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I made a simple request of my new garbage hauler… only I was smart enough to cc WM rep and my city mangler…

15 Sep

Did you get your postcard?

Last week Recology sent postcards to all their soon-to-be former customers here in Chico, handing us over to the city’s new designated residential waste hauler, Waste Management.

Two weeks ahead of “Live” date, the public is finally properly noticed of this deal. But there’s nothing in this post card about pending rate hikes.

“Your new service provider will be Waste Management. They will communicate any potential service day changes, if applicable. Please continue to use your current containers for weekly service until your new provider is able to exchange them. If you have any questions regarding these changes, please contact your local WM office at cssacramento@wm.com “

So, now Sacramento is our “local WM office”?

I wanted to get a leg up on this thing, because I already got a sniff of the new rates – I have friends who live in Paradise, where a similar deal was cut years ago with their local hauler, Northern California Recycling and Waste. Right now, my 96 gallon Recology bin, shared by two families, costs me about $26 a month. I think this is a reasonable rate for weekly pick-up. In Paradise, my friends pay about same for a 35 gallon bin.

So I expect Chico rates to go up similarly, now that the precedent has been set. I wanted to switch to a smaller bin, and I wanted get a leg up, knowing how people are – some people are already aware, and they will also be queueing up for service changes. And, when the rest of the lemmings get their first bill, I predict a general landslide of service change requests.

Over the weekend I e-mailed the address on the postcard, but here’s the thing: I cc’d Chico City manager Mark Orme, mark.orme@chicoca.gov, and the Chico WM rep who has been attending the franchise meetings, Ryan West – rwest1@wm.com

I also asked to opt out of the yard waste bin – which the agreement says is required, and which will be an extra charge.  

I’ve been having a “live” conversation with  Orme and West for a few months now, and West told me I could opt out of the yard waste bin.

“Exemptions will be allowed for customers residing in an HOA, Mobile Home Park or other maintained community where yard waste service is already provided or where lack of room at the residence does not allow space for the third cart.  These customers may choose not to participate in yard waste service and receive a $5.79  reduction in their monthly rate.”

We  share property and trash service, for which we pay,  with our tenants. My husband and I have always provided landscape and trash service for our rentals because that’s just the best way to make sure your properties are maintained.  We have bigger yards, compared to the new standard, with lots of trees and shrubberies. One morning’s work would stuff their little 56 gallon yard bin so full I wouldn’t be able to get it down the driveway.  We mulch the small stuff and take the bigger stuff to the city-owned compost facility on Cohasset. I think it’s about $5 – 8 a pick-up truck load, and we go a few times a year. Why would we want one of their pathetic little bins? Why would I want a third truck stopping in front of my house – I thought the whole idea was to get some of these trucks off our streets?

Besides, Neal Road Landfill manager Bill Mannell once told a gathering of the city Sustainability Task Force that customers typically use their yard waste and recycling bins as back up trash bins. I don’t know if that ‘s true, and I don’t want to find out.

I mailed off my simple request, on Sunday, and was shocked to get an almost immediate response from Orme.

Ms. Sumner,

Thank you for your e-mail.  You’ve included WM on this e-mail, which is the correct recipient and who will follow-up with you on this request.  I hope you have a wonderful Sunday. 

Sincerely,

Mark

I had to answer him that he’d been cc’d to keep him in the conversation, no need to respond on Sunday. He responded again to tell me he understood – I worry about this guy, he should be spending more time with that little boy he brings to meetings on occasion.

But I thanked him, telling him, “we’ll see how long it  takes Waste Management to respond…”

Well, Ryan West got back to me the next day,

“Thank you for your email.  We will be happy to make the requested adjustments to your account before we create it.  Can I ask you to verify the service address in question?”

His response was followed up by a staffer who wanted to “clarify” the information I had given him.  I felt confident my needs would be met, absolutely spoiled with all the attention!

And then I got another e-mail on Wednesday. It cut-and-paste weird.

Hello Juanita,

Thank you for contacting Waste Management about your account. Certainly, once the account is switched over automatically after 10/1/2017, please contact us so we can update the changes you requested.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reply to this email or contact us through Waste Management live chat at http://www.wm.com.

Thank you again for contacting Waste Management. We truly appreciate your business and allowing us to meet your waste service needs.

