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Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has successfully sued at least twice to stop POBs on the grounds that they must have voter approval

29 May
This article from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sheds some legal doubts on the whole POB scam.

On a tip from a reader, I found this article, originally printed in January 2020. Jon Coupal begins with statewide bond measures, but picks up with a warning about Pension Obligation Bonds. “...at the local level, taxpayers need to be aware of a recent resurgence in the use of pension obligation bonds, a risky financing method that fell out of favor during the recession but is now making a comeback.”

Coupal analogizes, “A POB is basically paying your Visa bill with your MasterCard,” adding, “Pension obligation bonds (POBs) are bonds issued to fund, in whole or in part, the unfunded portion of public pension liabilities by the creation of new debt.

Council members Andrew Coolidge and Sean Morgan, and other proponents of POBs, are denying that a POB is new debt, they chant it like a mantra, because they think they can hypnotize us into believing it.

Coupal continues, “The use of POBs relies on an assumption that the bond proceeds, when invested with pension assets in higher-yielding assets, will be able to achieve a rate of return that is greater than the interest rate owed over the term of the bonds.

Even Staffer Scott Dowell has used the word, “gamble“, even while he and city manager Mark Orme have pressed forward with this scheme. Council has given them permission to send this bond for judicial approval. The consultant told council and staff that this type of bond does not require voter approval. They said it would only take approval from a judge, which should only take a few months. The expect to implement this thing within the next few months.

If this seems odd to you, you’re not alone, the HJTA is on your side.

Back in 2003, the state of California attempted to float a statewide pension obligation bond without voter approval.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued to invalidate the bonds and prevailed in court.

That’s not the only lawsuit HJTA has pursued against POBs. The reader who tipped me to all this sent me the story of HJTA vs the city of Simi Valley.

The Simi Valley City Council voted 5-0 on April 6, 2020, to rescind a December 2019 resolution authorizing a $150 million pension obligation bond and future similar bonds, thanking the Ventura County Taxpayers Association for working with the City in avoiding what could have been a lengthy battle over legally questionable bonds. The rescission was part of a settlement agreement with the VCTA and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Apparently, the city asked for validation from the Ventura County Superior Court. HJTA and the Ventura County Taxpayers Association then “answered” the suit. And the city backed down, but I’m not really sure why.

“In settling, the Simi Valley City Council recognized the constitutional concern in the VCTA/HJTA answer to the City’s lawsuit — whether the California Constitution requires two-thirds voter approval of any such bond. Agreeing to wait for legal clarity, and with each side bearing its own costs, the City agreed to dismiss its lawsuit with prejudice, and rescind the bond authorization resolution.

recognized the constitutional concern” ? ” Agreeing to wait for legal clarity” ? I’m not sure what has happened since then – has the court given any further ruling on these bonds? Any legal clarity? I’ll have to look into that. But I think that’s a good question for Staff at that POB forum.

DAY: Tuesday, June 8, 2021
TIME: 2:00 P.M.
PLACE: City Council Chamber – 421 Main Street

CANCELLED: City hosting an interactive forum to discuss POBs

27 May

I got this notice from Dave – thanks Dave!

I also got the cancellation notice from Dave – thanks again Dave!

DAY: Tuesday, June 8, 2021
TIME: 2:00 P.M.
PLACE: City Council Chamber – 421 Main Street


The City of Chico’s employees and retirees participate in the CalPERS retirement system. CalPERS has
determined that the City has an unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of over $140,000,000 which carries an
interest rate of 7%. As such, the City Council is researching all options on reducing this liability. One
possibility is to issue pension obligation bonds (POBs) at a lower interest rate than 7% and use the
proceeds to pay down the CalPERS UAL.


The City is hosting an interactive forum to discuss POBs including the benefits and risks associated with
their issuance. The consulting firm of NHA Advisors will be conducting the forum on June 8th starting at
2:00 pm and concluding by 4:00pm. This forum will be interactive and participants are encouraged to ask
questions and provide feedback to the consultant. Attendees are encouraged to join in person at the City
Council Chambers or watch online. There is no cost to attend this educational forum.

