Tag Archives: City of Chico Finance Committee

Here’s how the city hides payments toward the pension deficit

18 Jan

I got the agenda for next Wednesday’s City of Chico Finance Committee meeting – if you want to know how your money is being spent, these are worth a read:

Click to access 1.23.19FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

The agenda includes the Finance Department’s monthly report – make yourself read through the gobblety-gook of numbers and acronyms, it gets easier to pick things out. Use Google search for any term (including acronyms) that you don’t understand. 

I like to scan down and look for certain things – I like to see where revenues come from, I like to see where they’re spent. They move this money like peas under nut shells – certain funds are restricted to certain uses, but somehow they manager to “allocate” money from one fund to another, and then they can spend it the way they please.

You need to remember this when the city starts talking about their revenue measure. Right now the talking heads – including members of the public that have too much influence over council – are arguing between a sales tax increase measure and a bond. Whichever way they  go, they will need to decide between a “special” tax and a “general” tax. Currently, a “special” tax requires 2/3’s voter approval, while a “general” tax only requires a simple 51 percent. 

But it doesn’t really matter in the end, because once they get the money, they can “allocate” it right into their own pockets. 

Look at the report and watch for the word “pension”. Right away I find “CalPERS UAL payment” – that’s for the unfunded pension liability – the difference between what public employees have paid for their retirement and what they expect to get. Last May city Finance Director Scott Dowell informed the Finance Committee that the city’s UAL is over $129 million. 

The UAL payment is made once a year. This payment is separate from the regular pension payments made monthly – those are mushed in with salaries and benefits, you’d have to ask Dowell exactly what the city pays per month. 

The 2018 pay out for the UAL is $7,598,561. That’s seven million, five hundred and ninety-eight thousand, five hundred and sixty-one dollars. Say it out loud a few times, you pay for it.

Because this money doesn’t come from the employees. They pay anywhere from two percent to nine percent of their monthly pension costs. The taxpayers float another 25 – 30 percent. The rest makes up the floating liability. Here’s how the city of Chico transfers this liability onto the backs of the taxpayers.

When I asked Scott Dowell where the money for these payments comes from I got the following answer:

Fund 903 has two inflows:

1.       Each City fund that has payroll is charged a percentage of payroll for the applicable share of the estimated annual unfunded liability payment.  That amount is transferred to Fund 903 from each applicable fund.  These transfers are used to pay the annual unfunded liability payment to CalPERS out of Fund 903.

2.       The second inflow is a direct transfer from the General Fund to the Fund 903 approved by the City Council.  There was an initial transfer from the General Fund to Fund 903 of $541,455 for the year ending June 30, 2017.

Let’s look at that.

1.        this is how they hide the payment – “transfers” – they take payroll money. Look at the budget, you see “salaries and benefits” in each department’s expenditures, nothing about paying down the UAL.

2.        and there it is – “a direct transfer from the General Fund  to the Fund 903 approved by the City Council.”

The General Fund is a cookie jar with no restrictions. I’ve sat at meetings and watched money being transferred from other, restricted funds, into the GF, so they can spend the money the way they want. This is “allocation.” 

So when they tell you a  tax measure will be devoted to “street maintenance” or “public safety,” here’s what that means. 

  • CalPERS unfunded pension liability payment for 2018 – $7,598,561.00
  • Roughly half goes to “Safety” (cops and fire) – $3,660,240.00
  • An increase over last year ($6,547,673) of $1,055,888.00


Private developer fund deficit due to $6 million pension liability

19 Nov

What a day I had yesterday, started it off with that Finance Committee workshop Downtown.  I was on my bike, bouncing through the park by 8:20, the air was damp and smokey and my muffler was wrapped around my head. When I rode home about an hour and a half later, the sun had warmed up and the day positively sparkled. I was home by 9:45 and off to work. All day I thought about what I heard at that meeting, and it really pissed me off.

Hey, do any of you remember that story out of Manton, just east of Red Bluff, about a group of school kids waiting for their bus one morning, witnessed a fight between a bear and a cougar over a deer carcass?  I can’t remember how that played out, who got the carcass, but the kids described it as quite a sight.  Well, yesterday I got to watch our mayor, Mark Sorensen, and one of our long time local developers, Pete Giampoli, go at it over a $6 million pension deficit. 

