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Chico Chamber says if we want usable roads and responsible cops we need to shake down with a revenue measure

28 Jan
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Biscuit snoops out another homeless camp in Bidwell Park.  If my husband were a member of Chico PD he’d get extra salary for Biscuit.

My husband and I noticed the bums vacated the park during the inclement weather, but predicted, correctly, they’d be back as soon as the rain stopped.

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There in the front of the trash pile you can see some scorched items – my husband said it was a partially burned pillow and what looked like clothing or bedding.

As soon as I saw this, I thought of the people who were fatally burned in their tent, just a block from my house, on a chilly winter morning a few years ago. They’d been drinking heavily, fell asleep, and the camp fire they had made inside their tent had caught their bedding and immolated them.

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This abandoned hobo camp is just off the main trail. in a well-worn path.

It’s also alarming because it’s within a mile of my house, in a heavily overgrown section of the park, easily prone to fire. This isn’t the first time my husband has come across the remains of a camp fire gone out of control – once we encountered a burned section of grass, at least 12 by 12 feet, right off the entrance to the park from our neighborhood.

The Ponderosa Fire this past Summer was started by a transient who was living illegally at a campground.

The City of Chico has essentially deputized park rangers, given them guns, in fact, required them to carry guns.  Critics predicted that the rangers would become part of the police force and be given other tasks around town. I don’t know if this is true, but I have yet to see or hear about the kind of sweeps they conduct regularly in Redding.

This section of park was cleaned not a month ago by a community group. That is not a solution, it’s enabling behavior. There is too much enabling behavior here. Just recently I saw a piece on the tv news about Salvation Army offering a liaison service for people who need social services. Wake UP! We already spend more than half our county budget on the social services departments, with a $63 million budget for Behavioral Health, and we still need to fund these private agencies (yes SA gets public funding) to act as liaison?

I don’t report the camps anymore – they just send the feel-good volunteer group – complete with $100,000/year staffer – to clean it up, and use it as another example of why the city needs more money. The Chamber of Commerce has launched their anticipated campaign for a sales tax increase – why would I want to give them more ammo?

What we need is a dedicated group to fight the propaganda blitz with facts.  Get your tennis rackets ready, and maybe get that old garbage bag suit you made for the Gallagher show.

 

 

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Why do we keep paying consultants to tell us the same thing – we will have to bribe airlines to come here

11 Dec

I finally took airport mangler Sherry Miller up on her offer to drive out to Chico Municipal Airport and check out the DVD from the November 8 “special” airport commission meeting.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2017/11/15/mutineer-sherry-miller-says-i-have-to-make-an-appointment-and-drive-out-to-the-airport-if-i-want-to-see-the-video-she-promised-to-have-on-the-website/

I realized it had been exactly one month since the meeting, and I wondered, why am I doing this? My husband reminded me, this woman said, in two different e-mails, that if we couldn’t make the meeting it would be on video on the website to watch later. When a giant dumper opened up on the night of the meeting, I thought, why drag myself out in that, when I can watch the video in my own house tomorrow. The big meeting room at City Hall is all set up to videotape meetings, the videos of city council meetings are usually available the next day.

But Miller immediately reneged on her promises to have the video loaded onto the website, citing technical problems. When I pressed her about having promised a video she offered me the copy, but told me I had to make an appointment and drive to the airport to get it.

So I ground my teeth all the way across town, with real zeal as we drove out Cohasset Road, which is lined with garbage on either side. That is a pretty vital economic corridor, lots of viable businesses, but you’d never know that given the view from the road – asphalt pitted with potholes and cracks, narrow and broken on the edges, no visible maintenance. Weeds on either side, broken fences – Cohasset Road is the textbook definition of “blight”.  I kept thinking – this is what people like Governor Swarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey saw when they flew into CMA. Is that why President Barack Obama landed in Redding and drove south to view damage from wild fires a few years back?

