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Don’t be fooled by city’s campaign to raise taxes

2 Oct

When I got home from that Finance Committee meeting last week I took a look at the city’s most recent budget, approved unanimously last June by a city council that had already drank the $staff koolaid. Then I wrote a letter about what I learned to the Enterprise Record.

At the September Finance Committee meeting assistant city manager Chris Constantin reported that Chico’s older neighborhood streets have been neglected in favor of  streets in newer subdivisions. “Money that comes available is steered toward roads that are in better shape, rather than replacing ones that have effectively failed.”

Staff reported $6 million in RDA funding was used to put new streets in the subdivision on Hwy 32 east.  So, the city is borrowing money at a rate of $3 for every $1 spent to build new roads for developers, while we in older neighborhoods will drive over potholes that void the warranty on our tires.

Council and staff want a revenue measure for “street maintenance”, but whose streets are we talking about?

The city already taxes our utility services, for “use of infrastructure”. $6,674,000 in Utility Users Tax added to our PG&E, landline and water bills. $845,000 in franchise fees added to our cable tv bills, $675,000 to PG&E, and another $800,000 to garbage. Another $7,490,000 added to our vehicle license fees. $7,597,000 in property taxes.  Over $2,000,000 a year in gas tax. Shouldn’t  these revenues be directly applied to the streets?

Where does the money go? Well, for example, roughly $2,000,000 of approximately $2,700,000 in annual state gas tax receipts is transferred into the salary and benefits pit known as the General Fund. Staff has also created a special fund to pay down their $180,000,000 pension deficit, council approving a $1,000,000 fund transfer earlier this year. That amount increases annually.

No to revenue increases, yes to more accountability Downtown.

 

 

 

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How long do you think the city will hold Upper Park hostage for a revenue measure?

31 Jul

The horrific Carr Fire up the road in Redding has me wondering – what would have happened if the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction two weeks ago when Upper Bidwell Park caught on fire. The winds drove that fire up the hill, threatening a subdivision and other residences along Hwy 32. What if the wind had shifted toward Chico, the densely populated neighborhoods of Canyon Oaks and Cal Park would have been right in the path of the fire.

As overgrown as the park is these days, hip high dead grass standing in fallen branches and under deteriorating trees, a fire could charge right into the heart of old, overgrown neighborhoods and make it’s way from treetop to rooftop all the way across Chico.

You don’t see that happening? Neither did I until I saw the pictures from Santa Rosa,  and now Redding. In 1991 it was the Oakland Hills.

I wondered what the law is regarding fire clearance, not just around homes, but along public roads and waterways. I found Cal Fire makes very good and clear ” recommendations “, but that’s all they are. The state relinquished responsibility for wildfire prevention to local jurisdictions – like Butte County and city of Chico – not only to make the laws but to enforce them.

So it’s no wonder Bidwell Park and other city properties are, by definition, Fire Hazard Severity Zones, “based on factors such as fuel, slope and fire weather…” Last year, the city of Chico, in direct contradiction of recommendations that are actually THE LAW in places like Tehama County, hired a contractor after July 1 to mow city property at the corner of Bruce Road that was in violation of the city’s own weed abatement ordinance. The city always has numerous properties listed on their own annual “Weed Abatement and Compliance”, along with Chico Unified and Enloe Hospital. Every year they threaten themselves with fines – well, us, actually – and then wait until the last possible moment to get them mowed.

My husband and I happened to be driving by at about 3 o’clock on a hot July afternoon, when we saw a crew unloading a big mower machine on to the city lot.We were shocked – in Tehama County you’re not allowed to mow after 11 am because of the ease of starting a fire in dry grass.

So we weren’t surprised when the news announced Chico Fire Dept had been dispatched to that scene for a fire that threatened to jump the intersection toward the construction site across the intersection.

Nor were we surprised to hear that the contractor had not been cited. Which kinda sucks, because a man is still sitting in federal prison for starting a fire in Tehama County that caused millions and killed three people. He had put his mower away hot and his shed had caught fire, setting  half the county ablaze.

So the city of Chico, through blatant negligence, has set the stage for  a Redding-esque fire in our town. And then City Council essentially lit the match when they unanimously approved a “shelter crisis designation’ that allows the homeless to sleep in parks and school grounds.

The cause of the Carr Fire has been reported as a car malfunction. A car pulls along the side of an overgrown highway and catches on fire. I watched a car catch fire in a parking lot and a car caught fire down my street. Within seconds  both cars were fully involved and threatening nearby cars/structures. If that happened on Vallombrosa or any other streets along Bidwell Park we’d have an inferno.