Orme and Dowell want to take the city of Chico on a Tax-stravaganza

25 May

Tomorrow the Chico Finance Committee is meeting, again, CLOSED in a room with public participation limited to Zoom, to discuss the smorgasbord of taxes and fee increases brought forward by city manager Mark Orme and Administrative Services (Finance) Director Scott Dowell. I will try to “attend” on Zoom, but in the meantime I wrote a letter to the ER.

The city of Chico is embarking on an unprecedented “tax-stravaganza”. At the 5/26/21 Finance Committee meeting, Mark Orme and Scott Dowell brought forth an incredible list of tax measures and fee increases for council’s consideration, including a sales tax increase, and new cell phone tax. Staff also suggested raising sewer fees by implementing volume charges, raising the transient occupancy tax, and increasing franchise fees on PG&E, the waste haulers, and other service providers. Mayor Coolidge has also suggested a road bond.

The common thread here is the pension deficit. Staff is desperate to pay CalPERS, to save pensions into which they have contributed less than 15% for 70-90% of their highest year’s pay.

The city has been receiving more sales tax, property tax, developer fees, and Utility Tax revenues every year as development brings more people to Chico. Instead of maintaining and improving infrastructure, Staff has poured these funds into their pension deficit, $11,500,000 this year, by 2025, $13,000,000. This money is allocated from all the department funds, at the expense of infrastructure and services.

Instead of pursuing new taxes that will hurt our local economy, council needs to switch from CalPERS’ defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, like 401Ks. Why should the taxpayers but never the employees bear the burden of the risks taken by CalPERS? The POB scheme, which Dowell admits is “gambling”, puts ALL the burden on the taxpayers, forever. Any new revenues will go to the pension obligation first.

We’re paying Staff for nothing but perpetuating their own retirement system.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

Business taxes, housing taxes, parking tax, pot tax, poop tax! City of Chico is on a Tax Blitz!

22 May

I got the agenda for next week’s CLOSED Finance Committee meeting and it’s a gobstopper.

https://chico.ca.us/sites/main/files/file-attachments/5.26.21_finance_committee_agenda.pdf?1621544673

Item A, Business Tax Analysis Update – just what it sounds like, only this also includes a tax on rentals.

Item B, Cost Allocation Plan – another (why?) presentation from consultant Chad Wolford about “allocating” money from one fund to another to pay management salaries and benefits.

Item C, Sewer Enterprise Study and Rate Analysis – oh, you people on sewer are not going to like this and those of you who have still held onto your septic tanks better take good care of them.

Item D, Overview of Revenue Enhancements – this is an item that brings the art of Euphemism to a new level. Yes, Dammit, they’re talking about taxes!

These items all have one thing in common – a greedy, desperate city staff that wants to fund their pensions, damn the torpedoes. I’ve talked about A, B, and C, and will talk about them again in future, but right now let’s dive into D, which I will call “Operation Tax Blitz”.

City Manager Mark Orme and Admin. Services Director Scott Dowell have announced budget surpluses the last three years running, but are still making dark predictions for the future, and trying to tell us we need to raise taxes.

“Although the City has made great progress to overcome deep financial deficits and reestablish reserves,
projections point to a likely budget deficit in the coming years if revenue enhancements are not
approved.”

What they won’t say, is that our problem, which Orme has called “The Elephant in the Room,” is the pension deficit, the Unfunded Actuarial Liability. They’re trying to tell us we’re cheap asses who don’t pay enough taxes. As a member of a family living on less than $50,000/year, with tenants who all live on about same, it is really tough to take that kind of smack from some asshole making over $200,000/year with a benefits package of over $50,000 who only pays 9% of the cost.

California cities have a variety of avenues to increase revenues for services and capital projects, which ranges from general and special taxes to bonded indebtedness.”

And the report proceeds to list those avenues.

Admissions Tax – Admissions tax is a revenue enhancement used when people attend a show, performance, display or
exhibit.

Business License Fees – Business license fees are considered a tax and any increase would need to be approved by a majority vote of the electorate.