A couple of days ago I was complaining about the report for this meeting –


So yesterday I went to the meeting to see what the developer community had to say about it. There they were – Webb and Giampoli, and a few others, an old realtor named Doug, the usual suspects. I’ve watched Bill Webb get older,  but I am still waiting for him to grow up.  I know they read the consultant’s report because they carried it up to the dais and referred to various entries, questioning this and that. I know they are pissed because  the report makes them look like leeches – taking services from the city for which they pay less than the average homeowner. The homeowner has been subsiding the developers – when we put a new roof on our house, we pay about three times what they pay for the permit.

The real stinker –  ‘cuse my pun – is sewer connects. You probably know the homeowner pays thousands – our neighbor paid about $17,000 – just for the hook-up. Just to tap into the trunk line that runs past your house. Meanwhile, I got Tom Lando to admit, at that same time, about 2003 – developers were paying $3500 per unit. Why? Because developers are not made to pay for the trunk line to be laid, but the homeowner is expected to pay for that. That’s why the homeowner is charged by the “frontage” of their lot, the actual street length of their property. So, if you have a wide shallow property, you will not only pay more than the developer, you’ll pay more than your neighbor with the same size lot, but his is narrow and deep. Get what I’m saying?  Homeowners have been taking a screwing for years, while developers have oftentimes skipped without paying any fees. The city has been “deferring” fees – so the developer does not have to pay until his job is “built out”, or finished to the last lot. How long you think it’s going to take them to finish Meriam Park?

Ever hear of the Winchester Mystery House? That lady wasn’t crazy – check the records, she never paid one dime towards permits for that mess. As long as she kept building something she didn’t have to pay.

Developers have enjoyed a sweet hayride in this town, all the while telling us of the benefits they provide. They provide jobs – well, at least as long as the boom lasts. They provide housing – at inflated market prices that will fall in a few years and leave people all over town in foreclosure.  They destroyed our housing market over the years from 2005 – 2007, and the city went along with it for the one time fees. They might have thought property tax values would go up, but that was short lived. As foreclosures swept our town, property values went plummeting. A house on our street that originally sold for almost $600,000 last sold for less than $400,000.  Families were ruined.

 Over that period, city council signed an MOU attaching city salaries to revenue increases, “but not revenue decreases”, and salaries Downtown roughly tripled.

A couple of these developers tried to tell the city, the business has up-turns and down-turns, and the city should have responded to the downturns by cutting expenses Downtown. Frank Fields and Sean Morgan were quick to bring up the lay-offs, but forgot to mention – new positions have been hired since, and salaries have been raised. Morgan even made a creepy speech about how “the people who were responsible for this (our current financial morass) are gone now, you don’t see them around town anymore….”

See, he’s afraid to say, “Dave Burkland”. For your information, Sean the Idiot, I just saw Burkland at Mangrove Safeway the other day. He looked right at me and my husband with that “oh GOD!” look. He lives out off Hwy 32, west of town, in a great big nice house, and hauls in over $100,000 in pension a year. Wow, he’s so punished!  Hennessy pulls down a great salary in Temecula and her family still lives in a posh pad in North Chico. Unless she is caught literally stealing, she will enjoy a pension of over $100,000 for the rest of her life.

Morgan makes this speech at almost every meeting, reminding everybody that our new, fiscally conservative council is on the job! But, guess what – they’re not.

First I listened to Fields lay out the kind of mess we’re in – over $6 million pension deficit, just in the Private Development Fund. Yeah, remember that cost allocation Bullshit I told you about – well the developers got their introductory lesson yesterday. Yes, through the magic of cost allocation, the city can dip into funds to pay salaries and benefits and pension for employees who have nothing to do with that fund – they were at a meeting one day where that fund was discussed…

The developers railed, they said the cost study must be wrong.  Mark Sorensen became impatient – I’ll say it – bitchy.  He really attacked Pete Giampoli, telling Giampoli he wanted a specific point from that cost study that was wrong. I know Giampoli wanted to say, “the part where we have to pay the pensions”, but you know what, Pete Giampoli doesn’t have the ganas to say “shit” when he has a mouthful. I think “Giampoli” is the Italian equivalent of “peindejo.” 

Here I sat, like Little Black Sambo – watching the tigers fight. They both suck as far as I’m concerned, but I have to agree with the developers on this pension liability crap. And then, Consultant Chad Wolford moved up to the microphone to tell them both to put their peckers back in their pants.

