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Measure K lawsuit successful in district court, will move on to appeals court (at the taxpayers’ expense…)

14 Sep

Sorry, busy busy – I received GREAT NEWS about the Yuba County Measure K lawsuit, and I forgot to post it. 

The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs – 

Accordingly, for all of the forgoing reasons, the Court grants judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on their first and second causes of action seeking to invalidate Measure K because it failed to garner the required two-thirds vote required for enactment of a special tax.

What happens next – later that day I received a note from my  friend Connie – 

“At a BOS meeting yesterday, they voted in CLOSED SESSION to appeal the ruling. That gave the voters and taxpayers no opportunity to voice their concerns etc.”

Yes, the Yuba County supervisors voted to spend MORE TAXPAYER MONEY to fight a court ruling. Like I told my friend Connie, studies show appeals don’t have a very high success rate, only about 17% of these lower court decisions are actually overturned, it seems most appeals are thrown out without hearing due to procedural errors. But the taxpayers will pay for all that – I hope they remember all this at election time. 

The city of Chico will not make the same mistakes Yuba County made. City Asst Mgr Chris Constantin has repeatedly warned city staffers, as well as elected and appointed officials, that the city can’t put any specific purpose on their planned sales tax increase because that would require a 2/3’s vote of the public.  And I think their surveys have shown very clearly that they will be lucky to get 51%. 

Their campaign so far, like CARD’s, has been to point out the failed state of our city infrastructure, the public safety concerns, and our growing population, telling us there’s not enough money to go on from here.

The answers to theses claims are as follows:

  1. our city infrastructure has been neglected while they’ve raised their own salaries and paid their pension deficit with our money
  2. public safety is at an all-time low because the city has declared a “shelter crisis designation” to get in on the gravy train of “the homeless industrial complex” 
  3. our population is growing because the city keeps approving development. And now they’re talking about buying water from Paradise to take the pressure off our ground water supply? Why do they continue to approve subdivisions for which there is no water?  Because if they stopped approving all this new development they’d lose all those developer fees and the resulting new property taxes. 

Our city staff are a bunch of junkies – money junkies. I know public workers – they tend to spend money just like the agencies they work for. The new job requires a bigger, fancier house and lifestyle (watch “Fun With Dick and Jane”, the old version). These people are as over their heads as the economy. They can’t stop making more money, they’re up to their necks in debt. 

So while we raise a glass to the folks who fought Measure K, we better be getting ready to fight our own battle. 

 

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

City staff using Camp Fire to justify sewer rate increase

1 Feb

According to a rambling letter from Stephanie Taber, somebody is running a survey to determine whether “the voters” want to support a sales tax increase for street maintenance. I’ve been waiting for such a survey, but of course I know they won’t sent it or call it to me. These consultants very carefully vet their audience and contact those who are most likely to support these increases. It’s not an attempt to see what people want, but to plant ideas in their heads, and talk them into coughing up more money.

Right now the city is using a very embedded local media to run their initial campaign. Public works director Eric Gustafson was on the news recently, showing us floating piles of poop down at the sewer plant, trying to tell us the Camp Fire evacuees are putting a strain on our sewer system.

Here’s my first question – why didn’t any of this come up during past discussions of new subdivisions? Why not during the approval of Air BNB? 

I’ve heard them discuss the sewer plant – a year and a half ago, at a discussion of  cost allocation,  the sewer plant manager complained that salaries and benefits are eating up all the money at the sewer plant and they would need a rate increase or the sewer fund would go into deficit. Looking at the latest version of the city of Chico budget shows the sewer plant fund is running in deficit. 

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

The sewer budget is divided into different categories. I used the ‘F’ search to scan down for each mention of sewer fund activity. As of July 2018 most of the totals are shown in parenthesis, which means “deficit”. Those funds not shown in deficit only have about  $100,000 or less. But look at the revenues they take in – where does all that money  go? Look at the top of the expenditures page 61/312 – “debt principal” and “debt interest”. 

