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City of Chico double ends us on our utilities, collecting Utility Tax on our total bill while adding franchise fees to our rates

31 Dec

If you watch the government steadily over time like I have the last 50 or so years, you see the contradictions and the outright lies. My favorite of late was Obama’s promise that we would not lose our health care providers under Obamacare.

So when Chico City management started repeating their Big Lie about the Camp Fire evacuees all landing on Chico  like a plague of locusts, I knew it was really all about pushing for the sales tax increase. In fact, at a Finance Committee presentation of the proposed measure, Ass City Mangler Chris Constantin actually said we should put it on the March ballot so we could “take advantage of the population influx.” He not only acknowledged then that the evacuees would be temporary, he also predicted that the economy would tank soon. That’s another blog.

But CARD got their parcel tax (Measure A) on the March ballot before the city could decide what to do with theirs, and knowing they would be stupid to have two tax measures on one ballot, the city decided to wait until November. That gives them more time to campaign anyway, since they can’t campaign for the measure once it has  been submitted and accepted for the ballot by the county clerk.

Brian Nakamura made the mistake of using taxpayer money to produce and distribute flyers promoting the city of Rancho Cordova’s tax measure, and that got him the can, so his former cronies will not make the same mistake.

http://www.kcra.com/news/rancho-cordova-faces-formal-campaign-mailer-complaint/28980752

So staff has to be creative, they need to create financial problems and then convince the taxpayers that they need to pay more money to solve them. They don’t want us to find out the real truth about city finances – whole funds are in arrears because they’ve been siphoning off money to pay down the pension liability. Look at the budget here,

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2019-20CityAnnualFINALBudget.pdf

and push “Control F” on your keyboard. Then type in the words, “pension” or “pension liability”, look at it for yourself if you don’t want to take my word for it. Then type in “gas tax” and be further outraged. 

I think you will see stuff that inspires you to write your own letter to the editor, here’s mine.

NOTE: Here’s a further irony I was not able to address in 250 words – they add a franchise fee that increases your rates, and then they use that total to figure the 5% Utility Tax. Sock it to me BABEE!

After a year of Chico staffers complaining that the Camp Fire evacuees were “straining” our services, we find a $20,000,000 “boost” in city coffers. Where did that come from?

Staff reports sales and bed tax were up, way up, during those months after the fire. Staff didn’t mention Utility Tax or the franchise fees that are tacked onto our utility bills. The city adds a 5% Utility Tax to your PG&E, Cal Water/sewer, and landline bills, taking $7,051,581 last year. With rate increases and new development, that goes up about $50,000/year. Think what a temporary population influx meant.

 A letter writer mentioned the trash tax or “franchise fee”.  The city also collects franchise fees from PG&E and Comcast. Last year the city added $1,102,674 to our trash bills and expects to collect about $1,600,000 in 2019-20. They tacked another $757,192 onto our PG&E bills and $899,942 to our cable tv bills. 

Shouldn’t these funds be used for street maintenance?  Last year staff used almost $400,000 in Comcast fees to remodel council chambers. These hidden taxes go into the General Fund, where they are available for any whim of council.

Council created the ordinances by which these taxes are added to our utility rates, and council can lower or eliminate them.  Ironically, they also created a “no price gouging” ordinance, but proceeded to make profit from the tragedy.  Let them know how you feel about that by claiming your annual Utility Tax Rebate, available from May 1 to June 30. Email the clerk at debbie.presson@chicoca.gov for details.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

 

Dave Howell: Chico ranks 50th worst financial risk out of 471 California cities

14 Nov

Dave Howell has been telling us about the CAFR – a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, a set of U.S. government financial statements comprising the financial report of a state, municipal or other governmental entity. Out of 471 cities of similar population, Chico was ranked 40th worst financially. 

Read more about CAFR here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comprehensive_annual_financial_report

Thanks for writing Dave, and I hope more people will chime in.