I like Chad, he’s funny. I could tell he’d dealt with these developers personally, he used first names. I could tell he was slightly insulted by the cracks about his cost study, he assured us that the study was completely objective. He also pointed out he’d answered all their questions previous to the meeting – “in every case the critics had not read the study or had not listened to me when I explained it…”

The study involves the “actual” expenses – and, sorry, that includes the pensions – related to the services they receive – for example, plan checking. Through cost allocation, they’re not only paying for the employee who comes out to the job site and handles their plans, they’re paying for the maintenance and utilities for his office space at City Hall, they’re paying for the assistants who help that employee by making copies and coffee, they’re paying for the janitress who comes through to clean the coffee pot and empty the trash cans. 

And, since they laid off so many of his co-workers, plan checker man  told us, he’s “in the field all day and in my office until 7 o’clock at night…”  That’s Overtime sweetie, and they allocate that.

Sure you pay for that in private enterprise, but Giampoli reminded us – in the private sector, there’s competition to keep prices and salaries reasonable, affordable. The city has quite the monopoly here, and they get to make the rules. And they charge more for these services than the county charges, without any apology. 

Chad was not hired, he reminded us, to decide whether salaries or compensation were fair, he was there to tell us what those expenses were and what were our options for cutting the divide between revenues and expenses. He’s nobody’s friend, he has no dog in this fight. I bet if he did have a dog in this fight, it would have no hind legs.


As I listened to the consultant I realized I was running out of time – I promised my husband I’d be home by 9:45 so we could get a jump on our work day. He was home oiling and sharpening his chain saw, rounding up all the rakes and loppers, getting ready to spend a sunny afternoon clearing brush and cleaning up tree trash with our son. I was looking forward to a day of running between burn piles with a pitchfork, cause I’m a weirdo.  I started toward the front door of the chambers, pulling on my jacket and digging my hat and scarf out of my bag. I lingered in the front entry to put away my notebook, and I heard Chad saying something about the “real problem,” so I got my notebook back out and stood listening by the door.

He explained very plainly that when city management went through two rounds of cutting workers from the payroll, “you didn’t reduce the cost of overhead”. He doesn’t mean, the PG&E bill. He said, “management salaries, compensation and pension.”  The mayor and his “conservative council”  laid off all the worker bees, but they didn’t lay off any management. In fact, they hired more management and raised management salaries. 

Right now, our management employees are all veterans of the CalPERS system. As such, they are not subject to the new legislation that forces public employees to pay half their expenses – they pay 9 percent of pensions of 70 percent of their highest year’s earnings at age 55. 

Frank Fields made it very clear – the private development fund deficit is “largely due to pension obligation.”  They’ve emptied the General Fund making transfers, now they want the developers to pay more.

And not just the developers – they did not, in front of me, address the problem of homeowners paying so much beyond actual cost. 

PS:  Now you might want to read the conversation I had about a year and a half ago with Mayor Sorensen, in which he says I made up the pension deficit. That Mark, he’s a crack-up.


PSS: The consultant made a remark that stuck – he included city council as “overhead“, and actually mentioned that we could cut our city council. That’s true – a lot of towns operate fine with five, we have seven. I don’t have a current figure, but last time I checked, the mayor gets a $9,000 “stipend,” the other councilors get almost $7,000 each, and then they get health insurance packages ranging from about $8,000 to over $20,000 (Sorensen was taking a $21,000 package last time I checked, in addition to whatever he gets as city manager of Biggs). Cutting two councilors would mean a minimum savings of two $7,000 stipends and two $8,000 health insurance packages – $30,000/year.


$taff seems to be setting up a scheme by which they can raise their own salaries without council oversight – read it for yourself

24 Aug

There’s a city Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, 8:30 am. There is a ton of interesting stuff in the agenda, including what looks like pay raises for the police and fire chiefs. 

Click to access 8-26-15FCAgendaPacket.pdf

As usual, it’s loaded purposely by the clerk so that it can not be cut and paste, you will have to troll through the whole thing yourself, like I did. 

Frankly, the reports are so thick I don’t quite understand them, but I did see copies of a pay chart and a budget that were chock full of stuff you people should know about. $taff is also recommending policy changes that should not be swept by the public in an 8:30 am meeting. It looks like they are setting up a scheme by which they can bypass council and the public and give themselves raises. 