That’s allll about the pensions, Honey!

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/01/18/heres-how-the-city-hides-payments-toward-the-pension-deficit/

Again, on page 62 – another couple of million goes to “debt principal” and “debt interest”. 

Millions of dollars for their pension funds, but no money to run the plant? 

Gustafson contradicts himself in the news story too.

Before the fire, Chico’s wastewater treatment facility processed about 6 million gallons of waste on average per day. Since then that amount has gone up to 7 million. Biosolid production has gone up 70%, while overall waste and sewage flows are up 17%.

Gustafson tells Action News Now, the facility is able to handle a capacity of 12 million gallons of waste per day. But, the city is currently equipped to take on an amount over a decade of growth, rather than overnight.”

He says capacity is 12 million gallons, but complains that waste production has gone up to 7 million. That leaves room for quite a bit more poo poo. What is this man trying to pull here?

“‘If those increased flows continue, there will be increased costs, and we will have to go to council for increased funds,’ Gustafson says.

“Chico Public Works is now working on a rate analysis to determine if a rate increase should happen to help with waste processing costs and fixing the 90-year-old underground plumbing system that supports the city.”

Now they’re mentioning the 90-year-old underground plumbing system that supports the city?  This never comes up during discussions of approving ginormous new subdivisions. 

Here’s the real reason:

“Chicoans now pay the lowest sewer rates out of all cities in the area: $22.98 per month. Compare this to Orland’s $26.10, Sacramento’s $32 and Napa’s $42.83.

Chicoans still pay the same rate, but new development has added many, many new customers since the rate was increased. And, again, the sewer plant is only operating at a little more than half capacity.

See how these people try to spin a story to make us think we need to raise our own taxes? 

This is what Steven Greenhut is talking about in “PLUNDER!” These employees are in position to tell us whatever they want. They have a local media that is more than willing to run their propaganda campaign. It’s up to the rest of us to pay attention and say something.

From Ch 12 Action News Now

CHICO SEWAGE NUMBERS SPIKE POST-CAMP FIRE

The amount of human waste production in Chico has shot up by amounts normally seen over a 10 year period.

Posted: Jan. 29, 2019 11:46 AM
Updated: Jan. 30, 2019 10:06 AM

CHICO, Calif. – The City of Chico has seen a population explosion, and it’s not just the roads that are impacted. Post-Camp Fire sewage production numbers are at an all-time high.

Action News Now reporter Stephanie Lin sat down with Public Works’ Eric Gustafson for a closer look at the cause behind all the waste. He reports seeing an average of a million gallons extra per day being pushed through the city’s treatment facilities.

“Multiple family members or friends are staying in one household,” Gustafson explains, “so that’s double the flow from one household but the [charged sewage] rate is still the same.”

The same idea applies to those living in RVs connecting to sewer hook-ups on one shared property. Then there’s all the septage from Cal OES, FEMA, and PG&E base camps. Add all these sources together, and you’ve got one big costly problem.

“If those increased flows continue, there will be increased costs, and we will have to go to council for increased funds,” Gustafson says.

Chico Public Works is now working on a rate analysis to determine if a rate increase should happen to help with waste processing costs and fixing the 90-year-old underground plumbing system that supports the city.

Chicoans now pay the lowest sewer rates out of all cities in the area: $22.98 per month. Compare this to Orland’s $26.10, Sacramento’s $32 and Napa’s $42.83.

Before the fire, Chico’s wastewater treatment facility processed about 6 million gallons of waste on average per day. Since then that amount has gone up to 7 million. Biosolid production has gone up 70%, while overall waste and sewage flows are up 17%.

THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE –  Gustafson tells Action News Now, the facility is able to handle a capacity of 12 million gallons of waste per day. But, the city is currently equipped to take on an amount over a decade of growth, rather than overnight. 