The airport itself looks like post war Berlin.  Here’s a scene from a great old Jimmy Cagney movie – One, Two Three – with footage of East Berlin from 1961. It actually looks nicer in some parts than Chico Airport.

Empty lots, dotted with weeds, trash, even dumped asphalt and cement chunks. The parking lot next to the terminal, which is supposed to be for “rental fleet vehicles” is un-surfaced and has weeds growing up through the old asphalt. The rental fleet cars fill the “visitor” parking lot in front of the terminal.

There were about half dozen people waiting around the ticket counter inside the terminal. There was talk of “boarding” as I walked toward Miller’s office. So I see the airport is still used for flights, even if there aren’t many people waiting to get on one.  I’m going to guess the rental car business is busier – I know people rent cars here to drive to Sacramento or San Francisco airports.

Miller’s quarters are over to the back corner of the terminal – two rooms, with a small, private office in the back. I could see her through the windows, sitting at her computer, but was greeted by her small dog. She put the dog out into a fenced area when she opened the door for us. I couldn’t help but be jealous – wouldn’t everybody like to take their dog to work, not have to worry about leaving a pet alone all day, have a friend to take your mind off your job once in a while. Must be nice.

There was a sign-out sheet, which I filled out, and then she handed me the DVD. My husband chattered about the dog, which lightened the atmosphere slightly. I forgot to ask if I’d have to make an appointment to turn in the DVD – and then I wondered, does she even come in to the office every day? Any entire days? Or is she only there by appointment?

Must be nice.

I’d asked to have it over the weekend because I knew it would be hard to sit down and watch it over night. When I got home, I realized – it might take a day or so to figure out how to watch it. I had wanted to download it into my computer so I could try to post it on youtube – silly me. The DVD wouldn’t even play in my computer. I fiddled with it for half an hour, and then my husband came up for a snack, and he fiddled with it some more. He got it to work for a few minutes, but when I tried to rewind it a few minutes later, it froze, and continued to do so every time we loaded it. 

I decided to try it in our DVD player. Same thing – a blue screen came up and froze. As with the computer, I just left it and walked away, did some chores. What a morning – I had a batch of dog food on the stove, 10 pounds of frozen chicken parts thawing in the sink, bread dough rising on the counter, and it  was a gorgeous day, so I was trying to catch up on some laundry. 

Tote that barge, and lift that bale!  Somebody’s got to WORK around here!

Patience was it’s own reward as I suddenly heard the sounds of a meeting starting up, chairman’s voice announcing the Pledge, yadda yadda, and then here comes the consultant from Intervistas. The picture reminded me of my grandma’s old tv – snow! So much for the Power Point Presentation.

I don’t know who hired the consultant – Chris Warren – or who paid him – I put that question to Ms. Miller, and I’ll post her answer when/if I get it.

Warren ran through a short recent history of the airlines. He talked about the deregulation of the late ’70’s, and how that resulted in many tiny airlines, all vying for customers, offering crazy deals. He didn’t mention – we had a lot of ugly airline accidents over those days, with poorly maintained planes, overworked pilots and air traffic controllers. 

Then oil prices spiked, he recalled, and things started to fall apart for the airlines. The 80’s and 90’s were an era of “Boom and Bust” for the airlines.

As of 2000, Warren went on, the smaller airlines collapsed, many “logos” disappeared. Bigger airlines went about gobbling up the littler companies, investors came in, making the industry more “stable.”

But that wasn’t  good for smaller community airports, because the smaller airlines weren’t coming in, and the bigger airlines switched from turbo prop engines to jets.

Well, here’s what was going on in Chico at that time.  Our airport was in deficit – the city had been pilfering the airport fund to pay salaries and benefits for non-airport employees. Instead of upgrading the runway to accommodate the new jets, they bottomed out the airport fund on themselves. It got so bad – just a few years ago, city mangler Mark Orme announced we were in danger of losing the fire fighting planes because we hadn’t kept our water tanks up to code. The federal government was going to pull funding that was necessary to keep operations running. 

