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A lie will stick unless you call the liar out on it

17 Apr

Al Franken wrote a really funny book years back, before he became a politician, you might want to check it out –

It’s not balanced, or fair, but it’s sooooo true! And it’s not just “the Right,” either. They all lie. Have you heard about the latest attempt to keep voters from knowing the truth about tax measures? 

https://calmatters.org/articles/commentary/bond-issue-transparency-still-under-assault/

Dan Walters:

“Two years ago, in a rare display of support for transparency in government finance, the Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown required local governments and school districts to tell voters how proposed bond issues would affect their property taxes.

That would seem to be just common sense and good government, but local officials complained that Assembly Bill 195 would be too difficult to implement. Their real motive, however, was a fear that telling voters that their tax bills would increase might discourage them from voting for the bonds.

It’s a good thing we have Dan Walters, because our local media have fallen in with city staff and council to run their tax measure campaign, both the tv news and the daily running at least a story a week about how we need a tax measure to fix all the problems brought about by years of poor management and self-service. I finally had to ask ER reporter Laura Urseny where she got the numbers regarding how many Camp Fire evacuees are still residing within the Chico City limits.

I covered that here:

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2019/04/12/orme-estimates-10-15000-refugees-living-in-chico-based-on-nonregistration-couch-living-trailers-parked-on-streets/

I knew they didn’t have any numbers, or I’d have asked, “how many people from the burned areas already drove into Chico five or more days a week to their job, already shopped in Chico regularly, already used Chico roads and services?”  I already know the answer – probably more than half the people – more like two thirds – in the affected areas already came to Chico, drove our roads, used our retail sector, our post office, and other services, on a regular basis. 

But a lie will stick unless you call the liar out on it. So I wrote the following letter to the ER.  

Stories in this newspaper claim the city of Chico “has absorbed many displaced Camp Fire victims.” When I asked one reporter for a specific figure, she paraphrased the city manager as follows.

“He [Mark Orme] said he doesn’t have hard numbers from FEMA because of nonregistration, couch-living, trailers parked on streets etc. He said  the city is still using the  10,000-15,000 estimate.”

A FEMA map shows a great many of the roughly 20,000 evacuees have spread out around Butte County, California and the US, with no figures for Chico.  Staff is simply using numbers that suit their purpose.  To date, Staff has used their “estimate” to excuse poor road conditions, crime problems, housing shortage and cost, and now a “$5-6,000,000” roundabout.

Staff admits they have deferred road maintenance in Chico since long before the Camp Fire. The city’s welcome mat for transients is the source of our crime problems. The short-lived boom in the Chico housing market immediately following the Camp Fire has been over for some time – there are 247 listings on Trulia. The proposal to place FEMA housing near the Eaton Road interchange has been abandoned.

Staff is pressing for a tax measure using Camp Fire evacuees as bait. Dan Walters points out “the underlying real reasons, such as to cover rapidly increasing employee pension and health care costs.” Chico’s pension deficit is over $130,000,000.  The Wall Street Journal reports, “despite bull market, pension plans in miserable shape…”

Staff needs to fess up, and pay their own pensions. 

 

The pension deficit is the difference between what public employees expect to get and what they are willing to pay into it

5 Apr

Well, anybody who saw my last post and then saw my letter in the News and Review can see that I had to edit dramatically to get my letter in.  When I sent my original letter to the address I’ve used for years, it was sent back, rejected for size? And I was told to use the form letter mechanism on the N&R website, which only allows 150 words. Snip, snip, snip – I still got my point across, and it was a good exercise. 

Write those letters folks! When do I find the time? When I’m so pissed off I can’t sleep. Writing letters to the editor will save your teeth, believe me!

I sent the following letter to the Enterprise Record two days ago, watch for it, and write your letters too. Just yesterday Dan Walters ran a column about the spending of taxpayer money to pass revenue measures that will only end up being squandered on the pension deficit –

https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article228799774.html

so people are thinking about this subject. Write now!

And don’t just write to the papers, forward to the city manager mark.orme@chicoca.gov and CARD general manager Ann Willmann annw@chicorec.com

Chico Area Recreation District board and staff have spent over $100,000 on consultants to help them pass a revenue measure  but have yet to show the taxpayers that they can be trusted with money.

In 2014, CARD staff reported a pension deficit of $1,700,721 .  Only five years later, that deficit has ballooned to $2,800,000, despite nearly $1,000,000 in “side fund payoffs”.  

CARD staff announced they have “set aside” another $1,700,000 for payment toward the  deficit, having admitted they have deferred maintenance to various facilities for years, including Shapiro Pool, which was closed permanently last year.

CARD only started asking employees to pay toward their own pensions in 2013, but management staffers pay 6% or less, with the general manager paying only 2 percent of an $108,500 salary.

CARD staff describe the pension/unfunded liability as “What we owe to CalPERS because of the difference in their guesses.”

Wrong.  The pension deficit is the difference between what employees expect to get (70 percent of their highest year’s salary at age 55) and what they want to pay for it (less than 10 percent of their salary). For example, the general manager pays $2170/year toward a pension of  more than $75,000.  That is not sustainable.