Jose Luis

Waste Management Customer Service

So, there’s my official response from Waste Management, from the address all the other customers were given – “once the account is switched over…”

So here’s my advice – any problems you have with Waste Management, even simple requests,  cc mark.orme@chicoca.gov and Ryan West at rwest1@wm.com

And remember, the Early Bird who cc’s the appropriate people will get the worm.

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Time to ring their phones “off the hook” about the trash deal – city manager’s office, (530) 896 – 7200. Ask them why this rate increase wasn’t handled like PG&E and Cal Water rate increases.

11 Sep

I followed the advice of my fellows, Jim and Bob, and wrote the following e-mail to City Mangler Mark Orme and my 3rd District Supervisor Maureen Kirk, and cc’d city attorney Vince Ewing cause I have some questions of a legal nature. 

Good Monday Morning Mr. Orme,   Supervisor Kirk, and Mr. Ewing,

Have either of you seen this Chicoosity Facebook page? (linked  below) Scroll down to the garbage franchise conversation.

Like I told both of you, the public needed to be better informed of this city trash deal, given the lesson that should have been learned when the county rolled their deal out.  Remember what Mr. Hahn said – “phones rang off the hook with complaints for two weeks…”  I see people are just as mad about the city deal – wait until they get their new bills!

Something I realized recently – when PG&E and Cal Water raise rates, they put notices in their bills, a year ahead, and there are public hearings.  Why wasn’t that done with this trash deal? Why didn’t Recology or Waste Management make any attempt to notice customers more than two weeks ahead of roll-out? I just got my postcard on Friday (9/8/17). Why didn’t the city notice customers and hold public hearings?

Those are not  rhetorical questions, so I cc’d Mr. Ewing, maybe he can answer. 

Here’s the link to that facebook page – thanks, at your convenience, for an answer to my questions.  — Juanita Sumner

https://www.facebook.com/groups/chicoosity/

As I was reading that over, I realized, people called the county. You can reach city manager Mark Orme’s office at (530) 896 – 7200.  Be really polite, his underlings don’t get paid as much as he does. He won’t answer your call, but he’ll know about it. 

Make those phone lines dance People!

 

Not sure what happened with the trash tax, but it looks like the money will be going to the roads. Or something.

9 Sep

I’ve been busy lately but I’ve been trying to keep an ear to the trash tax discussion. You may have seen my letter in the Enterprise Record recently:

Next week Chico city council will discuss how the trash tax will be spent. While they promised to fix the streets with the new revenue, staff has listed “Priority 1” as “Fixed cost increases, such as built-in contract escalators, benefit increases outside City control including CalPERS pension contributions”. 

I am quoting directly from the staff report, available at the city website, with the city council agenda for September 5, 2017. 

“Priority 2:  Funding significant long-term liabilities, and replenishing General Fund and Emergency Reserve, Workers Compensation, General Liability, and Compensated Absences funds to established targets”  Employee costs, and money into the General Fund, which can be spent without the restrictions placed on other funds. 

“Priority 3:  Replenishing internal service funds, such as Vehicle Replacement, Building Maintenance” So, staff get new cars and upgrades in their office buildings?

Finally we get to “Priority 4: Discretionary expenditures and negotiable items.”  That would be, fixing city streets, cleaning up Bidwell Park, and dealing with increasing crime? Negotiable? As usual, public service is the lowest priority for staff. 

Let’s call this “franchise fee” what it is: The Big Lie

And get ready – next they will come at you by way of your toilet – sewer fees are going up, and so are septage pumping fees. All to pay down the pension and benefits liabilities.

David Little wrote a similar, but nicer editorial, we agreed – $taff told us this money would go to fixing the streets, and now they try to pull a bait-and-switch, trying to spend it on their own pensions. That’s called “fraud” and it’s illegal, at least in the private sector.

So, no wonder city mangler Mark Orme was just a little defensive in his opening remarks, saying there were other options, mentioning what was said in the newspaper – hey, Mister, I quoted from the agenda report you approved and signed. Here’s the preceding headers I left out of my letter:

Pursuant to the Council’s Budget Policies, the following [4 “Priorities” listed above] would be followed by staff without Council earmarking.
D.1.a. The City will dedicate new ongoing revenue sources in the following manner and priority·

In fact, road work and maintenance were the last “options” under “Options to Consider” Read the report here:

http://chico-ca.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=271&meta_id=56052

Mark Orme needs to go.   Having given and heard numerous reports about our financial situation, Orme still demanded a $9,000 raise to cover his increased pension payment – still less than 10 percent of his total package – still expecting to get 70 percent of over $220,000 in salary in retirement. 

