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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. 

 

Orme “estimates” 10 – 15,000 refugees living in Chico, based on “nonregistration, couch living, trailers parked on streets…”

12 Apr

I don’t know how you feel about roundabouts, but one fact we know for sure – they bring a lot of money into the city by way of grants.

From the Chico Enterprise Record, “According to senior traffic engineer Bikramjit Kahlon, the cost of the project is between $5 and $6 million. ‘It just depends when we go out to bid,’ he said Monday. The city’s match is about $1 million, with Caltrans funding the remainder amount.”

Eaton Road roundabout proposed for traffic, safety

$5-6 million for one roundabout? Most of that will go into the salaries Downtown. An old contractor I know says “boots on the ground labor” and materials make up about 2% of the cost of these public jobs.  This is one way Staff turns money we paid toward maintenance of our roads into their salaries and pensions.

Here’s a thought – how’d you like to see that million the city is kicking in on the street in front of your house? How far would that million go toward the streets in your neighborhood? 

And again, they are using Camp Fire refugees as bait.  Read these excerpts.

“Even before the Camp Fire pushed thousands more new residents into Chico, the intersection was known for commute-time traffic jams and lines of traffic out to the freeway, along with traffic accidents.”

“thousands more new residents”?  I had to ask reporter Laura Urseny if she has any hard numbers on how many evacuees have settled in Chico since the fire. She had none, but asked city manager Mark Orme if he had any. “He [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.”

So, Orme drives by your house, sees a trailer in your driveway, and assumes it’s full of evacuees? Sees somebody sitting on your couch through a front window and assumes you have a “couch liver” in your household? On this basis he assumes and reports that we have “10,000-15,000” new residents in our town?

Excuse me, this guy gets over $200,000/year in compensation, and he expects to give up this kind of crap?

Unfortunately he’s  got a willing media to help him pull the wool over our eyes. Urseny skirts the truth, but keeps promoting the lie – “The project has been proposed for a long time, but has been sped up with the city’s dealings with Camp Fire impacts. However, Kahlon said there is no FEMA-related funding in the project.” If this project was truly necessitated by the Camp Fire evacuation, or any impacts, the city would be getting FEMA funding.

They started this campaign before the fire was even out.  “The project was discussed during a public meeting about Camp Fire impact on Chico last year, but has been in the works much longer.”  Here Urseny mentions a proposed refugee housing project that was rejected, but still includes it as a “Camp Fire impact”.  “Initially, a FEMA proposal called for Camp Fire mobile homes to be placed on a vacant parcel on Eaton Road between Highway 99 and Cohasset Road, but that residential project has been abandoned.  Nevertheless, the traffic on the current two-lane road is huge, impacted by Chico’s growing population, but also by residential subdivisions developing in north Chico.”

In the same edition that Urseny ran her promo piece, there was this map:

Map: See where Camp Fire evacuees have moved across the country

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=10YY_flCa-v2h-qofl8x0L49kmuOT3AeE&ll=33.09184936709246%2C-91.56768772732823&z=4

“Relocation destinations are also listed below from most to least popular, in terms of the number of households registered with FEMA now living there. FEMA only provided information about individual counties in California, not other states.”

In other words, if you had insurance on your destroyed home, and therefore did not go to the ridiculous lengths to register for something you were not eligible to receive, you were not counted.  

The article said that 16,583 of the registered (and that includes entire households who live under one roof) have remained in all of Butte County. That includes Paradise, Magalia, Butte Meadows, Yankee Hill, Concow, Cohasset, Forest Ranch, Gridley, Live Oak – did I miss any? Personally, the Camp Fire victims I know  are all planning to rebuild their homes in Paradise. Some have already hired private contractors to clear their lots and are already living back at their property. Some are struggling to live in unburned homes with no safe water or power, and dead/dying trees hanging over their heads. Roads are a mess, workers everywhere, and Butte County has not even started their lot-clearance program. But the folks I know are all determined to return, they have no desire to remain “stuck in Chico.” 

And here’s another fact that Orme cleverly ignores – many of the folks who evacuated to Chico already worked here and drove down to town almost every day, where they also shopped and socialized.

So, the “impacts” are largely MADE UP. Staff continues to lie to get their way. Next Tuesday they will bring a revenue measure consultant to make report regarding the $25,000 survey they are planning to get us to tax ourselves to pay their pensions. They want $65,000 more for a consultant to actually run their campaign. This is illegal, but who will call them on it? 

Will you?

