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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

Oroville transfers $366,000 in Camp Fire money to Pension Stabilization Fund

5 Mar

PUBLISHED OROVILLE MERCURY NEWS:  | UPDATED: 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

“Let the games begin, or should I say, let the shell games continue.  On Feb. 19,  Oroville Financial Director Ruth Wright,  gave an update on Oroville’s city  budget. She caught my attention when I heard her say $366,000 in FEMA funds were applied to the “Pension Stabilization Fund.”

Oroville’s previous council decided to repurpose all “one-time money”, to this fund.  This year over $1 million was swept  away from city improvements and funneled into the  CALpers stabilization accounts.

For those that voted themselves a one percent tax increase in hopes of fewer crimes, street repairs, and clean parks, I fear you will be disappointed. It’s all about  the unsustainable CALpers fund. Oroville now has a one percent added-on sales tax plus a five percent Utility Users Tax. Look at the five utility bills you receive each month. Check out the UUT you are paying.

The city has been asked to repeal the five percent Utility Users Tax now that the one percent sales tax has passed.  City staff has recommended “no,” citing the city’s precarious financial situation. The council decided to delay that decision for a year.

I would predict there will be no repeal. The shell games will continue. The city will still be crying poor. New fees and tax proposals will be pursued. The proceeds will be used for CALpers contributions in a futile attempt to delay its inevitable collapse.

— Lorraine Christensen, Oroville”

“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.

 

 

 

 

Dan Walter: School officials and school unions are teaching students that it’s all right to run up credit card bills, blame others for overspending and then cross their fingers that someone will bail them out

11 Feb

After I wrote my analysis of CARD’s use of their expensive Cal Park Lakeside Pavilion facility, I read this piece by Dan Walter:

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/school-districts-set-poor-example-for-students/

Walters is talking about various California school districts, but what he says also applies to our local recreation district – ” it’s all right to run up credit card bills, blame others for overspending and then cross their fingers that someone will bail them out.”

That’s becoming standard public agency policy these days, and it’s not just the pensions, but poor spending decisions by policy makers. I mean, blatant decisions, like spend $385,000 on a remodel for council chambers, or paying a million borrowed dollars on a crapped out old building and then several hundred thousand fixing it. 

But most poor spending decisions seem to involve public salaries and benefits. Walter reports ” In 2017, when Sacramento Unified’s teachers were threatening to strike, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg mediated a new contract that gave teachers an 11 percent raise. Later, it emerged that the salary increases would come from a reserve set aside for pension fund payments.”

In Chico, both the city and CARD have set up “pension trust” funds, allocating money from other city funds, to pay down their pension deficit. this is in addition to what taxpayers already pay toward pensions on a monthly basis. We pay their payments monthly, and then we’re on the hook for an annual payment that increases every year – this year, $7,598,561.  Former CARD finance director Scott Dowell now runs the city finances, so he set up both funds. He says these funds save money by avoiding penalties from CalPERS. What it amounts to is embezzling money from one fund to another so you can spend it any way you want. 

In Sacramento, contrary to the  rules for one of these “trusts”, they spent the money to give their teachers an 11 percent raise. Of course, you know what those raises are going to do to those teachers’ pensions, right?

As soon as Chico Unified passed Measure K in 2016, district finance mangler Kevin Bultema told the board they were still looking at deficits caused by raises given teachers. He told me in an e-mail that if they didn’t get more money they’d cut programs. 

Walter’s point in this piece is that the schools are setting a poor example for the kids. I’d say,  government in general is setting a poor example for everybody. 

 

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.

Book In Common: PLUNDER! How Public Employees are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, by Steven Greenhut.

25 Jan

I’d been waiting over a week for a book I’d ordered online that should have been delivered within a couple of days. I kept checking my PO box, by this past Monday, I worried it had got lost. Yesterday it finally arrived – well, I got it yesterday. I’m guessing it arrived at Chico post office about a week ago.

It was too big for my PO box, I know the routine – they put a key in your box that goes with one of the big boxes in front of the annex. I retrieved the package from the big box and immediately noticed – a postal worker had scrawled a box number in big black letters across the front of the package, unfortunately, it wasn’t my box number. My correct box number was listed in the address box on the front of the package, neat and tidy.  Postal worker transposed the numbers, in big black writing, so the key went to somebody else’s box.