For about 12 years now the city has admittedly deferred maintenance on the park while continuing to hand out raises and pay the lion’s share of the pensions. Earlier this year Park Director Linda Herman said she needs a revenue measure to do her job – her $130,000 plus comp package isn’t enough!

Acknowledging the current disgraceful condition of our park, Herman recently told the local paper she is looking for a grant to maintain the park. See, they spend a hundred million dollars  a year on salaries, benefits , and hot water for the cops and fire department, but have no money to actually DO anything.

Are we just stupid , or what? If you’re not stupid, write a letter to council and ask them how long Upper Park will be held hostage for a tax measure.

 

Council refers revenue bond measure to Finance Committee, Finance Committee cancels all upcoming meetings until September. What do you think that means?

27 Jun

This morning I attended the monthly City of Chico Finance Committee meeting because council has directed the committee to vet a bond measure for “street improvement.” Council member Mark Sorensen made the suggestion in response to councilor Karl Ory’s suggestion that the city put a sales tax increase on the November ballot. 

In her column in the cat box liner known as “Chico News and Review,” editor? Melissa Daugherty suggest the vote “went along party lines,” and the “conservatives” voted down Ory’s suggestion. What a laugh – there aren’t any conservatives on Chico City Council. 

It comes down to common sense – the voters have made it pretty clear they will not support a sales tax increase. More important, local business owners are screaming NO! – Chico retail is already suffering death by a thousand cuts, who needs a sales tax increase?!

Funny this suggestion comes from Chico Chamber of Commerce – until you look at their membership – mostly non-retail!

So Sorensen suggested a bond measure and sent it to the Finance Committee for discussion.

Except there won’t be any discussion of this measure until September, because Administrative Services Director (formerly known as Finance Director) Scott Dowell talked the committee into cancelling the July and August meetings. 

I’ll say for Morgan, he wanted to have the July and August meetings, he said the public would want to be in on the  discussion. But he sat there while Dowell essentially cancelled the meetings. Committee member Randall Stone seemed to go along more willingly with the cancellation. Committee chair Mark Sorensen, who suggested the measure in the first place, was absent because of an “emergency situation” in Biggs, where he yanks down over $100,000/year plus publicly paid benefits as Biggs’ city manager. 

You know how it is, you can’t have your dick in two places at once.

You realize, that means the discussion goes behind closed doors. In fact, while they wouldn’t discuss the bond measure at today’s meeting – they’re not allowed to discuss stuff that’s not on the agenda – Assistant city manager Chris Constantin tried to take it up after the meeting had been adjourned and almost everybody had left the room. Constantin immediately pulled Mayor Sean Morgan aside and started whispering, essentially, what did Morgan want? Morgan started to suggest that Constantin bring forward all possibilities for funding road work in Chico, and Constantin was telling him that he will be working with the public works department to come up with a figure. 

“It will be at least $100 million…” was the last thing I heard Constantin say aloud as I pulled my chair and my notebook up to the table. Constantin lowered his voice to almost inaudible and turned his back to me. I moved closer and asked, “is this a private conversation? Am I allowed to listen? I thought by the way you were whispering you don’t want me to hear what you’re saying?”

At that point Constantin turned to me and assured me it was not a private conversation. But the conversation ended, and Constantin left the table to approach Chamber of Commerce maven Jolene Francis. From what I could overhear, he was asking her how they would switch from a sales tax increase measure to a bond measure. But I was in a hurry to go  back to work, so I let it go.

This is how they run our town behind our backs. I’m pretty certain they would have talked about the bond a lot more today if I hadn’t been there – there was no other member of the public present except for pro-tax cheerleader Stephanie Taber.

I’ll tell you what was also funny – Dowell’s finance report was nothing but KUDOS! Budget right on schedule! Revenues up three percent! $11 million more in cash flow than last year! Sales tax revenues up 6 %! Kinda makes you wonder – why would we need a revenue measure?

But you have to read between the lines. Most of the report was about supplemental allocations and budget transfers – the budget means nothing, they spend money however they want. When they can’t pay salaries in one department they just  steal the money from another department. That’s why there’s no money to fix the streets, and the sewer fund is so flat the city is actually entertaining a hook-up with Paradise – 20 miles east of Chico, in the foothills.

Before he was elected to City Council, Mark Sorensen blogged about all the money the city was stealing out of the sewer fund to pay pensions – you won’t find that blog online anymore, and you won’t get Sorensen to talk about the sewer fund.

