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. 

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League of Women Voters to host forum regarding economic impacts of Oroville Dam – open to the public

6 Sep

 League of Women Voters of Butte County Forum

Economic Impact of the Oroville Dam: Past-Present-Future 

Saturday, September 16th  9am to 1pm  

Southside Oroville Community Center  

2959 Lower Wyandotte Rd, Oroville

for more information go to    http://www.lwvbuttecounty.org/LocalNews.html

                       

Robert Marbut fails to address a public sector that looks at “the homeless” as cash cows

5 Sep

Yesterday an old post got an unusual amount of traffic.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2016/02/02/its-good-to-see-people-asking-questions-about-funding-torres-shelter/

Reading this morning’s paper, I see why –

http://www.chicoer.com/social-affairs/20170904/chico-homelessness-to-do-list-revisited-a-year-after-robert-marbuts-visit

Here’s the article from last year –

http://www.orovillemr.com/article/NB/20160923/NEWS/160929822

I don’t think any of the agencies here took Marbut very seriously. This is what Marbut failed to address – a public sector that looks at these people like cash cows. 

 

What do the Ponderosa Fire and yesterday’s midday Downtown robbery have in common? You got it – the “homeless”

2 Sep

When I saw the news stories about these two incidents, I immediately typed the suspects’ names into the Butte County Superior Court “Smart Search”.  

Ponderosa Fire suspect John Ballenger was arrested in 2009 for illegal camping, arrested since for weapon, dui, hit-and-run, etc.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2017/08/30/suspect-arrested-in-connection-with-growing-ponderosa-fire/

Downtown robbery suspect Ethan Young has been arrested numerous times, including failure to obey domestic violence order.  

http://www.krcrtv.com/news/local/butte/a-chico-man-was-arrested-for-trying-to-rob-a-jewelry-store/615621989

Both of these men have an extensive history with local law enforcement, but have been released repeatedly by the court. 

 

Trash Tax: $taff divvies up trash tax among themselves, no scraps left to fix streets

30 Aug

Next week’s (9/5/17) Chico City Council meeting will include a discussion of how to divvy up the new trash tax, and just as I’d expect, $taff put their pensions first and service, well, third or fourth, according to the report (entire report available at the following link)

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

Budget Policies
Pursuant to the Council’s Budget Policies, the following would be followed by staff without Council earmarking. ( Meaning, without council approval, or any public oversight.)
D.1.a. The City will dedicate new ongoing revenue sources in the following manner and priority·
.
Priority 1. Fixed cost increases, such as built-in contract escalators, benefit increases outside City control including CalPERS pension contributions, etc.; (pretty clear – we are not allowed to refuse to fund the pensions/benefits, we have to give them as much as they want)
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; (more employee benefits, plus money for the General Fund, which has no spending rules or limits. All for employee benefits. Compensated Absences – the city pays for sick days and vacation that weren’t taken, so when an employee doesn’t take these days, they get paid for them in addition to 52 weeks of working pay.)
• Priority 3: Replenishing internal service funds, such as Vehicle Replacement, Building
Maintenance, etc.; (this is another employee benefits – they put their vehicles and maintenance of the air conditioned offices they work in ahead of fixing public infrastructure. The public doesn’t own City Hall, the employees own it – ever see the fee schedule for using the council chambers or any of the meeting rooms?)
• Priority 4: Discretionary expenditures and negotiable items.  (“negotiable items” – that means, services we always assumed they’d be providing for us, but now we find, they will expect us to pay extra to fix streets, sidewalks, or any other public fixtures.)

Ever read/see “A Christmas Carol”? Well, here, $taff divvies stands over the corpse of our city and divvies up our last possessions. 

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? 

City facing $178,075,000 in unfunded street projects, less than $2 million in the street improvements fund

18 Aug

Speaking of the proposed sales tax increase – “to fix the roads” – here’s another knee slapper – the city needs over $178 million to bring our streets up to standard, just to mitigate the effects of new construction. Here’s the link to that report in next weeks Finance Committee agenda.

http://www.ci.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/finance_committee/8-23-17FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

Right now city staff is wrestling with developers like Bill Webb, who feel the city is expecting too much of the money to come out of new construction fees.

The report is difficult to understand, but what I’m guessing is, they don’t want to pay the “Urbanization” fee at all, they think the taxpayers should have to pay to fix the streets. But, I’ll give it to staff – they make a very good argument, pointing out the obvious – new development, especially these high density subdivisions that are going into Grandma’s backyard all over town again, generate more traffic and the developers/homebuyers who build them should have to pay for the added impacts.

What about the proposed sales tax increase?  Taber admitted, “The city would only raise 4 to 4.5 million per year if they increased the sales tax by a quarter cent. ” 

Well, like I said – $4.5 million compared to $178 million – that’s a little tiny bubble of spit on a great big griddle.  According to the Finance Committee report linked above, just one of five currently approved projects – a stretch of Humboldt Road that has been heavily impacted by new development – will cost over $6 million. Other’s ranged between $800,000 and just over $2 million.  

But, $4.5 million would cover the increasing amount CalPERS is demanding to cover our pension deficit – $800,000 now, expected to increase to $1.5 million within the next three years, and on up from there.  Meanwhile, Chico City Council is handing out raises that increase the deficit while refusing to ask employees to pay more out of their own paycheck.

Tsk, tsk, get good tires on your car.