Cannabis Tax – A sales tax measure on cannabis is already being discussed by the City Council.

Construction/Development Tax – A construction or development tax is an excise tax imposed for the advantage of building within the City. The tax is imposed only on new construction and is generally based on number of units, number of bedrooms or square footage. These taxes differ from development impact fees in that impact fees must be spent on services or facilities to mitigate the impact of development. [NOTE: This is a redundant tax – in addition to Impact Fees, and not restricted to mitigating the impact of development. In other words, it’s just a GRAB, as are so many of these suggestions. This is one way the city adds to the cost of housing.]

Documentary Transfer and Real Property Transfer Tax – A document transfer tax is a revenue enhancement allowed under the State Transfer Tax Act on documents which transfer the ownership of real property… Butte County and the City of Chico enacted this tax ordinance and the City received one half of the tax, $0.275 per $500 in recorded value. [NOTE: So, the city already has an ordinance with the county, but here Staff suggests a separate ordinance just for the city, which will raise the cost of housing] Dozens of California charter cities have enacted their own transfer tax ordinances. The tax rates vary with rates as low as $1.10 per $1,000 to $15.00 per $1,000.

Local Vehicle Registration Tax – Local vehicle registration taxes are special taxes collected by the DMV in the form of vehicle registration fees and remitted to the participating counties who in turn remit to the City. [NOTE: Butte County already has this program]

Parking Tax – A parking tax is imposed on citizens who rent parking space that is privately owned.

Property Tax – Generally, property tax cannot be modified by the City and would require State action. California’s
property tax is ad valorem, meaning it is based on the value of the property. Proposition 13 limits property tax to one percent and restricts the enactment of any additional ad valorem property tax, transaction tax or sales tax on the sales of real property. Proposition 46 modified this rule to allow for an increase towards funding indebtedness.
[NOTE: the only real “indebtedness” the city faces right now is the UAL]

Parcel Tax – Parcel taxes are a tax on a parcel of property and are not directly based on property value, which is what
allows a parcel tax to circumvent Proposition 13.
[NOTE: Staff reports these have had a dismal showing lately, mentioning CARD’s failed attempt at passing Measure A last year.]

I’ll stop here to say, with the exception of the Cannabis Tax they are already discussing, I don’t think any of the above suggestions are serious. Tomorrow I’ll pick up with what they are really getting at – sales tax increase. Although, there is a frightening report on raising the Utility Tax, as well as a very frank discussion of the other kind of tax – franchise fees.

Next time, on This Old Lady goes to a Tea Party!

The Pension Obligation Bag

15 May

Well, I must be onto something, because Chico Administrative Services Director Scott Dowell came back to my question about who manages the Pension Stabilization Trust with an order to staff to make it a Formal Request for Public Information. He threatened to make me pay 25 cents a page for anything that couldn’t be transmitted electronically. I don’t know how many of you have ever had to pay for documents, but they don’t let you pick the pages you want, they copy the ENTIRE document and charge you for every page.

Excuse me, but what a prick! You know he could have just sent me the answer, he hired them! This is just your basic intimidation.

So I wrote a letter to the editor about what I already found out.

As city staff prepares to implement Pension Obligation Bonds, there are more questions about this risky scheme.

The consultant explained that the city would issue bonds and invest that borrowed money in the stock market, hoping to make enough return to pay back the bond issue as well as make “extra” payments on the Pension Deficit. The consultant said the city might be able to get an interest rate of 3 – 4% on the bonds, which would mean staff would have to make at least twice that in their investments to achieve their farfetched goal. Failure would mean new debt, in addition to the Pension Deficit.

Staff has already established a Pension Stabilization Trust, made up of funds taken from each department by percentage. As the consultant explained, these trusts are managed by an agency which presents staff with various portfolios to choose from. At the 9/23/20 meeting, staff reported their portfolio was returning “about 4%…”, then, “3 to 4%,” finally admitting, “it may be a little bit lower right now…”

The finance reports for March 2021 show the PST returning 2.7% interest. That does not add up. Can city staff promise to do better with borrowed money? Who would borrow money at 4 – 5% interest to make 2.7% interest on the stock market?