Dowell also announced, last year was a record year for parking fines! But he opined, fiscal year 2018/19 won’t bring in as many parking revenues. He said, “I’d like to believe people are becoming cognizant of the laws…”

You know the only place they enforce parking is Downtown? But they still have record parking fines? I was reminded of a trip I took Downtown to deal with PG&E. As I stood in the pee-stinking Downtown PG&E office, I watched a family park their car, put change in the meter and walk into the building. They were setting up PG&E for their college kid. The woman watched as a parking attendant walked up and placed a ticket on their windshield. She expressed disbelief as her husband went out to see what that was about. He approached the attendant, and then he got in his vehicle as the attendant took the ticket off his window. He moved the vehicle slightly, got out, watched the attendant walk away, and came back inside. She had informed him that his vehicle was a few inches out of the parking space, and when he’d protested she’d offered to let him fix it. So he moved his car about an inch, I mean, I couldn’t even see any distance, and she tore up the ticket. He was really angry about it, but afraid to disagree with a woman who could give him a ticket out of spite. 

The parking laws have not changed Downtown, it’s the method of “enforcement” that has changed. The private parking enforcement  company that the city hired is paid based on how many tickets they hand out. That’s incentive. I don’t know how this is legal, but the chief of police in San Luis Opispo had to leave his job because he offered his patrol teams pizza as a reward for tickets.

The problem we have here is a city who knows they are acting illegally but waits for some citizens’ group to pony up money for a lawyer to call them on it. They’re absolutely desperate to get money to pay down the pensions, because most of our council members are pentioneers, or are married to pensioneers.

We will assume that the city will have a bond measure ready for either the November ballot or a special election in an upcoming year. We need to let them know – especially those who are running in November, we could recall anybody who supports this revenue measure. The Reform California people successfully recalled the legislator who put the gas tax – SB 1 – on the legislative agenda. 

We also need to let them know, we can come up with a measure of our own – to dump the Utility Users tax. That’s $7 million a year they tack onto our PG&E and Cal Water bills. They add unknown amounts to our bills with their shake down “franchise fees.” 

Write those letters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have to watch the city of Chico for the illegal use of taxpayer money to promote their revenue measure

24 Jun

The other day I was saying we need to watch the city of Chico for signs they are spending taxpayer money to push their revenue measure – here’s an article about the state of California using public funds to defeat the gas tax repeal:

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2018/06/19/gas-tax-opponent-sign-controversy/

“Under California Government code, officials cannot spend taxpayer money  ‘..to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters. ‘   according to California Government Code 54964.”

I’ve seen the signs, and it’s obvious they are part of a campaign to defeat the repeal. The projects they are trumpeting about are band-aid patch jobs. Take Chico, for example. A year ago the Enterprise Record reported, “Chico’s obsolete, deficient bridges need attention.” 

https://www.chicoer.com/2017/08/12/chicos-obsolete-deficient-bridges-need-attention/

Many of the city’s bridges are no longer functional, and a few have deficiencies needing attention, according to Caltrans inspection reports from 2016.”

The article describes the condition of the old Guynn Avenue bridge – “The narrow Guynn Avenue bridge over the Lindo Channel in Chico features rusted metal, crumbled railings, and grape vines climbing up the girders.” The reporter, observing a truck with a trailer crossing the bridge, adds, “ The bridge creaks and shakes under even the lightest loads. ”   He also says the bridge will be replaced, but not when.

I don’t remember hearing anything about that bridge being replaced, but I do remember city public works staffer Brendan Ottoboni  saying at a recent meeting that they were dropping a whole list of projects because there was no funding.

Right now the city is undertaking 4 inch scrape and slop jobs on higher visibility roads like Cohasset and Esplanade. The contractor, Rene Vercrussen of Knife River Construction, says these jobs are being paid for with gas tax proceeds.  Why not replace some of the bridges listed in that story?  I know for certain the bridge between East First Avenue and Floral is in similar condition to the Guynn Avenue bridge, and the same goes for the bridges on Pine and Cypress at Humboldt. 

I believe they are working on Cohasset and Esplanade because they will be seen.  I realize, those roads are heavily used, but tell that to somebody who has to cross one of those bridges every day to get to work, get their kids to school, and get groceries and other supplies. 

And, I believe those “repaving” jobs are not being properly done, we’ll see if they last until the election. 

The Repeal California people have a good argument to make about the use by the state of public funds to promote a tax measure. State staffers are spending thousands of dollars on signs that promote the use of the gas tax, that’s obscene when you consider these high-profile projects are a drop in the bucket. 

I believe the city of Chico will pull the same sort of stunts – they want not only to keep the gas tax increase but float a local bond measure for street improvements.    We have to call them on it. 