 

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

“Why is there always enough money for large pensions and raises (and propaganda) for bureaucrats yet never enough money to maintain the streets?”

4 Mar

I want to thank Dave for writing this kick-ass letter to the Enterprise Record last week. I know it ran either the day before or the day of the Finance Committee meeting last week and I know Mark Orme read it. Now I also know I’m not the only person who has a problem with paying for a campaign to raise my taxes to pay  for the pension deficit created by years of entitlement. 

Orme mentioned the pensions, but would not admit they are the real drive behind a revenue measure. He said they want the money to either  fix streets or hire more cops. But we’ve all seen the method by which they transfer money from every department into the “Pension Stabilization Trust” and the “UAL” fund to pay down a deficit that the employees created themselves by not paying enough into their own pensions. 

Write your own letter folks – don’t be an ostrich, stick your head up and be heard. 

Why is there always enough money for large pensions and raises for bureaucrats yet never enough money to maintain the streets?

And now our city council members have decided there is plenty of money in city coffers to propagandize the public, so they are giving tens of thousand of our tax dollars (and most likely more later) to a PR firm to sell us another bond measure (just another type of tax increase) or a sales tax increase. And this does not include the cost of the city bureaucracy’s staff time. Is this how you want your hard-earned tax dollars spent?

And whatever tax increase they sell you will be just a down payment as the city’s unfunded pension liability will only get worse. Just wait for the next recession and stock market plunge. Then the politicians will spend more of your tax dollars to sell you yet another tax increase.

I urge everyone to read the long time political watchdog and journalist Dan Walters’ editorials: “Despite law, politicians use taxpayer funds for campaigns,” “Local tax hikes cleverly packaged,” “Cities should fess up about taxes, pensions,” and “Property tax surge reveals the truth: Local tax hikes are all about pensions” athttps://calmatters.org/articles/author/dan-walters/. (Some of these editorials ran in the Chico ER.)

As Walters notes, “With very rare exceptions, however, officials who place the tax increases on the ballot will not publicly say the extra revenue is needed to offset rising pension costs. Rather, on the advice of high-priced consultants, they say the money is needed for popular police and fire services and parks.”And he says, “The League of California Cities has raised the alarm about ‘unsustainable levels’ of pension costs. Isn’t it time for the cities themselves to be truthful when they ask voters for new taxes?”

Our community is in a state that has some of the highest taxes and living expenses in the nation. And if the local politicians have their way your taxes and expenses are going up. Also, wages in Butte County are in the bottom 10 percent of the larger counties in the nation. California has the highest poverty rate in the nation at 19% and Butte County is even worse at 21%. It is unfair to increase this community’s tax burden while government employee pensions go unreformed.

It is long past time for politicians to spend within our means and represent us instead of special interests at our expense.

Who’s responsible for these elephant turds?

2 Mar

At last week’s Finance Committee meeting (Feb. 27) Mayor Randall Stone (Chair) and council members Sean Morgan and Ann Schwab heard a consultant’s pitch for a revenue measure campaign, starting with the usual “survey”. City mangler Mark Orme made some interesting comments before introducing the consultant.

Orme stated that since he came to the city in 2013 he has “resisted” revenue measures. “I think there needs to be a high level of trust within the community that those funds are going to be spent prudently.” 

I always wonder about public sentiment. Do most Chico voters trust the city council and staff to use their money wisely? And here’s the scary question – what would they know about it?

Orme feels that he and staff have “created a higher level of trust.” opining, “We have learned to live within our means.”

Orme reminisced about his arrival in Chico in 2013, reminding us that the city “has been through hard times.”  He talked about “lost” staffers as though they wandered away in a storm or left for better digs elsewhere. No, hit man Brian Nakamura was hired, long time staffers were fired, or in some cases, simply encouraged to take a position in another city. “Hit Man” brought in former co-workers as new management and skipped off to his next assignment. Over the next year or so staff was pared down until there were no more workers, just management. And management salaries have continued to get higher – now in excess of $200,000/year – while they only pay 11 percent of their pension cost.

So I’d really like to ask Orme just whose means he’s been living within.

He certainly did mention the pensions – “one of the big elephants that cruises through any government living room…” He acknowledges the pension deficit. But here’s where the fiction continues – “The city  didn’t create it…”

I have to take exception with that last claim.  Looking at Orme’s contract here, it’s not hard to see what really happened.