But I was shocked with the conversation that followed. Sean Morgan and Andrew Coolidge refused Orme’s proposal and made a motion to dedicate the money to road work. I tried to type as I listened.

Morgan: I understand we have our own policy about what to do with new money… a continued discussion about how many trucks were on the road…how much damage that was doing.. no question the roadways are bad…biggest thing we deal with after unfunded pensions…allocate most of not all of that increase into roadways…in the report two line items for road maintenance…that was my initial thought…we could hire we could hire we could hire …. staff has done an incredible job of [lowering costs]…that doesn’t work when it comes to  repaving roadways...[mentions a group that wants a sales tax to fix roads]…

Stone: [admits the streets are bad]  I’m kind of comfortable dedicating for a year some amount…I’m uncomfortable about dedicating this long term, I don’t like to tie our hands…

Sometimes I think Stone should be bound and gagged, but I’ll admit, that’s not very nice. I will say I’m uncomfortable with him having a free hand to the til.

Sorensen: I think any action we take is only good as long as we take it…everything in the budget is up for grabs… my preference would be capital [improvements] … there would be much more grant opportunities [if we had matching funds dedicated].

Ann: things we really need…certainly roads is definitely a need…however we have an opportunity to at least start to pay for the permitting system that would certainly help streamline permitting process [more money for city]  … interpretive program for our park… 3 priorities – roads, permitting, parks.

Coolidge then asked for public comment.  

Sales tax increase advocate Stephanie Taber commented that the “$200,000 – $600,000” expected in the first year of the franchise is inadequate – “what’s that going to do for that $7 million we have missing [$taff indicated roadwork might cost up to $10 million a year, and there’s nothing in the road or capital improvements funds] …you guys have got to grab hold of the fact we haven’t got any money… the thing we need to fix [is that we are] millions of dollars behind in many things we really need…you really need to come up with a long term plan. I am very much in favor of the tax increase, I don’t see any problem whatsoever I think it’s the best thing for our city.  My 2 cents.”

Local businessman Mike Reilly commented that “most or all should go to capital…” with “50 percent toward the roads.” But he also opined that streamlining the permitting system “ is a one time [$250,000] cost and will help immediately.”  He believes it would save the cost of another employee, paying for itself within a couple of years. For this reason Reilly felt the franchise revenue should be “looked at on a yearly basis…but I don’t think we should pay PERS or add salaries…”   Adding police officers was one of the first “options” listed in the $taff report.

Coolidge:  Certainly there’s a long list of things we need…but at the end of the day I recall all our conversations about the franchise agreement…over and over…almost all my colleagues spoke to the fact that they were were doing this because of the impacts the trucks have on the roads and the roads had been neglected…personally I’d like to see it [the franchise revenues] locked up forever…the problem we get into is when funds aren’t locked up...[makes a motion to dedicate the entire amount toward “the roads”]…”for the period of the first year…”

Here I had a problem – for the first year?  Sounds like a trick! Luckily Morgan moved in with a “friendly amendment.” 

Sean: I absolutely agree with the motion..my fear is if we only do it for a year…we’ll be whacking the mole, we never end up getting anything…I would support your motion but I’d rather see it all go into road capital for a period of 5 years.

Then Sorensen tried to address another concern of mine – what fund are we talking about? There seems to be a road fund, a capital improvements fund – I haven’t been to the meetings lately, and they’ve changed everything.

Sorensen: I was going to add, it’s not clear, is it capitol or road maintenance he wants? [if] we can’t lock it in, we could vote to change it in two months…we should take it up as a budget item…

Morgan seems to agree with Sorensen, but poo-poos his concern about the possibility of an overturn of the decision. Morgan said he wanted the money “earmarked” so it wouldn’t “just end up in the General Fund,” where it can be spent with little or no restriction as to purpose. 

So, what’s the legal term here, earmarked? Dedicated? This is never explained fully to the public, and that’s how they get away with moving this money like carnival barkers.

But Morgan opined that any council member(s) who tried to overturn this decision “would have to stand up to the community…”

Ooooo, you’re scarin’ me now!