Get more information about supporting the gas tax repeal at 

http://www.reformcalifornia.org/

 

Chico Chamber ramps up sales tax increase campaign – And when you ask them, “How much should we give?” Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!”

24 May

This press release below was made yesterday by the California Chamber of Commerce and forwarded by Chico Chamber of Commerce. Time to watch the county and city clerk’s office for a ballot measure. 

What this release doesn’t tell us is that Tom Lando is one of Chico’s biggest pension hogs – especially when you consider he never paid anything toward his pension. Current City Mangler Mark Orme pays less than 10%, and he’s been given a pay raise every time he’s agreed to pay a percent or two more. That’s like throwing gas on a fire – every time you raise his salary you raise his pension.

Here’s an old link – make note, at the time I ran this post, Lando was getting about $135,000, just in pension, it doesn’t include his health, vision, life insurance, etc. Look at that – $11,000/month. There are families in this town living on $19,000/year. 

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

That information is from 2012 – do you realize, pensions go up every year – “cost of living adjustment” – based on a percentage of the already gross amount. So, I’ll opine – he’s getting around $150,000 a year in cash and benefits. On top of that, Lando runs a consulting firm, the city has paid him consulting fees for various tasks. 

But now Piggy wants more! Read on!

From Michelle Woods at Chico Chamber:

SACRAMENTO, CA — The California Chamber of Commerce honored business executives from Chico and Torrance today with its 2018 Small Business Advocate of the Year Award, recognizing them for outstanding advocacy on behalf of small businesses.

The CalChamber announced the awards in Sacramento before more than 200 attendees at the CalChamber Capitol Summit.

The 2018 Small Business Advocate of the Year Award recipients are:

  • Mark Francis, president and CEO, Golden Valley Bank, Chico;
  • Tom Lando, principal, Tom Lando Consulting, Chico; and
  • Michael Shafer, owner, The Depot Restaurant, Torrance.

 

Mark Francis and Tom Lando

Lando was chairman of the board of directors for the Chico Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center in 2011 and currently chairs the chamber’s Legislative Action Committee. Francis was chairman in 2015 and spearheaded the chamber’s Community Vision, which not only guides local policy decisions, but has become a sought-after model for chamber advocacy throughout the nation.

At the direction of the Chico Chamber Board in early 2017, Mark and Tom spearheaded the effort to better understand how business priorities like a safer community and improved roads are indelibly linked to changing city finances.

Together, Lando and Francis co-chaired the groundbreaking Task Force on City Revenues and Expenditures, the first of its kind in the Chico Chamber’s 110-year history, which resulted in the publication of a special report and call to action. The task force investigated the solvency of Chico’s finances—past, present and projected—and delivered a bold and forceful recommendation that the City Council consider a revenue measure to fund business priorities outlined in the Community Vision.

The City of Chico is one of 11 cities its size in California to maintain a baseline sales tax rate of 7.25%. The region is largely tax averse.

The task force worked throughout 2017 to study four key areas affecting city finances—pension, fire, police and roads—and outlined needs, expectations and costs. Lando and Francis hosted several task force meetings with city officials to gain a deep understanding of the city’s financial status and met weekly to follow statewide news on pension reform, sales tax policy, the gas tax and other impacts, always weighing local opportunities and challenges.

Task force findings were communicated to the public via the chamber’s most recent state of the city address and through a publication entitled Special Report. A call to action was made directly to the Chico City Council to consider a revenue measure to preserve and enhance the quality of life in Chico, a risky yet pivotal move by a chamber of commerce in a tax-averse region.

In nominating Francis and Lando for the CalChamber award, Katie Simmons, president and CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, wrote: “Mark and Tom deserve to be recognized equally for their tremendous insight, influence and service to the Chico Chamber of Commerce. This pivotal community conversation would not happen without the knowledge, dedication and time Mark and Tom give to the chamber and our community. Their work is relevant across all communities in California struggling with the very same issues.”

City consultant: “more people, more payroll, more allocations” – this is how city of Chico management siphons money from the road fund into their own wallets

1 Mar

Thursday March 8,  City of Chico finance mangler Scott Dowell will give a dog-and-pony presentation about how the city spends money. That ought to be a gas, but instead, I attended yesterday’s (2/28/18) Finance Committee meeting to hear a consultant explain the process of “cost allocation”.

Dowell is disingenuous – who does he really expect to show up on a Thursday at 10 am? Oh yeah, I’ll just ask my boss if I can come in early and take two hours off at lunch, everybody does that! 