CARD staff have used taxpayer revenues to enrich themselves while ignoring their mission. Now they tell us we need to pass a revenue measure, or they will further defer maintenance, close facilities, and cut programs. At the same time offering a grandiose new sports facility south of town? Let the board of directors know how you feel about that, at annw@chicorec.com

 

Keep rattling your chains – write letters to both papers, tell them we know where the money is going

31 Mar

Dave Howell wrote a great letter to the News and Review, taking on the pensions. Thanks for going to the trouble to write these letters Dave, I know it’s not easy to get a letter in the N&R. 

The problem is pensions

Re “Taxes and police” (Letters, by Martine Stillwell, March 14):

Martine Stillwell is justifiably outraged that our city’s politicians are pushing a tax increase to fix the roads after letting them fall into disrepair thus increasing the cost to repair them.

I wonder how much more outraged she would be if she knew that tens of thousands of our tax dollars are being paid to an opinion research firm to sell us that tax increase. And that doesn’t include the cost of the city bureaucracy’s staff time.

The reason for the awful condition of our infrastructure and the reason for this tax increase are the unsustainable cost of government employee compensation, especially pensions. For many years money for infrastructure repair has been siphoned off for raises and unsustainable pensions. Does she know our bureaucrats have pensions worth millions?

Yet instead of pension reform, our politicians believe that in a county with low wages, very high living expenses and a 21 percent poverty rate, the answer is to pass a tax increase that hits the poor the hardest.

I wonder if Martine and others will be outraged enough to vote in the next election against the tax increase and the politicians who push it and encourage others to do the same.

Dave Howell, Chico

In the same issue this letter appeared, editor Melissa Daugherty bitched about the park budget being shorted these last few years – but she didn’t mention why?  So I wrote a letter about it.

Melissa Daugherty is correct (3/28), Bidwell Park has suffered deferred maintenance since massive layoff of park staffers over the last six years. The park department was absorbed into Public Works, where director Eric Gustafson oversees not only the park, but the airport, city buildings, street trees, right of way zones, street cleaning, traffic safety, city vehicles, and the sewer plant.

Like Dave Howell said (3/28), the problem is “the unsustainable cost of government employee compensation, especially pensions.” I’ll add, management top-heavy.  Twelve  management positions overseeing the park, including Gustafson, cost over $1 million in total compensation. The park division only has five “maintenance workers”, amounting to less than $300,000 in total compensation.

While staff defers maintenance in the park and other infrastructure all over town,  they continue to pay almost $20 million a year toward their pensions, about $8 million of that toward the pension deficit. At the April 2 council meeting, staff recommends renewal of the CalPERS agreement, requiring employees to pay only 11% of the cost of their pensions, the taxpayers expected to pick up the deficit.

As long as council and staff continue to place the pensions ahead of the public, infrastructure will continue to be short changed, including Bidwell Park.

Juanita Sumner, Chico 

I got my information from publicpay.gov (GCC, secretary of state)

https://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/Cities/City.aspx?entityid=79&year=2017

and the city website – management contracts are available on the Human Resources page.

http://www.chico.ca.us/human_resources_and_risk_management/labor_agreements_home.asp

At the GCC website, you’ll see, the park budget also pays for several police/traffic officers, interns, and two “administrative assistants”. The city has to bring in Salt Creek inmates because they don’t have enough workers. And management is without a clue.

Eric Gustafson spends most of his time in meetings, same for “Resources Manager” Linda Herman. I’d bet my last $5 they don’t even own an appropriate pair of shoes to walk in the park. Both are clinically obese, and neither has any kind of credentials suggesting they are qualified to run a park. 

The city continues to use the park and other sagging infrastructure to press for a revenue measure – I think we need to press for some firings Downtown. Starting at the top, with Mark Orme, followed by Chris Constantin, Scott Dowell, and every department head. It’s time for a tick dip. 

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

FPPC: local prosecutors failing to file charges in cases where public officials have used public funds for political purposes

26 Feb

Busy little bees.

The city and CARD are still worming their way toward separate tax measures. It’s starting to look like CARD will go with a parcel tax. The city, meanwhile, has yet to decide what kind of measure they will flop out – the Finance Committee is hearing a $25,000 proposal from  EMC Research to conduct a “survey”.

It is illegal to spend taxpayer money to campaign for a tax measure, and I would think it’s illegal to use tax money to hire a consultant who promises to run the campaign for you. But it seems the agencies who would investigate and prosecute this illegal behavior are squabbling over who is supposed to do it.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-campaign-funds-misused-20190214-story.html

“With local prosecutors failing to file charges in cases where public officials have used public funds for political purposes, the state Fair Political Practices Commission is proposing their powers be expanded to allow the FPPC to prosecute misuses of taxpayer dollars.”

But as you might guess, local agencies are not too keen on being watched by outsiders – the good old boy system by which county and city administrators scratch each others’ backs is way too entrenched in Butte County.

The Times reports that “In response, the California State Association of Counties is filing a lawsuit to prevent such enforcement.”

Wow, that’s pretty blatant, isn’t it? Now the counties are spending taxpayer money making sure they  don’t get prosecuted for the illegal spending of taxpayer money. Koyaanisqatsi.

