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Assistant city manager takes his tax “offering” to the commissions – these unelected boards have too much influence on city policy

3 Aug

I just heard bad news – the Chico Planning Commission has rejected Payless Building Supply owner Frank Solinsky’s appeal of Simplicity Village. SV is a “tiny home community” for transients, “senior citizens”, that is to be placed  adjacent to the PBS yard. Solinsky is partly concerned for his own interest – rampant thefts by transients to build their shanties at neighboring camps has always been a problemfor PBS.

As landlords my husband and I depend on PBS to keep our rentals affordable. We’ve long-realized that Salinsky’s problems are our problems, because the cost of enhanced security is passed along to the consumer. But my biggest concern is that Solinsky, given this latest turn, might just decide to throw in the towel and sell the property. That would leave my husband and I paying a lot higher prices at the box stores, and that pressure would matter-of-factly be passed along to our tenants. I’m not Mother Theresa,  neither is my mortgage lender, nor is the Butte County Tax Collector.

I don’t know what happens now. But I think it’s time to have a long overdue conversation about the amount of influence these unelected boards, commissions, task forces and ad hoc committees have on local public policy.

Look at the city of Chico agendas page here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas.asp

There are 20 listings. Some are “interagency”, meaning they have representatives from all the local agencies, including the county, CARD and the school district. Some of these people are elected, some are agency employees, but many are appointed. The city boards, commissions, and the task force are  made up entirely of members of the public who’ve been appointed one way or another.

Don’t ask me to explain the appointments process, it’s all over the place. Each new city council decides how they are going to make appointments, and I’ve lost track of how they are doing it now. Some commissions have requirements for the make up of the group. The rules might specify that at least some of the members have certain qualifications, such as professional expertise.  It’s gotten complicated since the days when each council member got to appoint a member, for nothing more than campaign donations.  All I know for sure is they are not elected by the voters.

I don’t think the Planning Commission should exist – it’s always been way too political. We have a planning department, made up of professional planners, we pay them a good chunk of money, why we need a bunch of political sycophants sticking their foot in the process is beyond me. We have public hearings at the council level, but it’s a fact – the commissions have more sway with the council than the public. And, these commissions require dedicated staffers, more $$$$$. The airport manager position is really just a glorified secretary to the airport commission, and she’s not even very good at that.

Right now Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin is using the influence the commissions have to rubberstamp his sales-tax-to-secure bonds scheme. He’s been reporting to each commission in turn, leading them to believe the money would benefit their particular interests.

Monday I attended the Park Commission monthly meeting. You just have to go to one of these commission meetings to believe it. The lack of professionalism is astounding. These commissioners are appointed, not elected, but they act as though they’ve been given the keys to the town.

Here’s something I’ve seen at just about every meeting I’ve attended over the last 15 or so years – council, committee, commission – there’s always somebody who doesn’t read the staff reports. Oftentimes, several of them. At the BPPC meeting the other night one commissioner asked questions that were answered directly in the reports, and I could tell Constantin was  getting kind of testy when he told her that. These people add hours to meetings, and that means $taff Time (=$$$,$$$.00)

In Constantin’s case it’s over $100/hour to sit in a room waiting through other agenda items, including the time it takes each commissioner in turn to make the same stupid observations. They seem to think every thought skittering across their brain like a jack rabbit in the headlights is SO IMPORTANT! Even if it’s completely off topic. At that same meeting I had to sit there while they thanked staff, each commissioner in turn, and told them what a FABULOUS! job they do. They thanked Constantin twice. That’s all nice and stuff, but even Constantin seems to get sick of it.

Nevertheless, he takes full advantage of their helplessness, leading them the way he wants. It was amazing to watch. One minute he’s convincing them they should recommend forgiveness of the $169,000 Nature Center loan balance, and by the end of the meeting he’s telling them if the city doesn’t pass a sales tax increase measure we’ll be laying off cops and fire by 2021.

This guy also negotiated himself a special type of retirement account available only to public workers, a 457 plan, IN ADDITION to his CalPERS pension. City Manager Mark Orme gets the same plan.

“Effective from the first pay period in January 2017 considered in calculating the maximum IRC 457 plan limit and annually, City agrees to contribute nine thousand dollars ($9,000) , to Employee’s IRC 457 plan. Additionally, effective October 5, 2017 the City agrees to contribute four and fifty-two hundredths percent (4.52%) of base salary to Employee’s IRC 45 plan.”