You know, I might have had bosses who would go for that, but only once. And you wouldn’t be allowed to discuss it at the work place, that’s a pretty standard rule of getting along with fellow employees  – leave your politics in the parking lot. So, in this way, Dowell is very pointedly leaving out the working class who would have to support the sales tax increase he is going to be selling at his “workshop”.

But, when you have limited time, you use it wisely. Who wants to hear a spin from the Fox in Charge of the Henhouse, when you can listen to a visiting watch dog? That’s how I see consultant Chad Wolford, eversince 2015 when he told council they were spending too much money on “overhead” – administrative salaries and benefits.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2017/12/21/no-kidding-our-city-is-headed-for-deep-doo-doo-2/

As the consultant describes it, cost allocation means, “central administration cost (also referred to as “overhead”) spread down to departments as operating costs.”  Just repeat that a few times, and remind yourself, “operating” means “actual work,” such as fixing the streets, or maintaining the sewer plant. 

Cost allocation is the process by which these ridiculous management salaries are cherry picked from all the departments. Makes it look legal and fair, but it’s really the same old system of moving peas under walnuts shells. Money is moved between restricted and non-restricted funds to pay for stuff that money was not originally earmarked for. 

What’s the use of restricting funds (to their original purpose, such as street maintenance) if you can just transfer them wherever you want to pay for whatever you want? This is the process by which administrators like Orme, Constantin and Dowell take grant money that was originally intended to fix streets and pad it into their wallets. 

The consultant is a nice man, he admitted to me, “this is a very complicated process.”  I replied, “No kidding!” That’s why  I had tagged him into the lobby of the building when he finished his presentation, I had to ask some additional questions. 

Well here’s something that he made pretty clear – the “changes”  (increases) in the allocations are based on staff and salary increases. “More people, more payroll, more allocations,” Wolford said. “Salaries and benefits have gone up, operating budgets are up…” 

So, I don’t think I’ll be bothered with Dowell’s dog and pony show Saturday – ‘scuse me, that’s Thursday March 8 – I already heard how the city of Chico spends it’s money. 

CalPERS nears insolvency – meanwhile city of Chico uses “cost allocation” to rationalize fund pilfering to pay pension costs

27 Feb

Thanks Dude, for this recent article regarding CalPERS insolvency. Former CalPERS board member and erstwhile gubernatorial candidate (2006?) Steve Westly has been speaking up about CalPERS growing pension deficit, warning the agency will collapse if it is not bailed out or “reformed.”

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-02-24/former-calpers-board-members-shocking-admission-calpers-near-insolvency-it-needs

I don’t know what he means by “reform” – to me, this would mean, no more 70 – 90 percent of highest year’s salary at age 50 – 65, cut employer contributions to 10 percent (based on merit and years employed), and make the employees pay their own retirement package. 

Here’s an article from last year that chronicles this mess we’re in from the beginning.

http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-pension-crisis-davis-deal/

Of course now everybody is screaming for “reform” because they know the system is about to collapse and they won’t get their dough.  Most of these “reformers” mean, taxpayers pay more. That’s what the city of Chico is up to at tomorrow’s Finance Committee Meeting.

Chris Constantin first introduced the concept of “cost allocation” a couple of years ago. It is a process by which they transfer money out of the general fund to pay salaries, benefits and pensions for city employees. It’s very confusing, unless you are the consultant who is hired to explain it every year. That would be Chad Wolford. 

Two years ago, Wolford told us we were “spending too much money on overhead” – meaning, management salaries, and particularly, management pensions.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2015/11/29/no-kidding-our-city-is-headed-for-deep-doo-doo/

In response, the city raised pension shares but made adjustments to ensure employees would not have to pay. Mark Orme and Chris Constantin accepted what amounts to 401K plans, which they report will not add to our pensions costs – wrong again Chris! They still got salary increases, and we will have to pay them that deferred compensation, it just routes CalPERS. To me, this is just greed. Look at their salaries:

http://www.chicoer.com/article/NA/20171002/NEWS/171009943

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/documents/OrmeEmploymentAgreement10-2017.pdf

Orme demands over $200,000 in base salary, but expects us to believe he has our best interests at heart? 

Tomorrow, at an 8:30 am Finance Committee meeting, they will go about “allocating” their fancy lifestyles onto the backs of the taxpayers, taking money that should be providing street maintenance, sewer plant updates and other services for those of us who pay for them, and putting it toward their 70 – 90 percent (do the math on Orme’s salary) pensions. Read the report here:

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/finance_committee/2-28-18FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

This is sneaky stealing, if you ask me. The taxpayers are never privvy to this stuff – wonder why they hold these meetings at 8:30 in the morning while you are rushing to work?