Of 471 cities, the state auditor ranked Chico 50th worst for financial risk. Chico is at high risk in four pension and OPEB categories. The most recently available CAFR indicates Chico has over $200 million in liabilities, most of that for CalPERs which assumes an unrealistic 7% discount rate.  Chico has runaway employee costs that must be reformed.Instead, council member Scott Huber criticizes council member Sean Morgan for not supporting a tax increase. Yet Morgan like the rest of the city council voted to move the sales tax increase forward. Tax increases will not solve runaway unfunded liabilities. The city council knows this which is why they will use the revenue from the sales tax to take on hundreds of millions in new debt resulting in future tax increase demands. Of course the PR firm the city is paying our hard-earned tax dollars to didn’t mention any of this to the registered voters they contacted for their survey used to word the ballot measure.

Instead of reforming runaway city employee costs, Huber, Morgan and the rest of the city council put us on a path of ruinous debt and future tax increases. This in a county with a 21% poverty rate where bureaucrats and other city employees can retire in their fifties with multi-million dollar pensions.

This is what happens when a clueless citizenry doesn’t hold an incompetent and corrupt city council accountable and is yet another example of how democracy is failing in our country.

Dave Howell, Chico 

These letters writers can smell a rat, even at the sewer plant

16 Oct

Sometimes I’m afraid that if I let my guard down for one minute the liars will win. There are more of them, and they get paid. I’m talking, of course, of our Downtown city $taff and their specious claims that the Camp Fire evacuees overran our town and are causing all kinds of “strain” on the system, necessitating a sales tax increase.

I’ll tell you this, I heard Chris Constantin tell a group at a Finance Committee meeting that we better jump on board with this increase while we have the Camp Fire refugees in town – he was talking about them like they were a herd of exotic cash cows, hardly a strain on the system.

I haven’t had a chance to look at last year’s sales tax revenues, but I’d bet my last $5, they’re way up, along with Utility Tax revenues. 

But both city manager Mark Orme and his partner in crime, Public Works Director  Eric Gustafson, have been pandering to the media with the repeated lie that the Camp Fire victims are causing all the city’s problems – Gustafson again crying about the sewer. The sewer is barely over half capacity, read the story again. And, look around you – the city has permitted new homes and apartments all over town – and that means permit fees and new property taxes.  And more money paid in sewer fees. 

Like letter writer Jim Hertl and Linda McCann, I know the truth to these claims – it’s the money. Staff not only wants a sales tax increase, they want to raise sewer fees on everybody. To pay for their fucking pensions, is the thing. 

And, as both writers point out, City of Chico staff was begging Paradise to hook up to our sewer system – what happened to that? Paradise opted out – and now the city of Chico has to come up with some other scheme to prop up a sewer fund that has been siphoned off to pay pensions for years. Along with the road fund, the park fund, and every fund on the city books. 

Thank you Jim Hertl and Linda McCann, for speaking up! We all need to start screaming at the top of our lungs – no tax or rate increase until the city manager and his staff are out, and new employees are hired who pay their own pensions.

In the Sunday E-R was an article that stated our sewer system is being “strained” by the population spike caused by the Camp Fire. If I recall, before the Camp Fire, there was talk of Chico treating ALL of Paradise wastewater because we had enough capacity at our treatment plant to do so. What happened, in the meantime, that our system is now being strained by the influx of 20,000 people from that same area? Is it just because of the “sudden influx”or are there other factors involved?— Jim Hertl, Chico

PUBLISHED:  

Jim Hertl brings up an interesting point regarding the “strain” on Chico’s sewer system. Even after the Camp Fire, the Paradise town council brought up the subject of sending our waste to Chico. Thankfully they opted to go with our own treatment plant. That would mean jobs for our people and give us control over our sewage.

Jim, I think the answer to you question can be summed up in one word: Money.

— Linda McCann, Paradise

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. 

 

CARD propaganda blitz amounts to a lot of false claims

15 Aug

Chico Area Recreation District is hosting a series of informational meetings about their tax proposal over the next month. The first meeting was held this past Tuesday evening. It was short and very informative, I hope more people will take 45 minutes or an hour to attend one or more of these meetings.  It’s a perfect opportunity to ask questions. All meetings are scheduled at the CARD Center on Vallombrosa.

  • August 21, noon
  • August 28, 7pm
  • September 5, noon
  • September 10, 8am

Tuesday’s meeting started at 6 pm and was over shortly before 7pm.   CARD manager Ann Willmann gave a power point presentation. It was a good look at the coming propaganda blitz CARD is about to unleash.