These guys have a vested interest in this tax proposal, they’re determined that we will pay their outrageous pensions. They need to go, in fact, every “classic” employee needs to go. We need young people who are willing to pay at least 50 percent. Which sucks, because they will just be paying for the old farts to live in luxury.

 

 

 

 

Will the taxpayers be left holding the Pension Deficit Bag?

31 Jul

Have you been “left holding the bag“?  This expression is generally used to describe a situation wherein a person or persons create a problem and then leave others to deal with it.  According to Grammar Girl,  there are different shades of meaning – “this idiom grew out of an earlier expression from about 1600: to give one the bag. That expression referred to someone being left with an empty bag after everyone else removed the good stuff.”

We all know what it’s like to be left holding the bag – empty or full – but I wonder, how do you all feel about the bag being handed to your children? This is what City of Chico staff are trying to do – hand their pension deficit bag to our kids.

The other night I took in a Chico Parks and Playgrounds Commission meeting to hear a pitch for a sales-tax-to-secure-bonds scheme that Ass City Mangler Chris Constantin has been pitching for months. Constantin describes a trick by which he can use the additional sales tax revenue to secure bonded debt. What it amounts to is trying to convince us that it won’t be that painful to pay this tax, because it will be stretched out over years. But when I looked into this scheme I found, that means our kids and their kids will be paying this debt, and it’s very unlikely they will see any benefit.  The bag we will be leaving for our children will be full of debt, crapped out infrastructure, and public salaries and benefits still spiraling out of control.

From the Tax Policy Center –

“State and local governments issue bonds to pay for large, expensive, and long-lived capital projects, such as roads, bridges, airports, schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, power plants, courthouses, and other public buildings. Although states and localities can and sometimes do pay for capital investments with current revenues, borrowing allows them to spread the costs across multiple generations. Future project users bear some of the cost through higher taxes or tolls, fares, and other charges that help service the debts.”

At a meeting I attended earlier this year, Mark Orme admitted that the city had “kicked the can down the road” on street maintenance for many years, instead paying millions toward their pensions. This included payments toward the actual deficit, instituting a “Pension Stabilization Trust” that siphons money from every fund, even funds “dedicated” to capital maintenance. Through the PST, staff has tricked us into believing we only pay a certain “employer share” of the pensions, in reality, we pay most of their pension cost. This has created what I’m going  to call “the Pension Deficit Bag“.

If we  don’t get a handle on the public employee compensation now, we are handing our kids a disaster. This is the dilemma – the public employees want crazy salaries of as much as 4 and 5 times the median income, AND they want 70 – 90% of those outrageously inflated salaries in retirement,  BUT they don’t want to pay for it.  Years ago CalPERS promised they would make up the difference with investments in the stock market – but their investment strategies, including a bribery scandal, have only deepened the divide.  Now they want the taxpayers to take the bag. In fact, Constantin is trying to convince us that it’s okay to let our kids pay for his ridiculous lifestyle demands.

With groups like Pension Tracker shining a light on this grab, CalPERS and the unions have agreed that “new hires” (our kids) be asked to pay 50%. But top heavy management employees, “classic employees“, are only paying 11%. That is not sustainable. Sounds like a classic Ponzi scheme to me!

“Future project users bear some of the cost through higher taxes or tolls, fares, and other charges that help service the debts.”  But will they receive any benefits? That’s uncertain, in fact, I’d say it’s not going to happen. According to Constantin, we need hundreds of millions to bring existing streets up to safe standards, but the sales tax increase will only bring in a couple million a year. He explains enthusiastically that’s why we will use those proceeds to borrow money (bonds). That sounds nuts to me.

At that Finance Committee meeting earlier this year, Constantin also warned us that the economy is about to tank. If you’ve been paying attention over the last 35 years, as I have, you’ve seen that pattern of boom and bust.  Chico just enjoyed a giant BOOM, despite the poormouth complaining about the Camp Fire refugees. Contrary to the city’s claims, those refugees not only caused a short term blip in the price of housing, meaning MORE PROPERTY TAXES, but those who have remained are still providing a boost to our local sales tax revenues. This will dry up as the retail sector in Paradise recovers, and people start moving back to the Camp Fire burn area. The resulting correction will be tough times for Chico.

Constantin admitted there is such a downturn on the horizon, telling the Finance Committee that his scheme will “shore us up“. What? Who would borrow money in the  face of economic downturn?  The bonds he’s proposing have to be paid no matter what happens in the economy – just like Constantin’s “defined benefits“.