According to Warren, airlines are putting planes in “bigger markets.” Turbo props are becoming museum pieces for hobby pilots. Too bad for Chico – we don’t have a runway to accommodate nor do we have passengers to fill a jet.  Warren reminded us that the airlines are not going to fly a jet half full. 

I recalled the tiny group that had been in the terminal when I picked up the DVD – I only saw a couple of suitcases. This is the Big Lie – a small group of proponents keep telling us there’s a demand for commercial air service, but there isn’t any. It’s just too easy to drive to Sacramento, where they are light years ahead of us on infrastructure, and leaving us farther behind every day. 

Warren cited a 2014 report in the Wall Street Journal – “Why Small Airports Are In Big Trouble…”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-huntsville-airports-ill-fated-bid-to-boost-service-1396901376

To reverse years of declining traffic and fewer flights, Huntsville International Airport last year decided to offer its few remaining airlines incentives if they enhanced service to the small, northern Alabama city.

The city of Huntsville wrote up a plan to offer up to $5 million to airlines that “added flights, lowered fares, or otherwise encouraged” people to fly out of that airport.

Unfortunately the full article is not available, but there’s my segue – that’s where the consultant was leading the conversation.

Warren said that despite this trend away from smaller airports, there are “tools” the city could use to get commercial service in Chico. The first three are government grant programs – but he as quickly dismissed these avenues because we either wouldn’t qualify or they were a lot of work with little return. 

He cut quickly to the chase, just as the DVD was starting to freeze up on me again – a “revenue guarantee.”

The DVD was so bad at this point, I wouldn’t have understood what he was talking about if a previous consultant hired by the city had not explained the same scam. They want us to guarantee them – sit down – $600,000 in passenger fares, or pay them the difference. 

Again, I’ll say – there were less than half a dozen people at the terminal, and I don’t even know if they all had tickets to board. 

Warren went on to say, these funds can’t come out of the airport fund, they have to come from local government or the private sector. He chirped that if people fly “then the community doesn’t have to pay!”

And then the DVD froze and I gave up. I know he went on in depth about how they could convince the community to get behind this scam. The previous consultant suggested we put staffers in pilot and stewardess uniforms and send them to venues like Farmer’s Market – show people FLYING IS FUN!

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/06/25/air_france_flight_447_and_the_safety_paradox_of_airline_automation_on_99.html

 

So I was interested in hearing what this consultant had to pitch, but the DVD was a wash. 

The airport is just another piece in the city’s pending sales tax increase campaign. They are promising unicorns and rainbows when we need better schools and jobs. And, one of the players behind “Jet Chico” is Howard Slater, one of Chico’s biggest old school developers. Here’s my guess – he wants the city of Chico to pay him to develop the airport. 

Now I have to make plans to drive out to the airport to return the dysfunctional DVD. I’ll post whatever answers I get from Miller. 

 

Oroville council, cops, take 10 percent salary cuts in face of bankruptcy – meanwhile, raises all around for Chico management!

6 Oct

We were just talking about Oroville’s financial problems  – here’s their action plan:

http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20171005/oroville-city-council-takes-voluntary-10-percent-pay-cut

As you know, Chico City Council just approved sweet new raises for city management, more than enough to cover their slightly increased PERS shares. With over $180 million in unfunded pension liabilities, the city’s mandated extra “side fund” payments are now over $500,000 a year and expected to increase to $1.5 million within the next couple of years. And come on – at that  rate, we’ll never get rid of the pension bomb.  

Did you know our city council get salaries? Last I heard, their salaries are roughly the same as reported for O-ville, although, I think, a little more. In the article, it says Oroville councilors can also opt for a health benefits package – in Chico, those packages have cost anywhere between $8,000/year and $21,000/year. When I last checked, Ann Schwab and Mark Sorensen were taking the most expensive packages available. Here’s the scam – they pay 2 percent of their council salaries – less than $1,000 a year, do the math – for these packages. 