Public Works plans to present their rate analysis to city council late spring. Once that is done, the public will also be able to chime in.
No rate changes will happen until there is at least a 51% approval. Conversations also continue with state legislators to hopefully find a fast fix to the sewage problem.

In the meantime, the work continues to maintain the expected quality of life for Chicoans and their new neighbors.

“We want Paradise folks to know they are welcome in Chico, and hope they can find a bit of normalcy,” Gustafson emphasizes.

Don’t be fooled – City of Chico’s proposed tax measure is all about the pensions

21 Jan

The city of Chico is ramping up their tax increase campaign, with city staffers soliciting the news paper for stories about funding shortages, and lately, using the Camp Fire as an excuse to seek a revenue measure.

https://www.chicoer.com/2019/01/15/theres-been-more-traffic-in-chico-since-the-camp-fire-and-thats-not-changing-anytime-soon/

No mention of the dramatic uptick in home sales and how the outrageous price increases will affect property tax valuations. No mention of the effect that 29,000 people swooping down on your retail sector is going to have on sales tax revenues. No mention of what full capacity motels will contribute in “Transient Occupancy” or “bed tax”. Property, sales, and TOT are three of the four biggest revenues our city receives. The fourth is Utility Tax, and that’s going up with increases in PG&E rates. It’s a win-win all the way around for City of Chico, but they cry poormouth and want a revenue measure.

Stand up people, and let them know what you think of this attempt to embezzle more taxpayer money into their own pockets. I sent the following letter to the Enterprise Record this morning. 

City staff says traffic congestion and accidents are up in Chico and asks more money for road improvements, police and fire staffing. Despite an unprecedented increase in property tax valuations, sales tax receipts and TOT due  to Camp Fire evacuees, council has directed staff to look into putting a revenue measure on an upcoming ballot.

Dan Walters opines most local revenue measures are “all about the pensions.” I agree. The mayor of Capitola admitted, “ if we put a measure across for pensions it would be doomed for failure immediately”, so their November ballot measure read “to help fund youth programs, protect parks, beaches and open space, and support local businesses.”

Pension liability is the difference between what is paid into the California Public Employee Retirement System, and what employees expect to get in retirement. City of Chico employees pay less than 10 percent of their pension cost, while the taxpayers pay roughly 30 percent. That leaves the city an unfunded liability of over $129 million.

In 2018 city staff made a $7,598,561 annual payment toward their pension liability. Part of that money is allocated from each department fund, based on total department compensation. The rest of the annual payment is allocated from the General Fund.  Council approved allocations are how they transfer money from one fund to another in order to avoid spending restrictions – like spending public safety or road funding on their unfunded pension liability.

Despite any promises to the contrary,  the city’s proposed revenue measure is all about the pensions.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

 

Here’s how the city hides payments toward the pension deficit

18 Jan

I got the agenda for next Wednesday’s City of Chico Finance Committee meeting – if you want to know how your money is being spent, these are worth a read:

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/1.23.19FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

The agenda includes the Finance Department’s monthly report – make yourself read through the gobblety-gook of numbers and acronyms, it gets easier to pick things out. Use Google search for any term (including acronyms) that you don’t understand. 

I like to scan down and look for certain things – I like to see where revenues come from, I like to see where they’re spent. They move this money like peas under nut shells – certain funds are restricted to certain uses, but somehow they manager to “allocate” money from one fund to another, and then they can spend it the way they please.

You need to remember this when the city starts talking about their revenue measure. Right now the talking heads – including members of the public that have too much influence over council – are arguing between a sales tax increase measure and a bond. Whichever way they  go, they will need to decide between a “special” tax and a “general” tax. Currently, a “special” tax requires 2/3’s voter approval, while a “general” tax only requires a simple 51 percent. 

But it doesn’t really matter in the end, because once they get the money, they can “allocate” it right into their own pockets. 