Throwing a sales tax increase onto people who are already experiencing uncertainty is another nail in our coffin. Studies suggest that when people find out there’s a sales tax increase on the agenda, they start hoarding, buying the bigger ticket items ahead of the sales tax increase. This of course creates a bubble. The same studies show that people develop different shopping habits, such as buying online.

Here’s my anecdote – when Tom Lando first suggested a sales tax increase in 2012, I started shopping out of town and online. Of course these purchases are still taxed, but here’s the message – local businesses lost my money, and they won’t get it back. Local businesses need to realize what they stand to lose. It’s not the box stores that are stealing your business, it’s the sales tax rhetoric coming out of the city of Chico.

 

 

 

 

Excessive taxation ruins the economy – time to act to reverse this trend

26 Jul

I saw Patrick Newman’s letter calling (jokingly I assume) for a limit on letters about President Trump. I had to laugh –  there have been letter writers, and probably requests made to the editor, to limit Newman’s letters. People have contacted the editors of both the ER and the N&R asking them to stop printing my letters. Some people only want to hear stuff they agree with, that’s nothing new. 

I have to agree with Newman’s assertion that people need to pay more attention to what’s going on locally. Not that federal matters are not important, but I feel a person can have more effect locally. And, as citizens become more powerful in local affairs, those localities become more powerful and have a bigger effect statewide, and eventually nationwide. 

I think excessive taxation is becoming a huge problem in Butte County, and the state of California, I wish more people would wake up and act. In the city of Sacramento, taxpayer groups who supported their sales tax Measure H quickly realized the funds weren’t being used as promised – too late, they’ve already approved the tax, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg has proposed even more taxes as a result. 

I think the root of excessive taxation is incompetent, insubordinate public employees who have fostered a negative and hostile environment for the rest of us. Their salaries and perks not only raise our taxes, but the salary imbalance makes a normal middle class lifestyle unaffordable for the rest of us.  These public salaries raise the price of everything from housing to groceries to healthcare. How can the family living on $43,000/year compete with public employees making in excess of $100,000/year? Especially when we are on the hook for their outrageous healthcare and pension packages.

Here’s an irony – most of us get by with catastrophic care, with huge co-pays, packages that won’t get us into a lot of hospitals. Hospitals and doctors can actually refuse our insurance.  Meanwhile we fund “defined benefit” health packages for public employees that guarantee them the best of care at top hospitals. 

What’s your retirement plan? Die? Well, as long as you live, you’ll be paying pensions of 70 -90% of $100,000+ public salaries. Our city manager, in his 50’s, is already making over $220,000 a year – do the math – if he retired tomorrow we’d be paying him $154,000/year, plus cost-of-living-adjustments, for the rest of his life. Unfortunately I’m afraid he has quite a few more years of self-service left in him, especially since he has what amounts to automatic annual pay raises based on a percentage of his salary. 

Currently more than 100 city employees receive salaries of $100 – 225,000/year. Another 25 make $90 – 99,000/year. These folks pay less than 10% of their pension cost, they want us to pay the rest in the form of a 1 cent sales tax increase. They say the money will be dedicated toward streets and safety, but even if they are sincere here, that just loosens up other money to be transferred into the Pension Stabilization Trust. And who can believe what they say when they promised to fix the streets with the trash tax but have instead transferred it into the General Fund? 

So we have a sales tax increase measure from the city of Chico and a parcel tax coming from the Chico Area Recreation District. Two regressive taxes aimed at the same population, neither agency having any concern for the economy.

Newman is right – get involved locally. There are a lot of meetings, scheduled at different times, at which you can not only learn more about how these agencies operate, but you can get into the conversation. Check out the schedules and agendas at these links:

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas.asp

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

 

Those letters don’t write themselves

5 Jul

Reno celebrates the 4th

I’m on the road for the holiday. Spent the 4th in Reno where the casinos do rooftop displays and the university does a big show at their stadium.

Nevada’s nice, gas is cheaper ($3.19/gal), but there’s no place like home. California is where I was born and I don’t believe in running from a fight.

Do you realize,  former Chico city manager Tom Lando has been trying to get a tax measure on the ballot since 2012? Why? Because he gets over $135,000/year in pension, and if CalPERS fails he loses it. He knows CalPERS is in deep financial trouble, so he has been trying to get a tax transfusion. He has not only lobbied the city to put a full cent tax measure on the ballot, but as a board member of Chico Area Recreation District  (CARD) he’s trying to talk the other board members into a parcel tax measure.