So I wrote a letter about it. Write yours too. 

“Last month the Fair Political Practices Commission revealed 34 allegations made since 2015 concerning public agencies misusing taxpayer funds for campaign purposes. Unfortunately  the agency lacks the authority to prosecute misuse of public funds, a power reserved for city and county prosecutors and the state attorney general.

Apparently, no local law enforcement agency has followed through on any of the allegations, prompting the FPPC to ask the state for the power to prosecute in these matters.

Does anyone  really believe that a local DA or city attorney would prosecute a public agency for raising taxes? FPPC commissioner Brian Hatch calls that “political suicide”.

Both the city of Chico and Chico Area Recreation District continue to spend taxpayer money on consultants who promise to help them pass their separate tax measures. Their consultant EMC Research claims “Great campaigns don’t just happen. That’s why we offer a full suite of political research and predictive analytics to help your candidates, organizations, and ballot measures succeed.”

Is this why you pay taxes? To hire people to raise your taxes?

Contact FPPC Chair Alice Germond <agermond@fppc.ca.gov> and tell her you support her efforts to impose stiffer penalties on those public agencies who flaunt the law and continue to undermine voters’ rights across the state.

You might also want to contact Chico city council at debbie.presson@chicoca.gov and the CARD board at annw@chicorec.com and let them know how you feel about paying for their campaigns to raise your taxes.

Juanita Sumner, Chico”

 

 

 

“Special meeting” of city council, held at Cal Park Pavilion on Saturday at 8:30am in a dumping storm – think they really wanted anybody to show up?

6 Feb

I’ve signed up for various city meeting agenda notifications, and the other day I got a notice for a special city council meeting. It bugged me so much wondering what they were up to, I got out on the highway in a howling rainstorm to drive up to California Park Lakeside Pavilion to find out.

It just seemed weird. Saturday before the Super Bowl, weatherman making winter storm warnings, and they decide to have an 8:30 am meeting at the Pavilion.

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, following Mayor Stone into the  building. I found the rest of council and various staffers making their greetings and chit chat in one of the small meeting rooms that line the main hall. A big blue sheet was hanging on one wall next to the viewing screen. Three tables were set up in the middle of the room and a line of folding chairs was set along one wall.

A man immediately walked up and admired my rain boots. I must admit they are very attractive, and practical too. We introduced ourselves. His name was Scott Winter, and he said he would be running the meeting. His business, he said, was “Human Performance,” or, “how to get people to show up.”

So, I had to ask him, it just popped out of my mouth – if you want people to show up, why would you have an 8:30 am meeting on a Saturday in a howling storm at an out-of-the-way building with  little or no notice to the public?

Dammit, no wonder I can’t make friends or influence people, my mouth has no damned kill switch.

He looked shocked, and then recovered, saying he needed a room that would accommodate “everybody”, as well as his big blue sheet – he gestured toward the wall with the big blue sheet.

Well sheesh, there’s walls all over council chambers, and that accommodates hundreds. There are two meeting rooms at the city chambers that are at least as big as the room they used at the Pavilion.

The meeting got started, Winters showed a video of another consultant who talked for about 15 minutes about “collaboration,” and how you have to let your defensive down to be constructive when working with a group. 

After the video Winter handed out a sheet of questions each person was supposed to ask themselves about their own defense mechanisms. 

And then, Winter handed out sheets of sticky sided paper, several sheets for each council person, and asked them to list their goals for council in the coming year.

Suggestions ranged from “more enjoyable council meetings” to “more money for the city” and “house all homeless” Some of the suggestions were repetitive – that’s what the big blue sheet was  for – Winter hung the sheets of paper on the sheet and the group went about trying to put the suggestions in groups.

Meanwhile, we members of the public sat along the wall, being told we were not allowed to participate. 

Wow, this guy sure knows how to get people to SHUT UP, not sure if he really wants to get them to SHOW UP.

By about 10am the consultant and some members of the group started to get a little peevish. Not everyone was cooperative, I won’t say who, but I could tell Winters was  getting impatient. Nothing was being accomplished, and several members of council expressed confusion over what they were being asked to  do, and what was meant by some of the suggestions on the board. Most were vague to the point of stupid.

Winter had to get on his soapbox and remind these people, they have lost the trust of the public, been sued for Brown Act violations, and needed to start being more transparent. That, apparently, was the dilemma that necessitated a “special meeting.” 

At this point I had to leave – my time is worth something. I wasn’t being allowed to contribute, the public had been let in out of legal necessity. And I’d heard plenty.

I had to wonder, what is Scott Winter’s time worth?

So I wrote a note to staff and asked – Winter got $3,000 for his day playing little children’s games and calling a bunch of brats on the carpet. Another $472 for the room at the Pavilion. 

Why was this a “special meeting”? Why not schedule and notice a regular workshop? Winter told me it was because he is very busy, but his friend Mark Orme had called him in Poland to tell him it was really important so as soon as he got home they’d made arrangements for the meeting. I didn’t ask him why the Pavilion, I think it’s pretty obvious they didn’t really want anybody to show up.

 

 

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.