Look at the report and watch for the word “pension”. Right away I find “CalPERS UAL payment” – that’s for the unfunded pension liability – the difference between what public employees have paid for their retirement and what they expect to get. Last May city Finance Director Scott Dowell informed the Finance Committee that the city’s UAL is over $129 million. 

The UAL payment is made once a year. This payment is separate from the regular pension payments made monthly – those are mushed in with salaries and benefits, you’d have to ask Dowell exactly what the city pays per month. 

The 2018 pay out for the UAL is $7,598,561. That’s seven million, five hundred and ninety-eight thousand, five hundred and sixty-one dollars. Say it out loud a few times, you pay for it.

Because this money doesn’t come from the employees. They pay anywhere from two percent to nine percent of their monthly pension costs. The taxpayers float another 25 – 30 percent. The rest makes up the floating liability. Here’s how the city of Chico transfers this liability onto the backs of the taxpayers.

When I asked Scott Dowell where the money for these payments comes from I got the following answer:

Fund 903 has two inflows:

1.       Each City fund that has payroll is charged a percentage of payroll for the applicable share of the estimated annual unfunded liability payment.  That amount is transferred to Fund 903 from each applicable fund.  These transfers are used to pay the annual unfunded liability payment to CalPERS out of Fund 903.

2.       The second inflow is a direct transfer from the General Fund to the Fund 903 approved by the City Council.  There was an initial transfer from the General Fund to Fund 903 of $541,455 for the year ending June 30, 2017.

Let’s look at that.

1.        this is how they hide the payment – “transfers” – they take payroll money. Look at the budget, you see “salaries and benefits” in each department’s expenditures, nothing about paying down the UAL.

2.        and there it is – “a direct transfer from the General Fund  to the Fund 903 approved by the City Council.”

The General Fund is a cookie jar with no restrictions. I’ve sat at meetings and watched money being transferred from other, restricted funds, into the GF, so they can spend the money the way they want. This is “allocation.” 

So when they tell you a  tax measure will be devoted to “street maintenance” or “public safety,” here’s what that means. 

  • CalPERS unfunded pension liability payment for 2018 – $7,598,561.00
  • Roughly half goes to “Safety” (cops and fire) – $3,660,240.00
  • An increase over last year ($6,547,673) of $1,055,888.00

 

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association taking Yuba County to court over fraudulent tax revenue Measure K

27 Dec

In November the voters of Yuba County barely passed Measure K, a 1 cent/.01 sales tax increase. The measure read as follows:

To maintain and protect essential services such as 9-1-1 emergency medical/fire response; improving wildland fire containment; maintaining 24-hours sheriff’s patrol; attracting/ retaining jobs, businesses, and qualified sheriff deputies; and other essential services, shall the measure to establish a 1 cent sales tax for 10 years in unincorporated Yuba County, providing an estimated $4,300,000 annually requiring accountability, citizens’ oversight/ audits, and all revenue controlled locally, be adopted?”

California law currently requires a 2/3’s vote to pass a “special tax” for revenues that will be set aside for a specific purpose. But Yuba County ran Measure K as a general measure, only requiring 51% of the vote, even while telling the voters that the money would dedicated to public safety. You’ll note, they don’t mention services such as street maintenance or library funding, but specifically mention “emergency medical/fire response, wildland fire containment, and sheriff’s patrol…” 

There is a weird section about “retaining jobs, businesses…” – I’ll say, this measure was at the very least poorly written in a direct attempt to confuse the voters. But I think the specific mention of safety services should mean it requires 2/3’s voter passage. Of course I’m not a lawyer.

Luckily the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has plenty of lawyers on staff, and a couple of vigilant Yuba County businessmen were quick to ask for help. HJTA retained a Sacramento law firm to file an action against the County of Yuba to stop the implementation of the tax. 