Both measures would be general measures that only require 51% voter approval,  meaning they would go into the general fund to be used for salaries,  benefits,  and the “pension stabilization trust. “

I know, you hear the city saying they will fix the streets and hire more cops, but that’s a lie. Not only did the city establish a “pension stabilization trust” and commit over a million dollars a year to it, but top management now recieve a special 401K in addition to having 90% of their pension paid by the taxpayers. Read their contracts,  available at the city website (Human Resources page).

CARD tried to use a new “aquatic center” as bait originally,  but after their recent consultant survey,  they promise cleaner parks and more security.  See how they change their tune, say whatever the voters want to hear? Well look at their budget, available on their website,  and see how much money they siphon into their pensions while they tell us they didn’t have enough money to maintain Shapiro Pool. They ignored a local contractor’s report and instead of doing much needed maintenance to save the pool they dumped $400,000 into their pension deficit fund. According to the contractor’s report,  they could have saved Shapiro Pool for about $500,000. And he made it clear the problems were due to years of neglecting simple maintenance.

Good lesson in civics for your kids, eh?

So now’s the time to write letters to council  and the CARD board, tell them they will have to get that money out of $taffers like city manager Mark Orme, who makes almost $300,000 a year in total compensation but pays less than $20,000 toward 70% of his $225,000 salary at age 55.

Speak now, or forever hold your hands over the seat of your pants.

 

So you thought we dumped the king in ’76?

1 Jul

Already July!  Fourth of July travelers are on the highway – I wonder if they noticed, the gas tax went up today. 

Something nobody seemed to get about SB 1 – the gas tax increase instituted by the state legislature in January 2018 – is that it allows the legislature to raise it at will, no input from the voters. 

Honey, that’s called TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. 

It could get worse – in May, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 was ordered for a third reading, not yet scheduled.  ACA1 lowers the voter threshold for [the following italicized portions have been added to the original text] “Bonded indebtedness incurred by a city, county, or city and county city and county, or special district for the construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or replacement of public infrastructure or infrastructure, affordable housing, or permanent supportive housing for persons at risk of chronic homelessness, including persons with mental illness, or the acquisition or lease of real property for public infrastructure or infrastructure, affordable housing, or permanent supportive housing for persons at risk of chronic homelessness, including persons with mental illness, ”  from 2/3’s to 55 percent voter approval.  

Why? Because it was hard to get 2/3’s approval from the taxpayers. So they are changing the rule. What kind of crap is that? Should the legislature be able to just change the constitution without a vote of the people?

Furthermore, do you really think it’s okay for 55 people to tell the other 45 that they must pay a tax for programs they don’t want to support? I think that’s mob rule, and it’s divisive. A community should agree on stuff, not be subject to the loudest bullies in the group. 

Here’s the text of ACA 1

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200ACA1

The bar at the top of the page includes the history of the bill, current status (waiting for a third reading), and who voted how. So far it’s been through the Assembly Local Government Committee, and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. I don’t know where it goes next, but I’m watching this page. 

So, this week, when you are trying to enjoy various events, try to remember why we celebrate this holiday. Do some homework, learn something about the process by which they steal your money and ruin your community. 

I’ll tell you what my family did to start the week off right – we watched “Vice”, the 2018 movie about Dick Cheney. Sure, it’s silly and fantastic in places, but it tells, factually, how our government works, and why we have to be on top of our politicians. 

And then we watched the Nixon movie, “Dick,”  which is the best telling of the Watergate story I have ever seen.  I was 12 years old when the Watergate story broke in the newspapers, I remember that was the first time my parents didn’t know all the answers. People were stunned, because they knew nothing about how much power the president really had.  They thought we dumped the king back in ’76, but they were wrong.

Happy Independence Day Everybody!

 

 

ER editor stumps for a tax increase, time to write those letters!

17 Jun

 

The ER recently published a very insulting editorial.

Editorial: Discussion of a tax could loom for Chico

First of all, Editor acts as though he’s bringing up the subject of a tax – where has he been? The city has been kicking this idea around for years now, and has spent 10’s of thousands of taxpayers dollars on consultants. 

That’s the real story – spending taxpayer money on tax measures is illegal. Wake up Mr. “News”(?) editor. 

Not one word about the pensions.  Not one word about the garbage tax money that was just “stolen” (Karl Ory’s word) to pay salaries, benefits and pensions for non-street maintenance personnel. Just a not-very-clever ploy for bringing the “t-word” out of the closet. As if it’s some novel new idea, being suggested by a gosh-darn good old citizen!