I don’t know if staff is too concerned about the future consequences of POBs. By the time the city’s infrastructure is rotten and failing, they will all have skipped off to retirement, even other towns, leaving our kids holding the Pension Obligation Bag.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

No wonder Staff wants the POB, the sales tax measure, and the “road” bond – their Pension Stabilization Trust investments are only returning at 2.7%

13 May

I wrote to Chico Administrative Services Director Scott Dowell the other day and asked him what is the current interest return on the investments that have been made with the Pension Stabilization Trust. Remember, the PST is made up of “allocations” (stealing) from all the other city department funds, a percentage of department payroll. The money is invested in the stock market, very much like the proposed Pension Obligation Bond scheme.

I was kind of perturbed when Dowell responded with a 265 page download, telling me, “The information you want is on page 264…” You know he knows the exact figure, he just doesn’t want to admit it. I think, frankly, he’s in denial, he’s desperate to get council to agree to this.

But there it was, and I can see why he’d have trouble actually saying it, or even typing it into an email – it’s kind of embarrassing. Especially when he is trying to convince city council to go along with the POB scheme. See, if they don’t make enough money off investing the BORROWED money they will get from the POB holders, gee, they not only won’t be able to make those “extra” payments toward the Pension Deficit, but they won’t be able to pay back the bond money either. Oh my goodness, you know what that means – another day older, and deeper in debt.

New debt.

Here’s the bad news – the PST has only been returning 2.7%. With an investment of $1,868,000, taken from the streets, sewer and other city funds, Staff got $3,887. Three thousand, eight hundred and eighty-seven dollars. Staff reports our “extra” payments, now $11.5 million, will be $13 million within a few years.

I know, I’m starting to sound like a late-night waterbed salesman, but I’ll say it again – watch the video!

The consultant from NHA spoke of borrowing bond money at 3-4%. CalPERS, to whom we owe a whopping $146 million, charges 7% interest. Dowell reports we get a 3.5% “discount” for making those “extra” payments, but I’m not sure how that works. The PST is only returning at 2.7%. The market, volatile for a year now, is not looking good lately.

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/11/stock-market-futures-open-to-close-news.html

This POB plan looks more ludicrous every day.

I also asked Dowell who manages the PST and how much do they charge. That’s another issue – these investment firms charge high fees, how much do they eat? We’ll see if he gets back to me there.

Joe Azzarito: Let’s DO EQUITY, not just TALK IT!

11 May

Thanks to Joe Azzarito for this thoughtful take on city resource allocation.

The term equity has been bandied about by social progressives lately as cause for radical change in
society. By definition, equality means “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and
opportunities.” It has to do with giving everyone the exact same resources, whereas equity “involves
distributing resources based on the needs of the recipients”.

Let’s apply these terms to City of Chico expenses, specifically to its employees’ salary, pension and other
benefits. Much has been rebutted against the use of Pension Obligation Bonds as a panacea for its
enormous and growing unfunded actuarial liability due its staff.

If we consider the most appropriate use of available revenue in the service of citizenry, it behooves the
Chico City Council to find a solution to the many ignored uses for money. The recipients of the excessive
largesse, in the form of city paid pensions, would not in the slightest be equitable when balanced off
against needs of citizens. With their six figure incomes, they can well afford to fund their own
retirement, regardless of what has gone before.

Chico’s many problems, such as affordable housing for all, street repaving, safety both from crime and
fire, should be the focused uses for reported increased revenues. The double indebtedness that pension
bonds would create, between bondholders and CALPERS, is not establishing equity. It is exacerbating the
problem. The city‘s citizens have more unmet needs, in the form of services, than well heeled staffs do.
Let’s DO EQUITY not just TALK IT!

Joe Azzarito, Chico CA

I’ll say this – the fox is in charge of the henhouse, so the fox gets what he wants, and the hens, well, they just get it.