What kind of package do you have? How much do you pay for it? 

In Hemet, which was left in ashes by Brian Nakamura, Mark Orme, and Chris Constantin, the local Taxpayers Association put an ordinance on the 2010 ballot that ended health benefits for city council members. The voters passed it with over 75% of the vote. It cost the HTA about $7,000 to float two ordinances – the second, term limits for city councilors, also flew through with about 75% of the vote.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2014/04/19/hemet-taxpayers-association-eliminated-health-benefits-for-council-members-and-instituted-term-limits/

The city shall not pay for, fund, or otherwise contribute to, the premiums, charges, fees or other costs of health benefits made available by the city to elected city officials either during their term or after their term of office.

Just something to think about, as the city of Chico plunges further into debt and continues to cut services, cut services, cut services…

 

 

O-ville talking bankruptcy? Time for public employees to take a walk in “the real world”

30 Sep

Thanks again Dude, for this link – I’ve been too busy to read the papers lately, get a load of this story from the Oroville Mercury Register – Oroville going bankrupt?

http://www.orovillemr.com/article/NB/20170927/NEWS/170929752

“The city’s finance director Ruth Wright told the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) finance and administration committee last week that the word “bankruptcy” was being thrown around, though not at council meetings.”

Not at council meetings? Council still in denial? Well, here in Chico, we have a $186 million deficit, and council is fully aware. So they handed out raises to top management! Now that’s a plan!

“The city [Oroville] cut down its $1 million deficit to achieve a balanced budget this year but is not exactly thriving financially, operating with low staffing levels and recently negotiating a 10 percent pay cut for police, with more negotiations to come.”

A 10 percent pay cut for police? You could expect Chico PD to walk out on any such negotiations – they threaten to cut service – which is essentially a STRIKE – if they don’t get raises.

Oroville’s finance director Ruth Wright says CalPERS is the problem and CalPERS needs to fix it.

“’All cities and counties cannot keep up with the increases,’ she said. ‘I think it’s up to them (CalPERS). They need to do something. They need to do a better job investing.’ The organization announced in December that discount rates would drop from 7.5 to 7 percent over the next three years in an effort to make the fund more stable, but with impacts to state and local governments.

“’CalPERS has a few levers to pull in dealing with pensions, having to do with discount rates,” said Wayne Davis, head of public affairs for the pension fund. “We’re very much aware of what lowering the discount rate means.’”

Well,  “we all” don’t know what he’s talking about – “lowering the discount rate…”

From CalPERS – straight from the horse’s ass –

https://www.calpers.ca.gov/page/newsroom/calpers-news/2016/calpers-lower-dis

“Lowering the discount rate, also known as the assumed rate of return, means employers that contract with CalPERS to administer their pension plans will see increases in their normal costs and unfunded actuarial liabilities. Active members hired after January 1, 2013, under the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act will also see their contribution rates rise. Normal cost is the cost of pension benefits for one year.”

Remember, I asked Chico Unified School District finance chief Kevin Bultema about this, right after the passage of Measure K in last November’s election, and he said the district would need to find more funding to pay pension costs or cut programs for the kids.

So, of course, this means a bigger deficit for Oroville, and don’t forget Chico.

“Oroville’s finance director said the number of city representatives coming to confront CalPERS has been growing. At the meeting last week, officials from cities such as Chico, Santa Rosa, Laguna Hills, Lodi, West Sacramento, Vallejo, Yuba City, Hayward, Manteca and Concord were there. A legislative representative for the League of California Cities also participated.”

Well, that’s funny – this hasn’t come up in the Chico paper, which is edited by the same David Little that edits the Mercury Register. Neither have we talked as a town about the $186 million deficit, or the $500,000/year “side payments” (in addition to the regular premium payments), which will balloon to over $1.5 million/year within the next three years.

