.”

Current city finance wizard Scott Dowell worked for Chico Area Rec Dist before he got the job with the city. He made those “small dent” payments toward their pension deficit – a “side fund payment” as he described it, of $400,000 in one year. That money could have gone toward badly needed repairs at Shapiro Pool – a consultant said the pool could have been brought up to code for less than $500,000 – but Dowell told me the agency saved a lot of money! by making that side fund payment instead. That’s like making interest only payments on your credit card.

This man gets paid almost $200,000/year, in salary alone, to make decisions like this. And when they’re bad decisions, well, gee, he just changes his MO!  And gets a raise and more for his benefits package.

So you have almost a week to write to the fellows on this committee – that’s Seanny, Randy, and Mark-e-Mark – and tell them what you think of Dowell’s little schemes to fund his own pension. 

For every BOOM, there’s a BUST!

6 Apr

Have you got a postcard or letter lately, from some realtor, telling you they have a buyer for your house?

It’s not a scam – the realtors who have contacted me are people I recognize. They have buyers – three houses within sight of my window have sold within a week of being put on the market. 

“Team Cooper” tells me, “I am working with a client who’s ready to buy a home in your area. Your home appears to be just what they are seeking.”

Well, my home is not for sale, it hasn’t been on the market for over 10 years. I guess these gals could just be trolling for customers, but this isn’t usually how they go about it. They usually send simple postcards with their name, etc, just general advertising toward either sellers or buyers who might be looking for an agent. The letters I’m getting now seem more desperate. 

…we’ve been looking for a while…”

A week later we got a slick greeting card from a Jeffries Lydon agent, declaring in big red letters, “It’s A Sellers Market”

I’ve seen letters like this before. Back in the late 90’s, and again in the early 2000’s, the market just went wild. During the late 90’s, a friend of ours was actually out-bid on a house over on South Broadway.  She had put in an offer within a couple thousand of the asking price, with some provisions, and some young couple from the Bay Area came in offering more than asking price. My husband and I had bought and sold houses – paying way too much back in ’89, during another BOOM. But we’d never heard of anybody in Chico offering over asking price.

That boom was followed by a short bust, as I recall, and then in the early 2000’s the prices started to go through the roof. About 2003 my family noticed a house a few doors down from Chico library asking $303,000, and we laughed out loud. It was sold for asking price within a week.

That spike in housing prices precipitated a building boom that has had long reaching consequences for Chico.  Then city manager Tom Lando led the city on a permits binge to raise revenues. Then he floated a Memo of Understanding by council that attached “city salaries to revenue increases but not decreases…”   Lando’s own salary went from about $65,000 to over $130,000 over the next few years, along with all the salaries Downtown. 

And then town went BUST in a big way – another thing I’d never seen in my life – houses in foreclosure, not only in my neighborhood, but in surrounding towns. Driving through Red Bluff one morning on the way to a hockey tournament we drove through a neighborhood where almost every house had a foreclosure sign in it. 

Last year my family started recognizing the signs of a BOOM again, prices going up-up-up. We decided it was time to get rid of a big old rental we had that was starting to need all kinds of maintenance – for one thing, the roof we’d put on it when we bought it was approaching 20 years old. Utility prices have gotten outrageous, and it was hard to find a group of tenants that could afford to live in it anymore. 

The agents we approached were practically snapping at air.  The first woman spoke openly about the BOOM going on, opining it wouldn’t last through the Winter, before we had another BUST. But she was not very optimistic about our house – she was really disappointed when she found out it had been a rental, as if renters are pigs. We didn’t call her back.

The second woman wanted to ask way too much, she wanted staging, she wanted a laundry list of superficial improvements – for example, new knobs on every cabinet in the kitchen. We didn’t call her back.

We chose a guy who had sold a house near our own home in less than a week. He wanted to ask more than we had through prudent, but we went with him. It essentially sold at Open House, the buyers offering us full price and  asking nothing in return. 

That’s BOOM behavior.

So I was surprised when houses started to go for even  more, but I didn’t regret selling when we did for what we did.  I’ve learned to trust my gut, and my gut was telling me there was a BUST coming.

So now we start getting the letters. Back in the early 2000’s, we got the same letters regarding an old house we owned  over on South Broadway. We started getting more than a letter a week, from realtors as far away as Los Angeles, telling us they had investors who had money to buy multiple homes in Chico, and they were wondering if we were willing to sell. It was a good rental at that time, we had good tenants, so we just ignored the letters. 

By 2006 the market was running away. The house had become a liability – we weren’t getting good tenants anymore, we were getting 20-somethings who came right out and told us they wanted a “party house.” The neighborhood was  going that way, so we decided to put it on the market. 

We found it had turned into an investors market – that’s a real feeding frenzy. Buyers were looking for a rental neighborhood, and they didn’t seem to care what kind of tenants they would get. The first buyers we got were doctors who had an investment group. That fell through – they didn’t like the proximity to the neighbor’s house.  But, within a few days we had investors from Oregon. They offered us full asking price and the deal was done.

And then came the BUST. Three of my neighbors were foreclosed over a few months, including the house on which the assessor had based the new valuation for our house.  So, we still carry an inflated valuation, because the assessor used the new subdivision that was shoved into our street for a comp for our 70 year old crapper. Those houses had started at $600,000 plus, the front house selling for about $650,000. One after another person foreclosed out of that house – it’s most recently sold for about $400,000. 

That’s why they call it a BUST.

So, sorry to ramble, but I’m telling you – there’s a BUST coming, and it’s going to be a BIG BUST.