Willmann shared some interesting general information.

• Created in 1948 (71 years ago)
• Encompasses over 250 square miles, beyond City of Chico city limits
• Population served is 121,000
• Operated separately from the City of Chico
• Oversight by an elected 5-member board of directors

I didn’t know those first three things, so here already I learned something by going to a public meeting. But it didn’t take long for Willmann to get into the full-on pitch.

What CARD Does  –  Provide parks & recreation facilities. Enrich our residents’ quality of life. Promote health, wellness, learning and fun. CARD is one of the most utilized agencies in our area,with our parks, facilities, and programs serving thousands of people annually.”

Beyond, “provide parks & recreation facilities,” none of that can be proven. Frankly, I’d liked to have seen a number besides “thousands” of people served annually. “one of the most utililized agencies in our area…” Well, prove it. There are no attendance numbers in the budget reports either. Are they including agencies like law enforcement and public safety, the road department?

I think a common misconception about CARD is that they are responsible for all the parks in town, not true. The city owns all of Bidwell Park. CARD leases the Nature Center from the city, and is responsible for maintenance on that specific property. I don’t know whether they own or lease the ball fields under the same type of agreement. But, I found the following claims to be a stretch.

Our parks:
Reflect the quality of our community.  Oh, that’s not good. Many of our parks are in pretty disgusting condition.

Improve property values.  I think this is highly disputable. When you look at real estate listings, parks and other public attractions like schools and churches are considered problematic. Especially when security and lighting are lacking, as has been one of the main complaints about CARD  facilities. Another complaint has been lack of upkeep, which damages curb appeal for any home.

Contribute to education.   I do notice,  since they took over the Nature Center, “day camps” have been their biggest source of income.

Reduce crime.   That’s funny – Terry Cleland said transients were stealing out of the dugout at ball games. CARD will have to keep working on this one.

Attract businesses and create jobs  Attracts businesses? CARD uses tax dollars to subsidize programs that drive local businesses out of the market. For example, Off the Wall Soccer, a longtime popular indoor sports facility, went out of business last year after CARD renegged on a promise not to compete with OTW’s special 7 man teams. CARD already had an outdoor program, why move in on a local business? Because they can undercut anybody with the guarantee of tax dollars. CARD is a very big competitor for private daycare facilities, and even the local wedding industry.

Creates jobs? CARD provides poverty positions, in fact, most of their workers earn less than $30,000/year, get no benefits, and rely on AFDC and Medi-Cal to fill in the gaps. A few years ago, they cut their part-time workers to 28 hours or less to get out of paying Obamacare.

Willmann shared the results of CARD’s recent survey, here are the “priorities” listed by respondents:

• Reducing crime and homelessness in parks by
providing security guards to patrol parks
• Providing clean, safe parks and recreational
programs for all Chico area residents
• Upgrading parks with lighting, security,
parking, and other safety features
• Improving and maintaining park bathrooms

• Repairing/updating aging recreation centers,
playgrounds, sports fields, swimming pools,
and facilities that promote active and healthy
living and maintain recreational programs for
seniors and youth
• Ensuring accessibility of parks and recreation
for persons with disabilities
• Renovating/expanding parks, trails, and
recreation areas, and completing parks under
construction

Here Willmann went on the defensive, listing “challenges”

• Aging Facilities + Reduced Funding =
Deferred Maintenance
• Continue to address safety needs
• Upgrades needed to aging parks and
facilities
• Create and maintain health-related
programs for all-youth to our seniors
• Discussions and studies have been
conducted
• Financial impacts out of our control
• Fees collected are not enough

Aging facilities? Willmann said most of our  facilities are over 35 years old, that’s not true.  DeGarmo Park, Humboldt Skateboard Park, the Disc Golf Course at 5 Mile, Oak Way Park – these are just some of the facilities that have been built recently. Wildwood Park is only about 25 years old. Reduced funding? Look at the budgets, available here, and tell me they haven’t been getting more money every year:

https://www.chicorec.com/district-budget

What’s true there is “deferred maintenance.” They’ve allowed facilities that should have been easy to keep in good working condition while they’ve paid more and more into their pension deficit, raised management salaries, and  taken on costly new liabilities like the rotten and aging Lakeside Pavillion and Nature Center. One of the top complaints listed in the survey was dirty bathrooms. But look at the budget, do some serious reading – they pay more for pensions every year, with employees only now being asked to contribute anything, and it’s still less than 10%. 