 

So I don’t really understand the motion they eventually made, I guess I will have to look at it when Her Royal Clerk posts the minutes on the website. They seemed to be saying both the capital and road funds, but they seemed as confused as I was. Presson didn’t read anything back, she just called for the vote. I don’t know if that’s appropriate – it sure doesn’t give anybody a chance to ask about the motion, whether they understand it or not, and I’m telling you, these people are not the sharpest pencils in the box. The clerk has made mistakes before – the most expensive being the motion that first passed for the scrap yard – and the council seem to follow with their noses to her behind without thinking about stuff.

The motion passed with Ory absent, and Schwab and Stone dissenting. 

Loyalton Calif cuts pensions – why can’t Chico do same?

27 Aug

Thanks to Jim for picking up this article, from the Los Angeles Times, about a little town not far from Chico.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-loyalton-calpers-pension-problems-20170806-htmlstory.html

I think we have a similar situation here. Early in the 2000’s, a city council including current county supervisors Maureen Kirk and Larry Wahl, at the behest of then city manager Tom Lando, signed an MOU with city employees, attaching salaries “to revenue increases, but not decreases…”  

Staff then went on a permits binge, permitting development all over town, houses piled into Grandma’s back yard, raising city revenues and salaries along with them. Staff got 14, 19, 22 percent raises over a very short period.  Lando’s own salary went from around $65,000 a year to over $120,000 a year within a very short time. 

When this scam was figured out by the public, they stopped it, but started paying the “employer paid member contribution” –  the city started paying most, even all of the employee’s pension share.

We’ve been screeching about that, so lately they just  raise the employee’s salary to cover their new pension share – they are determined that the taxpayer will foot the bill for these pensions (the following list is from 2012, remember, these people get cost of living increases) :

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

Tom Lando hasn’t been pumping the sales tax increase lately, but I’m sure he’s behind it. Lately, in his position as Chico Area Recreation District Board member, he’s been pushing for a bond on our homes. It doesn’t matter which agency gets the money, as long as they pay their CalPERS deficit with it. 

Loyalton only had four employees – can we do the same thing? I think we can sue the city for the outrageous raises given these pensioneers – spiking – right before they retired, like Lando. But I’m not a lawyer. 

What do you think? 

The new trash deal is going to stink

14 Aug

Tomorrow Chico City Council will finalize the trash deal. I’ve read and commented on it for years now, this latest draft still has a lot of problems.

  • they will require everybody to pay for a yard waste bin
  • if bins are damaged, including graffitti, more than once, the customer is on the hook for the replacement of the bin – no prices included, we have to wait til our bin is damaged to find out
  • no rates published, but Waste Management is allowed to raise our rates at will with the CPI

Right now my family pays about $25 for a 96 gallon bin which we share with our tenants. Nobody would tell me what the new rates would be, but I’ve checked in other towns – we should expect to pay $25 for a 35 gallon bin under the new deal, so the bigger bins will be closer to $35 and $50 a month. Plus the additional whatever for the yard waste bin. Recycling will also be required, but free. 

I’ve howled about this deal, which former mayor Mark Sorensen called a “trash tax.” I don’t think the public will pay attention until they get their new bills. We’ll see what kind of stink rises up over Chico when people find out, trash service will not be mandatory under this  deal, just a lot more expensive!

Hi Council,

I just wanted a few last words before you hit us with  the trash tax.

I won’t pay for a yard waste bin I don’t need. I’ve got rentals, I do my own yard work and hauling, I pay to take the stuff to the green waste facility on Cohasset, so I shouldn’t have to pay for yard waste bins for tenants who don’t do any yard work.   Besides, why should I have to have a third truck stop in front of my property, every week?

Also, they should have to tell us how much these bins cost, UP FRONT, if they are going to require us to replace them when they get damaged/tagged. That also makes the yard waste bin a liability I don’t need.

Waste Management should also have a rate schedule on their website that is good for a year. When I tried to sign up for Waste Management earlier this year, the dispatcher gave me old rates, and told me she had no idea what the rates would be when the franchise takes effect in October. That’s called “bait and switch”.

Thank you  for your anticipated cooperation – Juanita Sumner, Chico


 

Sales Tax Increase Anyone?

30 Jul
 

The headline read, “Chico government can’t be trusted with tax increase.” The letter implied current city management is deceitful in its handling of city finances. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the letter writer attended monthly Finance Committee meetings, any accusation of supposed mishandling of taxpayer monies could be explained. I know, I attend those meetings.