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

“WHEREAS, the Council desires to have Orme participate in CalPERS cost sharing, and pay three percent (3%) of the Employer’s cost, in addition to Orme’s contribution for CalPERS;”

On “Exhibit A” you find the employee share, Orme’s contribution, is 8%. Plus 3% of the “employer share” equals 11%. For 70% of his $207,500 salary at age 60. The city payment has been increasing every year, I  believe they now pay 39% but it might be more. CalPERS is constantly demanding more. The other 50 or so percent rides on the stock market. This hasn’t worked out so far – CalPERS promises 7% return but has been lucky to see 1%. This has caused the PENSION DEFICIT, aka PENSION LIABILITY.

Not only that, but Orme, as well as other management staffers, have recently added a IRC 457 plan to their contracts. In addition to their salaries and CalPERS contributions paid, they get tax exempt “deferred” compensation.

“Plans of deferred compensation described in IRC section 457 are available for certain state and local governments and non-governmental entities tax exempt under IRC Section 501. They can be either eligible plans under IRC 457(b) or ineligible plans under IRC 457(f). Plans eligible under 457(b) allow employees of sponsoring organizations to defer income taxation on retirement savings into future years.

“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.”

See, the city most certainly did create the deficit, because they’ve continued to agree not only to CalPERS stipulations but to bigger and bigger salaries (and therefore PENSIONS) and more generous contracts all along. Since 2013, Orme’s salary has gone up almost $20,000. Laying off people who made $35,000 – 65,000 a year while raising management salaries by 10’s of thousands is like taking 5 steps backward and no steps forward. As Orme acknowledged last Wednesday, we now get no services.

“Now we’re a city that’s living within their means that isn’t meeting the needs of the community…”

We need to ask ourselves, what the hell is the use of a city that doesn’t meet the needs of it’s community?

Orme casually mentions the elephant in the room – he is the elephant in the room. Somebody better get him a shovel, he has a huge pile of crap to clean up.

 

 

 

 

FPPC: local prosecutors failing to file charges in cases where public officials have used public funds for political purposes

26 Feb

Busy little bees.

The city and CARD are still worming their way toward separate tax measures. It’s starting to look like CARD will go with a parcel tax. The city, meanwhile, has yet to decide what kind of measure they will flop out – the Finance Committee is hearing a $25,000 proposal from  EMC Research to conduct a “survey”.

It is illegal to spend taxpayer money to campaign for a tax measure, and I would think it’s illegal to use tax money to hire a consultant who promises to run the campaign for you. But it seems the agencies who would investigate and prosecute this illegal behavior are squabbling over who is supposed to do it.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-campaign-funds-misused-20190214-story.html

“With local prosecutors failing to file charges in cases where public officials have used public funds for political purposes, the state Fair Political Practices Commission is proposing their powers be expanded to allow the FPPC to prosecute misuses of taxpayer dollars.”

But as you might guess, local agencies are not too keen on being watched by outsiders – the good old boy system by which county and city administrators scratch each others’ backs is way too entrenched in Butte County.

The Times reports that “In response, the California State Association of Counties is filing a lawsuit to prevent such enforcement.”

Wow, that’s pretty blatant, isn’t it? Now the counties are spending taxpayer money making sure they  don’t get prosecuted for the illegal spending of taxpayer money. Koyaanisqatsi.

So I wrote a letter about it. Write yours too. 

“Last month the Fair Political Practices Commission revealed 34 allegations made since 2015 concerning public agencies misusing taxpayer funds for campaign purposes. Unfortunately  the agency lacks the authority to prosecute misuse of public funds, a power reserved for city and county prosecutors and the state attorney general.

Apparently, no local law enforcement agency has followed through on any of the allegations, prompting the FPPC to ask the state for the power to prosecute in these matters.

Does anyone  really believe that a local DA or city attorney would prosecute a public agency for raising taxes? FPPC commissioner Brian Hatch calls that “political suicide”.

Both the city of Chico and Chico Area Recreation District continue to spend taxpayer money on consultants who promise to help them pass their separate tax measures. Their consultant EMC Research claims “Great campaigns don’t just happen. That’s why we offer a full suite of political research and predictive analytics to help your candidates, organizations, and ballot measures succeed.”

Is this why you pay taxes? To hire people to raise your taxes?

Contact FPPC Chair Alice Germond <agermond@fppc.ca.gov> and tell her you support her efforts to impose stiffer penalties on those public agencies who flaunt the law and continue to undermine voters’ rights across the state.

You might also want to contact Chico city council at debbie.presson@chicoca.gov and the CARD board at annw@chicorec.com and let them know how you feel about paying for their campaigns to raise your taxes.

Juanita Sumner, Chico”