I was really shocked when she listed the Camp Fire as a challenge. 

“Reduced property tax base for the County means a reduction in property taxes for all public agencies. In 2019, CARD lost over $200,000 in revenue”

This was reported immediately after the Camp Fire, by city of Chico mismanager Mark Orme. But, as Orme reported, the state immediately announced they would “backfill” these lost revenues up to three years after the anniversary of the fire. So, CARD didn’t really lose $200,000 as Willmann tried to claim Tuesday night. Private homes within the Camp Fire burn area are already being rebuilt, some of them beyond their original footprint, which means they will be assessed for more within three years than they were assessed before the fire. 

Willman also claims that “Future tax reductions are expected, and plans are being made to adjust expenses.” What future tax reductions?  I’m calling bullshit on this one. There is currently a building boom going on in Chico, with more houses approved for the immediate future. That means more, more, more property taxes to maintain and upgrade current facilities,, not to mention, developer impact fees that pay for new parks. 

And finally she claims “We have seen an increase in participation in already impacted programs due to the increase in our local population.”

Oh, not this one again. Look around you  folks – the college students are back in town, families are getting  ready for school to start, but have you been held up  in any of the hellish traffic  jams that occurred in the weeks following the fire? Have you waited more than 5 minutes at a grocery store check-out? No.

When a woman asked from the back of the room if Willmann had any statistics to back up this claim, Willmann quickly answered, “No.” Furthermore, “we just noticed this increase…” 

I’ll have to stop here, I’ll pick up the rest of the meeting tomorrow. Things got kinda hot when the guy next to me brought up the pension liability. 

 

Is CARD trying to get me kicked off the letters page?

9 Aug

I read Terry Cleland’s letter in response to my complaints about the CARD survey, and their siphoning of money out of facilities and programs to pay  their pensions. The first version the paper printed Wednesday was 500 words, and kind of rude, referring to me as “Sumner”, insinuating I’m just some naysayer who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Then that version disappeared – in the time it took me to feed my dogs and  get my own breakfast it was gone. 

The next day (yesterday), a new version appeared, a lot shorter, and even a little more polite, but still insinuating I don’t know what I’m talking about. That was weird, but here’s what I’m guessing – Cleland didn’t intend that first letter for print, it was a complaint to the editor. He was trying to get the ER to stop printing my letters, was what I  was reading. In past, David Little has told me about complaints he received about my letters, including requests to “ban” me from the letters section. 

One night a few years back, when Steve Visconti was CARD general manager, my husband and I attended a board meeting at which Visconti asked the board, “what are we going to do about Juanita Sumner’s letters?” I was sitting right there, they all knew me, so the board sat silent while Visconti wandered along trying to convince them that they needed to get “somebody” to respond to me.  Nobody ever has, until now. Cleland made an unsuccessful bid for CARD board last fall, maybe this is his way of keeping his foot in the door. 

When I emailed editor Mike Wolcott Wednesday about the disappearance, he said he’d been out of the office and didn’t know anything, but he’d check the next day (yesterday). He never got back to me, but there was the new letter yesterday morning. 

If I were a petty bitch, like Terry Cleland, I’d email Wolcott and say something about the fact that Cleland was allowed to pull one letter and get a new letter posted at the top of the heap the next day. I’d complain about the weeks it has taken these people to run some of my  letters,  which I’ve had to resend and resend. But I know it does no good to complain to these people – so I just wrote a response to Cleland. Yep, I’ll resend it if I have to!

In response to Terry Cleland’s letter (8/8/19):

Over half of Chico Area Recreation District’s $8,900,000  budget comes from property taxes and vehicle license fees. Over half the budget goes to salaries and benefits. Less than 35 fulltime employees have managed to accrue over $2,500,000 in pension liability because they pay less than 10% toward their own pensions. That liability has grown by almost a million dollars since 2015. 