And the sky is the limit, since our elected morons – both Chico and Butte County – keep giving out raises as though everything’s just rainbows and lollipops. They’ve acknowledged the mess we’re in – because they want us to pay more taxes.

The reporter finally talked to Chico finance mangler Scott Dowell – formerly with Chico Area Recreation District, which has a $1.7 million deficit for less than 35 employees. Dowell doesn’t think Chico will go into bankruptcy, but has been trying to work with CalPERS.

“Dowell was hoping the pension fund representatives would do some research on the possibility of freezing cost-of-living adjustments, meaning retirees would receive a flat rate every year. They would no longer receive additional money — currently up to 2 percent of their annual salaries — to account for changing inflation.

The other concept was switching all employees onto the same kind of pension plan as employees who started after Jan. 1, 2013. The Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act went into effect then, offering fewer benefits to new employees. That could mean the difference between retiring at 55 and 62, Dowell said.”

Both no-brainers as far as I’m concerned, and “the way it works in the real world”.

 

Council to confirm $taff appointments – get a load of these salaries! How will we pay for the pensions?

28 Sep

From next week’s council agenda:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=273

CONFIRMATION OF DEPARTMENT HEAD AND DEPUTY DIRECTOR APPOINTMENTS

Section 605 of the City Charter states that the appointment of department heads is subject to confirmation by the City Council.  In order to meet this requirement, City Council is being presented with the employment agreements for Administrative Services Director (Scott Dowell); Assistant City Manager (Chris Constantin); Chief of Police (Michael O’Brien); City Clerk (Deborah Presson); City Manager (Mark Orme); Deputy Director – Finance (Barbara Martin); Public Works Director – Engineering (Brendan Ottoboni); Public Works Director – Operations and Maintenance (Erik Gustafson). (Report – Mark Orme, City Manager)

Recommendation :A. In compliance with Government Code Section 54953(c)(3), the Legislative Body shall first orally report a summary of the recommendation for final action related to the employment agreements for: Administrative Services Director, Assistant City Manager, Chief of Police, City Clerk, City Manager, Deputy Director – Finance, Public Works Director – Engineering, and Public Works Director – Operations and Maintenance: “The City Manager is proposing to modify the employment agreements with Scott Dowell as the Administrative Services Director, Chris Constantin as the Assistant City Manager, Michael O’Brien as the Chief of Police, Barbara Martin as the Deputy Director-Finance, Brendan Ottoboni as the Public Works Director – Engineering, and Erik Gustafson as the Public Works Director – Operations and Maintenance; and The City Council of the City of Chico is proposing to modify the employment agreements with Deborah Presson as City Clerk and Mark Orme as City Manager; and The Legislative Body is proposing to modify the appointment of Scott Dowell with an annual salary of $132,873, Chris Constantin with an annual salary of $185,000, Michael O’Brien with an annual salary of $154,679.99, Deborah Presson with an annual salary of $144,039.67, Mark Orme with an annual salary of $207,500, Barbara Martin with an annual salary of $117,541.49, Brendan Ottoboni with an annual salary of $138,009.37, and Erik Gustafson with an annual salary of $135,397.50.” B. The City Manager recommends Council Confirmation of the modifications as indicated above. C. The Mayor, on behalf of the City Council, recommends Council confirmation of the modifications as indicated above for the City Manager and the City Clerk.

UPDATE: As a friend of mine points out, “So Orme now makes $9,000 more than last year’s contract.  Maybe one block could have been resurfaced and that would last decades. Whereas, in Orme’s wallet — it goes for a 1%er lifestyle.  And Constantin was hired to do 3 jobs: finance, HR and administrative director.  Now he does one and gets more $$ now than he did for a couple of years! “

I’ll add, Debbie Presson has a bigger $taff now, does very little work herself, but has got about $10,000 in raises, just over the past couple of years. When asked to pay more of their pension, management $taff demanded and got raises that more than covered their new portion.

Here’s my prediction – Presson is spiking up and will retire within the next year.