$taff and Council just finished telling us what great shape the city is in financially – why does the budget show a $7 million General Fund deficit?  The figures are confusing – on one line it says there’s $12 million plus in the sewer fund – on another line it’s shows a $3 million deficit. And the Park fund looks tapped – somebody better tell Tom Lando, cause he’s told CARD he will try to get money for the Aquatic Center study out of the city park fund. 

That reminds me – Lando and other CARD board members have been having “Intergovernmental” meetings with members of city staff and other agencies. These meetings are not noticed on the CARD website. I’ve been asking for months to be added to the notice list. First Steve Visconti told me I’d be added but never did, and now I’ve got new director Ann Willmann giving me the dis. She told me she’d add me after the July meeting and now they’ve had another meeting for which I have not been noticed.

I don’t care if I called her a human potato – I’m not taking that back, she deserves worse. She can call me what she wants, but as long as she accepts salary and benefits at the expense of the taxpayers, I’d like to see her do her fucking job.

NOTE: Willmann finally got back to me yesterday, excusing herself for being out of the office Monday. She said, “In regards to your question, the Board’s standing committees are consistently listed on the Agenda for the Regular Board Meetings.  This allows the Committee members to report to the Board and provide information if there was a Committee meeting.  However, all Committees do not meet monthly.  The only Committee meeting that was held between the Regular Board Meeting in July and the August 20, 2015 Regular Board Meeting was the Finance Committee.  We are aware of your request to be notified of upcoming Intergovernmental Committee meetings as well as AFAC meetings, and we will notify you when we have meetings scheduled for either of those committees. ” 

Yes, the worthless wad of Brown Act allows them to list stuff in their agenda that may or may not be discussed at the meeting. It also allows them to have sub-quorum meetings (not enough members of the committee to vote) without noticing the public at all.

Well, there you see, she’s said she’s aware of my request to be notified. But, if more of you don’t start paying attention, it’s not worth my time to bother with this crap. 

Robin Hood Nakamura wants to raise our garbage rates so he can forgive a $206,000 debt for Chico Creek Nature Center

21 Apr

At tomorrow’s Finance Committee meeting they will discuss raising your garbage rates so they can “forgive” over $200,000 in loan, interest, and late fees to the Chico Creek Nature Center.

A quick read of the consultant’s report regarding the new garbage tax will tell you, the city is adding a pimp charge to your garbage bill – but no, you won’t get anything more in return. The “additional services” they are talking about are all services the city is supposed to perform already. They will turn these duties, like street sweeping and leaf pick-up, over to the haulers, in return for an exclusive contract for Waste Management and Recology to split down the middle.

This is a sweet deal for both haulers – we will all be forced to “subscribe” to service, even if we don’t need it.  You know there are single people and childless couples all over town who bust a gut to produce a shopping sack full of trash per week, who do not have garbage service at their home.  They throw their trash away at work, in that big dumpster out back, or they take it to the grocery store when they shop – why not, that’s where most of it came from. When they eat out, they leave their trash at the restaurant. 

There are also neighbors who share trash service, which seems like the answer to those whiners who complain about too many trucks on the street.  Why not talk to your neighbors? Agree between yourselves on a common carrier, share cans whenever possible.  Unfortunately, that will be doable under this new franchise agreement. 

As for those “additional services,” street sweeping sounds great, but leaf pick-up is something we all pay for that disproportionately benefits landscape businesses. Every week my neighbors’ landscape providers come around, mow, and then blow everything right into the street. In Fall it’s absolutely impossible not to notice, there are mounds of leaves in front of houses that do not have one tree in the front yard. The program has very simple rules, one  of which is, no back yard leaves. But who supervises any of this? People should be cited for depositing their yard waste in the street, but here we ALL pay to have it picked up, free of charge. To hell with the leaf pick-up program. 

Read the list yourselves – they’re talking “X-mas tree pick-up.” I’m sorry, I don’t use “X-mas trees,” and I certainly don’t leave them laying in front of my house in the street. Why should I pay for those other jackasses? 

But we will, we will pay and pay. The consultant says our rates are “artificially cheap,” compared to nearby towns. Well, that’s because, they’ve all instituted the same scam already. Get ready for your bill to go up, $15, $20, maybe as much as $30 a month. 

One thing I see in looking at this report, our rates are artificially low not because we don’t have all these rainbow services, but because we have a current agreement that forces the haulers to use Neal Road Landfill. I am soooo conflicted here. Neal Road Landfill is a dinosaur, I don’t care what Mike Crump says. Recology owns a much more modern landfill in Wheatland – but get this – people in Wheatland and the surrounding area pay Rocology $52/month for a 96 gal tote, compared to our $24/month. Well, excuuuuuse me! Sustainability, my  friends, is for the rich.