Watch the video – the consultant describes POB’s as “issuing debt to pay off a portion of that UAL…” Morgan and Coolidge need to have their mouths washed out with soap.

6 May

Andrew Coolidge told a room full of people that “my friend Juanita Sumner is a liar...”

A friend of mine told me, “when you call a liar who has called you a liar, a liar, it just sounds like the biggest pissing match in town…” How true. Well, get out your hip waders, cause the piss is running deep these days.

Have you watched the video of the September 23, 2020 Finance Committee meeting yet? Don’t take my word for it, watch the video. And do me a favor – if you hit this link and it doesn’t work, get right back to me at “Comments” here and I will repost it.

https://gofile.io/d/8JVqub

I wrote a letter to the Enterprise Record hoping more people would watch the video. If you watch the video, you’ll see why our clerk Spike Presson does not usually make these recordings available to the public.

Mayor Andrew Coolidge and Councilman Sean Morgan have denied that a Pension Obligation Bond is new debt.

I have a recording of the 9/23/20 Finance Committee meeting at which consultants Mike Meyer and Eric Scriven of NHA introduced the POB to committee members Sean Morgan, Ann Schwab and Randall Stone. Meyer described POB’s as “issuing debt to pay off a portion of that UAL (aka, ‘pension deficit’).”

According to Wikipedia, “a bond is an instrument of indebtedness, of the bond issuer to the holder.” Investopedia defines “issuing debt” as “a financial obligation that allows the issuer to raise funds by promising to repay the lender…”

Meyer described a scheme by which bond issue (borrowed money) would be invested in the stock market, in an attempt to make enough money to pay both the bond debt and the UAL.

The consultants pointedly ignored the obvious solution – employees need to pay more. Currently they only pay between 9 and 15% for pensions of 70 – 90% of salaries of over $100,000/yr.

City leaders also need to better manage employee costs. Even while UAL payments have increased by millions, at the cost of city infrastructure and services, the UAL has grown 43% over 5 years. Instead of observing attrition measures recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association, management has added three new management positions, raised the police chief’s salary by $30,000/yr, and raised the clerk’s salary by $10,000/yr.

POB’s are a crackpot scheme at best and Coolidge and Morgan should be ashamed for perpetuating misinformation.

The video is available at https://gofile.io/d/8JVqub

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

Business as Usual at the City of Chico: Pass a new tax without voter approval, spike your pay like the retiring city clerk, hand the bag to the taxpayers! And only then do they “open” the meetings…

4 May

A couple of members of Chico Republican Women Federated recently told me that Mayor Andrew Coolidge, speaking to an unmasked assemblage of the club, called me a liar, in exactly those words. He says the Pension Obligation Bonds are “not new debt.”

Hey Jackass, trying to “cancel” me? Well here’s the video of the September 23, 2020 Finance Committee meeting at which the city’s consultant said exactly the opposite.

https://gofile.io/d/8JVqub

I’ll tell you something else – ever since Dave Howell posted that video at Gofile, it’s been repeatedly removed. I don’t know by whom, but the “remove” button is right there at the bottom of the screen. Obviously, somebody doesn’t want the citizens of Chico to see this meeting. In fact, I think it was a total mistake that I got a recording of it – I asked a lower level staffer and she gave it to me. But now the clerk – who will be getting a salary spike of roughly $10,000 at tonight’s meeting, in anticipation of her pending retirement – says they don’t record the meetings because they aren’t required by law. That’s not true, they record the meeting so they can produce the minutes – how do you think I got the recording? Then they show the minutes to full council, who are allowed to redact comments and who knows what, and when she’s done “amending” the minutes, she tosses that recording so nobody will be the wiser.

Tonight she’ll spike her salary up to $144,000+ a year, like they all do. She’ll receive 70% of that figure in retirement. I’ll admit, she’s pretty good at her job, but she’s better at looking out for her own interests than those of the public.

So, there it is. They got their Pension Obligation Bond and now the spiking begins. They will make no real attempt to control employee costs – why bother? They’re on The Gravy Train now!