CARD has spent more than $100,000 on surveys, proposing new facilities, but each consultant has told the board there was not support for a tax measure. The respondents made it clear in this last survey that they just want the existing facilities to be better maintained and safer.

I have the 2015 consultant’s report that suggested basic repairs for Shapiro Pool – repairs necessitated by years of neglect, including replacement of a dysfunctional sanitary filter pump.  The total cost would have been about $550,000. Instead, Staff recommended and the board agreed to close the pool and make a $400,000 payment toward their pension liability.  As of 2016, Shapiro Pool, once a popular summer destination for hundreds of children, is “non-operational until further notice”.

Right now Chico is undergoing another building boom, generating millions in new, permanent revenues. If CARD were not so management top-heavy they would have more than enough funding to fulfill their mission. Instead, I have sat at meetings watching them cut workers’ hours to avoid paying for healthcare.  I watched as they cut a popular children’s program while approving a “side fund payoff” to CalPERS. That’s self-service, greed and mismanagement.

 

 

Pension Tsunami, Part 1: How we got here…

7 Aug

In the late 1990’s, Governor Gray Davis and other union-friendly legislators set up the current pension system, agreeing to “defined benefits”.  Public employees had previously been given a “defined contribution” system. The difference being, with a “defined contribution” system, the employer agrees to pay a certain amount, with a “defined benefit” system, the employer agrees to provide specific benefits, no matter the cost.

About 2006 an “MOU” – memo of understanding – was approved by the sitting Chico City Council, with the recommendation of then-city manager Tom Lando, to “attach salaries to revenue increases but not decreases…”  Read that again – “but not decreases…”

Does that sound right to you?  Think about that – give them raises when we’re flush, but no “adjustments” when we’re bust, just lay people off and cut services. That’s been the pattern in Chico for 15 years now. After Lando floated that turd, his salary went from about $65,000 a year to over $150,000 within a couple of  years. His successor came in at $190,000/year.

Council handed out raises of 14%, 19%, 22%, until that memo was outed to the public and the taxpayers started to howl about it. But too late –  City of Chico salaries had progressed well over $100,000  for management and public safety, and other salaries were not far behind. Council approves automatic raises in the contracts so the salaries just keep going up. Even though former city manager Dave Burkland agreed to take a lesser salary than his predecessor, our current city manager now makes over $200,000/year. Add his benefits package and he is taking almost $300,000.

When the public found out about this scheme the city dumped that revenue-based raises mechanism, but came up with something better – “the employer paid member contribution.” That meant, the city not only paid a share of the employee’s benefits, but paid a portion – in some cases the entire portion – of the employee’s share as well.

This finally ended a couple of years ago, when, under intense criticism, those staffers – public safety and city management – agreed to pay their whole portion. And, hold onto your hats – about a year ago, these people even agreed to pay 3% of the “employer share.” 

Excuse me, my hat didn’t even jitter on that, because that makes the employee’s total share less than 10 percent. Anybody who has been a member of CalPERS for 15 years is a “classic member” and pays only 6%, plus that extra 3% – 9%, for a pension of 70 – 90 percent of their highest year’s salary is absolutely RIDICULOUS.

Meanwhile, the employer share has increased and increased, not to mention, the employer is making altogether separate payments toward the deficit, by way of the newly established “Pension Stabilization Trust.”

So, I imagine you saw this article in the paper recently.

Number of California public retirees in $100K Club skyrockets, but they’re just part of the burden on state pension system

This article gives a good historic overview of how the pension deficit has grown. I call it “rabbit math” – first they based the contributions on the employees’ salaries, and then they jacked up employee salaries.

I wonder how many other cities in California used Tom Lando’s ploy of attaching salaries to city revenue increases and then going on a development binge. When overdevelopment finally tanked the local market a few years later and revenues plunged, the salaries, benefits, and automatic raises, stayed in place. Salaries got higher no matter how revenues dipped for Chico. And the pensions and city contributions are based on the salaries. 

Getting dizzy yet? Maybe a little pissed off? Well this is where we’ll close and pick it up again tomorrow.