Since our new management staff (Mark Orme, city manager, Chris Constantin, assistant city manager, Scott Dowell, administrative services director, and Barbara Martin, deputy director-finance) took office many positive changes in financial reporting have taken place. Detailed financial reports are presented at both the committee meeting and at City Council meetings. Those reports are published online for all to see and pick apart if the public chooses. I cannot recall the letter writer coming forward with a question, comment, or criticism this entire year.

Most of the letter seemed focused on past majority driven ultra-liberal councils (2004-2012) and the old management team that was either unwilling or incapable of controlling their spending. Things have changed dramatically. All it took was one conservative council member and the Grand Jury report of May 2013 to shed light on the mismanagement of taxpayers’ money.

I have no misgivings in suggesting that the city raise sale tax by one-quarter of 1 percent (7.25 percent to 7.50 percent) equaling $4-$4.5 million annually. I will gladly pay that extra 12 cents on a $50 purchase if that meant we could repair/replace our hazardous city streets in this century.

— Stephanie L. Taber, Chico

 

My response to Taber, e-mailed 7/29/17 (we’ll see if this is printed, ER staff removed similar comments I made on Taber’s letter )
We have been assured that all Chico’s financial problems have been put to bed under our “new” staff.  
Former finance director and current assistant city manager Chris Constantin instituted the policy by which whenever a fund is in deficit money is “administratively” transferred from other funds. For example, the gas tax, which most people believe is dedicated to road repairs and improvements is routinely “allocated” for  salaries, pensions and benefits, just like when Jennifer Hennessy was our finance director.
Current administrative services (finance) director Scott Dowell was with Chico Area Recreation District when they failed to make recommended repairs to Shapiro Pool, instead spending $400,000 on a “side fund payoff” to CalPERS.   When he left that agency CARD had over $1.7 million in pension deficit for less than 35 employees, despite spending over $300,000/year in regular payments.

The city’s pension and benefits liability is now over $180 million, and the state is demanding an escalating payment scale. Meanwhile, we continue to pay the majority of our employee benefits, giving them raises to cover their increased shares.  We will never get out of our financial morass until our management staff agrees to pay 50 percent of their own pensions and benefits without corresponding salary increases to cover it.

A quarter cent sales tax increase would be spit on a griddle.

Juanita Sumner, Chico

You heard it in the Enterprise Record: “Chico Government Can’t Be Trusted with Tax Increase”

22 Jul

I wrote a letter to the paper in response to Stephanie Taber’s suggestion of raising sales tax to support salaries and benefits Downtown, it ran yesterday, now it’s gone! You have to know it was there and search it! How LOW will they GO?

That’s how Dave Little treats people he doesn’t agree with, he just squelches their letters.  He’s a very “Little” man, his testicles have to be put in the microwave every morning.

So, I ain’t proud – here’s the link:

http://www.chicoer.com/opinion/20170720/letter-chico-government-cant-be-trusted-with-tax-increase

And here’s the letter:

A letter writer has suggested a sales tax increase to “fix a couple of major roads a year”.   

Chico has reached financial crisis because of employee overcompensation.  In 2013,  third-party auditors found a $15 million deficit. Council cut workers and services, while raising management compensation to unprecedented levels. By October of 2016 we were one of six cities in California being investigated for fraud, having exhausted our emergency fund and outspent revenues for six years.. We are still on the state’s “watch list”.  

To avoid further audit, staff cooked up an “aggressive” repayment plan, purporting to raise employees’ share of compensation costs. But the increased shares came with salary increases that more than covered the new CalPERS shares.  According to publicpay.gov, the city now has a $180 million deficit and will soon be paying more than a million a year to beat it down. 

According to California Policy Center, “As Chico recovers, new development projects have been downsized to reflect the city’s long-term financial reality.”   Staff has spent all the money on management pensions and benefits, there’s no money left for road base, asphalt, or  qualified workers needed to fix the roads. 

Proponents of a tax increase measure say the money will be dedicated to the roads – don’t believe it. Staff has instituted a “fund allocation” policy – they move money from one fund to another like peas under walnut shells. 

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

 

It’s sad to me that we have such poor media here, Dick Little and Melissa Dogtree are just government shills. We have a council that plays lackey to the staffers who are ripping us off because all but one member of our council either get public  pensions or are married to one.