Well, here’s what needs to be brought out of the closet – the Stanford Institute pension tracker.

https://www.pensiontracker.org/agencySummary.php?agency_name=City+of+Chico&id=1390&search=Search

This link covers the city of Chico, but you can find other local entities, like Chico Area Recreation District (CARD). This site blew my mind – what we have here, essentially, is two sets of books, one that reflects reality, and one that reflects what Staff has been telling us. Staff has  been reporting the “actuarial” figure as our total deficit – $127,864,195 as of 2017. The actuarial figure assumes a high return on the stock market, and that hasn’t been happening.  Our market deficit – what we owe – is over $400,000,000.  That’s what we owe employees, minus our “assets”. Study the chart yourself – it’s outrageous. 

I really appreciated Steve Wolfe’s kind words, so I wrote another letter to the paper. I included a link to this blog, so people can see the pension tracker for themselves. I hope to hear more people expressing some outrage over this issue, I think we can beat this thing before it gets out of the barn.

I keep hearing a popular chant from high school football running through my head – Push ’em back, push ’em back, waaaaaay back!

When we discuss the “t-word”, there are two other words that need to be included – “pension deficit” – the  difference between what public employees want to get in retirement, and what they expect to pay. Chico employees expect to get 70 – 90 percent of salaries over $100,000 a year while paying less than $10,000/year into the system themselves. 

CalPERS promised to fund the deficit with stock market investments but has failed miserably, and now expects the taxpayers to pay billions.  While Chico staffers cry poormouth and promise to use a new tax for infrastructure, they siphon millions a year  out of “dedicated” funds – like the street maintenance and sewer funds – toward their pension deficit.  City leaders told us they’d fix our streets with the garbage tax but recently directed this year’s takings to the general fund to pay unrelated salaries, benefits, and pensions.  

According to the Stanford Institute, the city of Chico carries over $418,000,000 total pension debt. That’s $11,329 per household, the majority of whom survive on less than  $43,000/year.  Staff says they don’t have enough money to maintain our streets and other infrastructure, while they funnel millions into the “Pension Stabilization Trust” every year. 

Editor warns, “If that one tax measure disappoints, the electorate will likely slam the door on future ones for a long time.” Why be stupid enough to approve a tax measure when we’ve already been disappointed? Would private sector employees get away with this? No. Time for staff to pay their own pensions.    

Find sources at chicotaxpayers.com

Local media continues to spread the Big Lies – arm yourselves with the facts and fight back!

3 Jun

 

I was using the May 9 issue of the News and Review to wipe out the inside of a peanut butter jar (another time, another blog…) when I noticed an editorial I hadn’t read. It was offensive to see that these “journalists” are still pumping the city’s bullshit about being overwhelmed by the Camp Fire evacuees. That is one of the Big Lies they are using to get a sales tax increase, and I’m sick of hearing it from both the print and tv media. We have no journalism in Chico. 

So I wrote a letter about it!

(“Chico needs a lifeline” 5/9/19)  Chico has not grown by 20 percent in the wake of the camp fire. Like I said in my last letter, the figures the city is using to support the assumption that Camp Fire evacuees are placing a strain on city services are all estimates..  Go out at rush hour – the traffic impacts we suffered in the weeks immediately following the fire were temporary. Today there are over 200 houses for sale within the city. Housing prices spiked remarkably immediately following the fire because desperate buyers were very competitive, but prices are now back to 2017 levels.

The city’s financial problem is the pension liability.  Ask public employees to pay more of their own pensions. For example, the city manager gets  over $225,000 in salary, over  $80,000 in benefits, and 70% of his highest year’s salary in pension at age 55.  He pays 11% of his salary toward that pension.   The taxpayers are asked to pick up the rest of his tab, including an IRC 457. If he is sincere about “living within our means” he needs to pay more of his own pension – new hires pay 50 %, why are “classic” employees   still paying so little?

Join the conversation at chicotaxpayers.com

Juanita Sumner, Chico

I wish some of you would write – I know there are those of you out there who think they can’t write letters. All you have to do is arm yourselves with the facts, the letter will write itself. 

Read Mark Orme’s contract here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/documents/OrmeEmploymentAgreement10-2017.pdf

See his salary and benefits break down here:

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

Have some fun – search the words “pension,” “liability,” and “deficit” in the budget and see how much money they pour into the pensions every year:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2018-19CityAnnualFINALBudget.pdf

Speak up! Maybe we can stop this tax measure before they spend any more TAXPAYER money on it.