Here’s where human decency comes in. Somebody else got my package, saw it wasn’t for them, and put it back in the stream. They may even be the same person who wrote the correct number above the transposed number. 

When this happened at my house, my neighbors got my packages. Both packages were clearly marked with the correct address, but mail man delivered them to my neighbors. Neither neighbor bothered to return the package to my clearly marked box on the street, both opened the packages, even though they were addressed to someone else. We got the packages back because my husband went door-to-door. 

Neither neighbor apologized for opening our packages, we let it go and stopped having stuff shipped to our home. 

Of course Christmas is a horrible time to get or send packages, we all know that. But I order a lot of household goods from an online seller in Vermont, and I had to have some stuff delivered in the first weeks of December. Right in the middle of the flood of evacuees driven out by the Camp Fire. But my package had a tracking number, I watched it move slowly across the US, and then I saw it had been delivered to Chico Post Office on Vallombrosa. But it wasn’t in my PO box, I kept waiting. Finally I went in very early one morning to ask for it. The man who called me up to the counter wouldn’t take the tracking number I’d written down, or look at the message on my phone that said the package had been delivered. He turned and disappeared into the back – which was a mess of packages laying all over the floor – and when he came back 15 minutes later he said there was no package. 

I looked him in the eye and shoved the tracking number at him and said real nice but firm, “please check the tracking number.”

He was huffy but he took the slip of paper. This time he was gone for 10 minutes, but by Gumm, he brought me my package. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind but the line behind me was starting to go out the door, so I said Thank You! with a big shit-eating grin and got the hell out. 

My family has received Christmas packages that have been ripped open, stolen from, and taped back together, so I  guess I was lucky to get my package intact.

Now the book, mis-marked by a post office employee. I’m getting sick and tired of the level of service we get from public workers. We bought a house in Paradise in exchange for an old rental we sold in Chico. My son was living in it at the time of the fire, luckily he had gone to work before the fire had hit town, and was safe. I’m thankful for that, but dealing with the county in the aftermath hasn’t been the least of our worries.

We were quick to send in our ROE – Right of Entry – so the county could get going with the clean-up. I understand the clean-up will take a long time, but when we didn’t hear anything about our ROE, I e-mailed them asking if it had been received. A fellow named Matt called my husband a few days later in response to the e-mail, saying we needed to submit a new insurance declaration from our policy, the old one we sent had expired when our policy turned over recently. They knew that for over a month, but didn’t contact us until we inquired about it. Is that going on all over Paradise?

And then yesterday we received a packet, sent in a custom “Butte Recovers” envelope, with  custom stationery inside, a letter telling us how important it was to complete the ROE form. They had included the entire form, over half a dozen pages. The letter was not addressed to us, it was a form letter, so I’m guessing they sent one to each and every address that had burned in the fire. 

How much did that cost? At 50 cents a letter? I’m guessing at least a few thousand bucks. Not to mention the custom printed stationery. How about $taff time, folding all those papers and shoving them in those envelopes, then running them through the stamp machine?

Here’s the irony I’ll leave you with – the book I ordered – PLUNDER! How Public Employees are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation, by Steven Greenhut.

Think the post office workers knew what was in my package? 

I’ll describe Greenhut as a government watchdog, journalist, and public advocate. His articles have appeared in papers like the Orange County Register, LA Times, San Diego Union Tribune. This book was written in 2009 – before I started blogging about what’s going on in Chico, before I ever even heard of the pensions. So, it’s history for me, finding out exactly how public employees garnered their power and position. 

I’m calling this our BOOK IN COMMON, if you’d like to get a  copy, I bought mine used for 99 cents, cost $3.99 to ship. It’s in great condition, and so far I’ve enjoyed reading the forwards by Congressman Tom McClintock and Mark Bucher, who co-authored a late-nineties attempt at requiring unions to “at least ask members before using their money for politics…”

So come on along, learn some recent history, maybe find out what needs to be done to turn back the tide of entitlement that is drowning our state.