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City franchise fees amount to a shake down of the ratepayers – now they want a sales tax increase? Tell them NO! with a Utility Tax Rebate Form

17 Feb

I got an answer from City of Chico Administrative Services Officer Scott Dowell regarding PG&E franchise fees – the amounts I had seen in the old news story from Ch 7 were not supposed to be added up:

Ms. Sumner:

The amounts reflected in the article totaling $609,017.71 for the combined PG&E Electric and Gas Franchise fees were received in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

They are included in the total amount of $649,760.70 reflected on the budget summary for the General Fund 001.  The difference between the two amounts is other PG&E adjustments paid to the City from prior year adjustments.  The $649,760.70 may be found on page 17 under object code 40404 at the following link from the City’s website:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2014-15CityAnnualFINALBudget_000.pdf

So, the totals I saw added up to $609,017.71, but the city also received an additional $40,000 or so from the previous year. I want to blaspheme right now – this whole thing is so confusing, how are we supposed to keep track?

By fiscal year ending June 2017, the total had gone up to $690,768.

This fee is based on a percentage of PG&E’s total take for the year, and then pasted right back on to our bills like a big booger.

It’s not like they hide it, not exactly.  Look at your bill, page 2, which lists “Your Electric Charges Breakdown” (I don’t find one for gas charges). Besides “Generation, Transmission and Distribution”, you are charged for “Electric Public Purpose Programs” (which I believe fund low-income programs for other customers), “Nuclear Decommissioning” (I believe this pays costs of taking down disabled nuclear plants), “Competition Transition Charges” (???) and then there’s “Taxes and Other”.

“Taxes and Other”. I did the math – that does not include the Utility Users Tax, which is a percentage of your total usage charges, including “Taxes and Other”. 

There are other charges listed – more hidden taxes – like the charge for bonds issued by the Department of Water Resources.  But what I’m looking at right now is how much money the city of Chico steals from ratepayers through these hidden fees. These fees are tacked onto our bills. No matter how we try to conserve we are hit, our bills go higher and higher. The city does nothing to curtail PG&E’s insatiable rate increases, because they stand to make a direct profit.

But they still need a sales tax? Next week they will raise developer fees, which is why Butte County/Chico have become less affordable to live in, according to the most recent housing affordability figures:

https://www.car.org/aboutus/mediacenter/newsreleases/2017releases/2qtr2017affordability

Butte County is included in the list of 29 counties where housing has become less affordable over the past year, despite developers who’ve used the “housing crisis” to wedge in their sub-standard subdivisions. High density developers have been after the city of Chico to let them build without paying fees, but their housing just keeps getting more expensive anyway. 

Here’s what you can get in Doe Mill – with no yard – for $422,000.

https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-search/Doe-Mill_Chico_CA

Builders have been making the argument that we need more housing to make houses cheaper – really? How come they just keep getting more expensive? According to this index, less than half the residents of Butte County can afford a “median priced” home.

https://www.car.org/marketdata/data/haitraditional/

They list the median price at about $299,000. Have you seen a house selling for $299,000 in Chico? Cause when we were looking for a house for our kid, anything less than $300,000 was in a neighborhood where you would want to park your car in your living room at night and push your dresser up in front of your bedroom door.  Even in my old neighborhood, a 3 bedroom house down the street just went for over $360,000. Do you really think the city of Chico, starving for money, is going to do anything that will cut their property tax revenues? All that crap about building more to bring down the cost of house is just LIES.

The city of Chico is desperate for revenues. You know how junkies are – they will lie through their teeth to get money, lie, cheat and steal.  A city can pass “measures” and “initiatives” at council meetings without so much as a peep from the public, especially a lazy, stupid public. The city of Chico takes advantage of our stupidity and laziness to siphon funding through the utility companies, the developers, business owners – anybody who wants to do anything in the city of Chico must participate in the shake-down. And they go along because all they have to do is pass the buck on to YOU.

So now we have a select group of business owners and publicly employed hawkers telling us we need to pay a sales tax increase? Answer them with more than a million in franchise fees we pay through our Comcast and PG&E bills. 