Who is at fault here? Well, us, cause we elected the $heissers on council who keep approving these contracts. 

City has no financial emergency policy, $taff suggests a policy for revenue measures

25 Sep

The report I got is not cut-and-pastable, you can read it for yourself here.

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket-9-27-17.pdf

I’ve again asked the city clerk’s office to send me a cut-and-pastable copy, there’s stuff in this report that needs to be discussed publicly. 

Those of us who paid attention watched council first deny and then flub their way through near-bankruptcy.  They hired an out-of-town gun to “fix” things, he gutted $taff and walked away having established unprecedented salaries for management and a policy that allowed management to pay less than 10 percent of their own pensions.

So yeah, we need a emergency plan, but what I see here is a plan to pay down their pensions. 

“pay down scheduled debt payments…” 

The city’s biggest debt schedule is the $185 million-plus they owe on the pensions. $taff is currently paying $500,000/year on that debt, but payments will go up to $1.5 million within the next few years. 

How will they find the money?

“This policy authorizes the city manager…to investigate…enhanced revenue sources…including…tax increase proposals…”

I don’t have time to re-type the whole report, and our $100,000-plus clerk $taff screwed up sending me the report – as I’ve established with Presson and Brinkley, the reports are supposed to be loaded in such a way that they cut-and-paste, but Stina Cooley, recently promoted to the position, apparently does not know this. Or is just trying to put one over, I don’t know. 

Read it for yourself. 

UPDATE: Sorry to be so testy when I posted the above from my phone, but I get so sick and tired of $taff. Stina Cooley has been with the city for a while now, recently took on some clerk duties, and ignored me when I asked her to resend the reports in “cut-and-paste” format. 

I know people don’t hit the links – Word Press puts eyes in the back of my head. I know a lot of people read the posts without hitting the links, and I use cut-and-paste to quote sections of the reports so they will see, in exactly so many words, what $taff is up to. 

So today I resent my request, and done as I should have done in the first place – cc’d Cooley’s supervisor Dani Rogers. I cc’d Mark Orme because I want to keep him abreast of his $taff’s performance. 

And of course Rogers responded very quickly that the reports would be converted to text, and then she sent me the link. 

These people get paid a lot of money to have some old landlady tell them how to do their job. 

Loyalton Calif cuts pensions – why can’t Chico do same?

27 Aug

Thanks to Jim for picking up this article, from the Los Angeles Times, about a little town not far from Chico.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-loyalton-calpers-pension-problems-20170806-htmlstory.html

I think we have a similar situation here. Early in the 2000’s, a city council including current county supervisors Maureen Kirk and Larry Wahl, at the behest of then city manager Tom Lando, signed an MOU with city employees, attaching salaries “to revenue increases, but not decreases…”  

Staff then went on a permits binge, permitting development all over town, houses piled into Grandma’s back yard, raising city revenues and salaries along with them. Staff got 14, 19, 22 percent raises over a very short period.  Lando’s own salary went from around $65,000 a year to over $120,000 a year within a very short time. 

When this scam was figured out by the public, they stopped it, but started paying the “employer paid member contribution” –  the city started paying most, even all of the employee’s pension share.

We’ve been screeching about that, so lately they just  raise the employee’s salary to cover their new pension share – they are determined that the taxpayer will foot the bill for these pensions (the following list is from 2012, remember, these people get cost of living increases) :

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2012/01/30/heres-why-lando-wants-to-raise-your-sales-tax/

Tom Lando hasn’t been pumping the sales tax increase lately, but I’m sure he’s behind it. Lately, in his position as Chico Area Recreation District Board member, he’s been pushing for a bond on our homes. It doesn’t matter which agency gets the money, as long as they pay their CalPERS deficit with it. 

Loyalton only had four employees – can we do the same thing? I think we can sue the city for the outrageous raises given these pensioneers – spiking – right before they retired, like Lando. But I’m not a lawyer. 

What do you think?