But, what they won’t admit, is that there’s trouble on the horizon if they can’t get the sales tax increase that Andrew Coolidge is pushing. He wants a separate road bond too, because, as he already acknowledged, the sales tax revenue will be used to secure the POB. The consultant made it pretty clear – watch that video – they will need a revenue stream to secure the bonds, because the market is tricky, and they may not be able to earn enough in investments to cover either the POB. OR! the pension deficit. See, their investments have to pay off well enough to pay both the bond service AND the pension deficit, or this whole plan is BUST.

Dave Howell watched the meeting and then wrote a good analysis of what’s happening:

That finance meeting WAS PACKED with crazy and outrageous information. And the local media DIDN’T MENTION ANY OF IT!

Here are some key takeaways the local media should have covered:

Last year at this time we thought the unfunded pension liability we were on the hook for was $128 million. Well, this year the bureaucrats and consultants say $146 million. AND NOW THEY TELL US WE OWE ANOTHER $140 MILLION IN INTEREST! But these numbers are low because they don’t include the 4.7% under performance from last year and also the prior year’s under performance. IT IS OBSCENE! WHERE THE HELL IS THE LOCAL MEDIA ON THIS?

UAL for CalPERs is 146.3 million which is a 43% increase over the last 5 years. UAL payments are now 9.9 million in 2021 and will grow to 13.2 in 2026. And remember this is assuming an unrealistic 7% CalPERs return. In all likelihood this number will be even worse as over the last 20 years CalPERs hasn’t come close to 7%. CalPERs return has only been 5.5%.

The City’s pensions are only 67% funded.

In addition to leasing the streets Morgan talked about the possibility of leasing the airport! WHAT A SCAMMER!

What was just as revealing was after the snake oil consultants left the meeting. Dowell went into the June and August financial statements. (What happened to July?) The city’s cash flow is up OVER $30 MILLION from last year resulting in an $8.8 million surplus! (You would think with a 30 million increase in cash flow the surplus would be even more.) And it sounds like these numbers will probably increase over the next few months. It turns out that despite the doom we were told the COVID crisis would have on the City’s finance, the crisis has generated a huge windfall for the City, similar to the Camp Fire situation.

Naturally, they didn’t even think of giving any of the surplus back to the taxpayers or using it to fix the streets. They are pigs at the trough and will take everything they can get, so even with millions in surplus you can bet they will be talking tax and fee increases next year! It just shows that no matter how much money they take, all of it and more will be devoured by pensions, other post employment benefits and raises. These people are parasites and they will bleed the people of this community dry! DON’T LET THEM DO THIS TO YOU!

And thanks Dave, for bringing up that $30 million “surplus”. What happened to that? Slight of hand? Peas and walnut shells? That’s Business As Usual at the City of Chico!

Letter to the Editor: The pension deficit burden needs to be borne by the employees who created it through unrealistic contributions, not the taxpayers

8 Apr

We here in Chico have a big decision to make and we need to make it quick, before it’s made for us by a group of individuals who stand to gain substantially at our expense. If council approves the Pension Obligation Bond, it’s over Folks, we pay for the outrageous pensions at the expense of public infrastructure and services.

Four of our seven-member council are either public pensioners or married to public pensioners. All of their campaigns have been heavily influenced by public employee unions, who are the biggest contributors in every election. these PACs are allowed higher contributions limits than the average voter, and they can make contributions on their own and to other like-minded PACs.

I don’t believe people with such obvious conflict of interest should be allowed to make this kind of decision unfettered. At the very least, they should have to declare their personal interest in furthering the POB and continuing to prop up CalPERS, an agency they all know has put us in horrible debt through mismanagement. At the last finance committee meeting, both Sean Morgan and Andrew Coolidge acknowledged that CalPERS continues to make bad investments. So why won’t they ask employees to make more reasonable contributions? And why don’t they make any effort to get out of CalPERS and ask new employees to take a Defined Contribution Pension Plan?

The pension deficit is a burden that should be borne by employees who created it through unrealistic contributions, not the taxpayers.

Juanita Sumner, Chico