And then gather up your utility bills and add up the amounts listed as “Chico Utility Users Tax”. They are listed on PG&E, Cal Water bills, and if you still have a landline, your phone bill. But you have to look through these bills, sometimes the UUT charges are listed separately and have to be added up. PG&E lists them in with each electric and gas charge separately, look carefully. 

Most people in Chico qualify for the Utility Tax Rebate – a family of four making $47,000/year or less qualifies. Here’s last year’s application form:

http://www.chico.ca.us/documents/UUTREFNDApplicationPageOneTwo_CombinedFILLABLE4-13-16.pdf

Applications for 2017/18 will be available in late April, or I’ll e-mail the Finance Office and remind them. You have May and June to turn it in, and I usually drop mine off to avoid paying postage on a stack of utility bills – yes, they want alllll your bills! But they will send them back – I’ve been doing this for over 5 years now, and I’ve always got my bills back with my check. 

When we didn’t know, we might have considered ourselves victims, but now that we know, if we don’t act, we’re idiots. Sending in your UUT rebate application is a way of telling them you’re sick of their constant wheedling and poking, lying, cheating and stealing.

 

 

 

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Ralph Nader: “If you don’t turn on to politics, politics will turn on you” – let’s put the “public” back in “public meetings”!

2 Jan

Well Happy New Year to you!

Here’s a resolution for you – attend a public meeting this year – make that TWO!

Here is the agendas page for City of Chico meetings:

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas.asp

There are three kinds of “committees” – those made up of elected officials, those made up of official appointees (spoils committees) and there’s one that’s made up of staffers – the Maps Committee. That’s a fairly new committee – I’m guessing, they either got in trouble for making these decisions behind closed doors or some rule changed and now they have to make these meetings public. 

Let’s face it – these meetings are only “public” if the “public” attends.

Chico Area Recreation District has a whole new website – you  gotta wonder, why? Their old website was fine, everything was available from the home page – now I had to search for information about the board, and I had to e-mail manager Ann Willmann to ask where to find the agendas. 

You also  gotta wonder, how much did the new website cost? 

Take a good look – this website is going to cost you a new bond or assessment on your home in 2018.

http://www.chicorec.com/board-of-directors

In 2018 let’s put the “public” back in “public information,” “public meetings” and “public participation.” 

UPDATE:  I was kind of shocked to receive this response when I e-mailed CARD manager Ann Willmann yesterday (1/2/18) about agendas for upcoming meetings:

 Sorry I missed you. I am currently out of the office until Monday, January 8th. The CARD office is  closed 12/25-1/5/18. I will be checking email occasionally during the break and will respond to emails as needed. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season. Ann 

 

So, does this mean, parks and playgrounds are going unattended? Are CARD workers currently laid off, being designated “part time,” and living through the holidays without pay?  Or does it mean, the actual workers have to work while management gets two weeks off, with pay?  Either way it’s costing us. 

Willmann e-mailed me later yesterday, from wherever. 

Hi Juanita, agendas for our regular meetings are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting date. I’m sorry you are not finding the new website more user friendly, thank you for the feedback. I did make a few adjustments to better communicate when the agendas will be posted.  Thank you, Ann

And yes, she’d made that notation on the website. I’m not allowed to ask too many questions at a time, or I would have asked, “One meeting a month – don’t you think you could get those agendas up more than three days ahead?” 

CARD, city $taff agree on one thing – it’s time to run a revenue measure!

4 Nov

Yesterday [11/3/17] I went out early to attend a meeting of the ad hoc committee formed between Chico City Council and Chico Area Recreation District to divvy up local parks, including Bidwell Park. 

There’s a lot of funding involved in these parks, and this was essentially a grab by CARD to get some of those revenues. The last thing CARD director Ann Willmann asked before she left the meeting was when she would start seeing the $$$$ from the neighborhood parks they were about to take over.

Ad hoc meetings do not have to be noticed to the public, but for some reason the news ran a story saying this meeting would begin at 9 am. There was no agenda posted either on the CARD website or at the city website, so I had to trust the news. When I arrived at the city building just before 8:50 I was glad to see the agenda posted alongside the door – it said 9 am. I went to a lot of trouble to push though my chores and get down there on time, and hey, my time might not be worth $139,000/year plus benefits but it’s worth something.