From Lou Binninger, at the Territorial Dispatch in Yuba County:

https://www.eterritorial.com/47-guest-writers/lou-binninger/14419-measure-k-challenged

On Friday December 21, 2018, the Sacramento law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk filed an action in Yuba County Superior Court to invalidate Measure K – the Public Safety/Essential Services Protection Ordinance that appeared on the November 6 ballot. Measure K received 54.1% of the vote. The suit contends that the measure needed a two-thirds voter approval to become law.

The suit’s plaintiffs are Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), a nonprofit public benefit corporation comprised of over 200,000 taxpayers, Charlie Mathews, a local rice farmer and businessman, and John Mistler, former Yuba County Supervisor and owner of the Territorial Dispatch weekly newspaper. Defendants are the County of Yuba, its Supervisors, and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

54.1% – no wonder the Yuba County Board of Supervisors  decided to cheat! They knew they could not get the required two/thirds. 

Binninger also raises the question of using public funds to run a tax measure campaign.

“The suit does not address the county’s biased media campaign or the use of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to sway voters. Measure K opponents argued that both were illegal. The California Fair Political Practices Commission has jurisdiction over where monies are derived and how they are used for a campaign.”

The city of Chico is currently using hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to mount a revenue measure campaign, not only in $taff time, but in consultants. The Chico Area Recreation District has already hired various consultants, spending over $100,000 that I know of, to put their own revenue measure on the ballot. The school district has run at least four bond campaigns using taxpayer money. 

We need to hold city of Chico and CARD staff up to the law. We need to be ready to make our own complaints to the FPPC and court. And we need to be ready to take it beyond Butte County, because the county of Butte is not likely to take such complaints seriously – they’re in the same boat with Chico!

 

Text tax dropped – what will they try next?

17 Dec

Wow, it was good to see people get their panties in a  rumple over the “text tax” – upset the lobster pot a little.

Meanwhile, according to Rueters, “protesters angry over gas taxes and the high cost of living have been blocking roads across France, impeding access to fuel depots, shopping malls and some airports.” People have been killed, I don’t know how many. An organizer complained on Deutsch Welle News that the government is leaving Parisiens like her with less money to spend, small businesses are failing as a result of both high gas prices and low sales. The French economy, she concluded, is tanking because of over taxation.  

Welcome to California. The California Public Utilities Commission, saying they want to use the money to support “low-income” programs, tried to tack another tax onto our cell service, wiggle it in among the stack of “fees” already listed in the fine print on the back of our bill. Thank goodness for the Federal Communications Commission, although, I don’t understand the ruling, I’ll take it. I don’t think they should be able to tax us by way of our utility bills, but I’m not running the circus.

And what a circus it is! Our taxes already provide transients with free cell phones, give me another straw for my camel’s back why don’t you? 

How soon we forget – I almost have. In 2012, the city of Chico tried to get the voters to approve a tax they’d been collecting illegally, a cell phone tax. Even after the tax had been declared illegal by way of a lawsuit in the 1990’s, cities all over California were still collecting it, the same man had to sue each city individually, including Chico, to make them stop collecting it. Instead of stopping collection, and refunding the money to users as is the law, current city councilor and former mayor Ann Schwab wrote a measure for the 2012 ballot to trick voters into making it legal. 

When friends and I approached voters at venues like the Chico Farmer’s Market, we were shocked to see how shocked people were about this tax – they’d never looked very closely at their bills. And you had to look very closely. So they couldn’t believe the city was actually taxing their cell phone usage, on a percentage of the total bill. They got mad pretty fast. The measure failed. The city had to give refunds. 

That scam and this recent ploy by the CPUC to tack another tax onto our phone bills reminds me – they know what’s legal and illegal, and they don’t care. They will try anything to get more revenues. Right now the city of Chico and CARD are using taxpayer money to hire consultants who conduct “surveys” and write leading ballot measures to try and trick the voters into raising their own taxes. Don’t fall for it. And write your letters to the editor now, tell them you’re not falling for it. Maybe we can save them (ourselves) the cost of another ballot measure.