The Enterprise Record reporter and another woman, who told me she was at the meeting to see “if I still have a job” were waiting at the door when I arrived. As time went by and nobody came to let us in, we began to speculate. 9:00 came and went, so the reporter went over to the city office to inquire about the meeting. At 9:10 we were told that the meeting notice was wrong, the meeting didn’t start until 9:30, and someone would be along to open the door for us. 

Later, when councilor and committee member Karl Ory walked in a few minutes after 9:30, he looked around at the gathering and said, “I thought we agreed on 9:30?” Committee members and staffers all laughed. 

Like Lawanda Page says in “Friday,” “Well…Fuck You!” The way they treat the public down there is just gob-stopping. Our inconvenience doesn’t mean Jack Shit to $taff.

I’m sorry to be coarse, but these people treat me like garbage, and I get sick of it. 

Let me cut to the chase – the meeting started at 9:30 and by 9:45 the words “tax”, “assessment” and “tax assessment” had been used by staff or CARD representatives three times. Two staffers, Linda Herman and Eric Gustafson, said in so many words they want the city to pursue a revenue measure, and Tom Lando, CARD board director, made it clear, again, that he also wants a revenue measure. 

Herman said at one point, “I believe we have a united front for a tax [measure]…that’s better than going at it from opposite sides…”

It sounded as though CARD has already decided on a mailed assessment, but hasn’t made the formal announcement. I’ll try to attend the next CARD board meeting, usually held around the 15th of each month, and get more clarification on that.

The rest of the meeting was a jawdropper, the way these people wheel and deal behind closed doors, the stuff they say. I can’t write that fast, but the notes I was able to get are stunning. 

These people are not out to protect our interests, that’s for sure. I’ll cover it more when I get another chance to sit down. 

 

 

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

6 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

30 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From CalPERS – straight from the horse’s ass –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CARD makes “new” agreement with employees? Nothing really new, Willmann gets a raise but still only pays 2.5 %

24 Sep
 

Chico >> Ann Willmann, general manager for the Chico Area Recreation and Park District, noted good budget news following the conclusion of union negotiations.

Contract negotiations were concluded with different collective bargaining and employee groups, she noted during Thursday board meeting.

According to a staff report, each employee group with receive an annual cost of living increase of 3.5 percent each fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017 and ending July 2019.

Also, employees will be contributing more for their PERS coverage, ranging from a low of 2.5 percent per year to a high of 8 percent until 2020, depending on their collective bargaining unit.

Willmann noted that $1.7 million has been set aside by CARD to cover unfunded PERS liability, the exact amount of which changes.

On Friday, Willmann noted in an email, “The COLA increase is costing the district an extra $63,582.00 in this fiscal year.

“The increase in the percentage the employees are paying for PERS is saving the district $33,256.34 in this fiscal year.”

In addition, the negotiating units also agreed to reduce the salary schedule from the current 10-step configuration to a six-step schedule, which should be reached by July 2020.

City to form ad-hoc committee with CARD to “pursue cooperative development of facilities…such as sports and aquatic complexes…”

15 Sep

At next week’s council meeting, city mangler Mark Orme will suggest an Ad hoc committee with Chico Area Recreation District. A lot of items on his proposed agenda seem innocuous – discussions of various park and playgrounds and who will own and be responsible for them.

Near the end of the item we find this notation:

Cooperative Development. CITY and CARD agree to pursue cooperative
development of facilities that could enhance economic development, such as sports
and aquatic complexes.

The group “Every Body Health Body” has been fronting the sports/aquatics complex conversation eversince CARD gave up trying to convince the public they should pay a bond to support such a venture. Now CARD is going for a general bond, and EBHB has taken up the campaign to get us to pay for this thing.

I attended an event these people hosted at Cal Park Pavilion last year, and the first person I ran into was Mark Orme. Invites had been given to all the council members and board of supervisors, as well as key staffers. 

Orme told me he was there out of “personal interest,” that the city had no involvement.

Oh yeah?