I’d like to see our service remain same, keep the provision that the trash be kept here in Butte County, and a fund be set up immediately for the modernization of Neal Road Landfill. They talked about that somewhat at Sustainability Task Force meetings, but they’re really not serious about it. That’s because Neal Road is run by the county now, public workers are just not as motivated as private industry workers, let’s face it. They turn everything into a salary trough, where service becomes the last priority after paying their unfunded pension liability. 

Aftr they talk about putting the screw to us simply because they can, City Mangler Brian Nakamura will recommend further deferral, possibly even forgiveness (excuse me while I enjoy a solid chorus, in four part harmony, of “I TOLD YOU SO!”) of the Chico Creek Nature Center’s loan. This loan was originally $185,000 in 2008 but has metastasized into about $205,000 due to unpaid interest and late fees. And, the money was originally stolen  from the development fund, now over $9 million in deficit. Nakamura is recommending that the city forget about the extra $20,000-something in interest and fees and switch to an interest-only payment plan, until such time as this shaky little organization can pull it’s head out of it’s ass and start paying it’s bills. He also has the city attorney look into forgiving the loan!

Which provokes an interesting question: can the forgiven Nature Center loan be written off by the city as bad debt, or will the city have to repay the Development fund out of the General Fund? 

This on the heels of over $500,000 in losses through the home loan program, “written off” at last week’s council meeting. They’re just handing our money out like candy down at City Hall!  This is why they want to triple our garbage rates? 

Tune in next time, for another exciting installment of “Runaway City!” starring Jon Voight as Brian Nakamura, and Eric Roberts as Mark Orme. 






Fascist new committee meeting rules throw out free speech – it’s the END of public discourse in Chico

23 Feb

For years now, I’ve turned my attention toward the day meetings, where there has always been a more conversational tone between council/committee members and the public. Although it was sometimes testy, it was what you call “give and take.”  It was one of the few remaining factors that kept Chico’s “small town” atmosphere – the notion that elected officials were just members of the public who had been chosen by their peers to do a job, that they were never above us, and if they didn’t watch it, they might just end up under our feet. 

Unfortunately, we’ve had one mayor after another who has abused their privilege as elected “official.” Yeah, that’s right – starting with Ann Schwab, I’d say, they just started getting a little too officious. Our current mayor Scott Gruendl has become a regular Pinochet, using his position and his gavel to silence criticism while he empties the city coffers into the pockets of his friends – his developer friends and city employee unions who have financed his campaigns for city council.

Gruendl’s latest abuse of power is the institution of new rules for those daytime committee meetings. And it’s not just Gruendl’s idea – Brian Nakamura is chiefly behind it. Didn’t I tell you he was up to something when he started charging that too many members of the public got “off topic” during meetings, and that it was a violation of the Brown Act?   

You know, the Brown Act he says does not need to be attended to when it comes to having staffers supervise the un-elected committees, namely the Sustainability Task Force. The STF can now have meetings with anybody they choose, make recommendations to council based on what their friends tell them in secret meetings,  without any oversight from the public.  But you and I need to put our name and address on a card to speak, and we’re limited to three minutes per agenda item?

From this week’s Finance and Economic Development committee agendas:

NOTE: Citizens and other interested parties are encouraged to participate in the public process and will be invited
to address the Committee regarding each item on the agenda. In order to maintain an accurate and complete
record, the following procedural guidelines are being implemented:

1. Speaker Cards – speakers will be asked to print his/her name on a speaker card to address the Committee and provide card to the Clerk prior to the completion of the Staff Report. 

2. Speak from the Podium – the Clerk will call speakers to the podium in the order the cards are received. 

3. Speakers may address the Committee one time per agenda item.

4. Speakers will have three minutes to address the Committee.

I’m sorry, that is not encouraging, that is discouraging. That is how they hold us off by the forehead. They have a conversation right in front of us, they say the most outrageous stuff, and then they tell us we only get to address them, from a podium, for three minutes, cramming every observation we have on their up to one hour long conversations into three minutes. 

For example, during the Internal Affairs discussion on the Social Host ordinance, a group of landlords came in to make it clear they would not tolerate being held financially responsible for tenants’ behavior, they’re landlords not babysitters. Sean Morgan, in an attempt to suck up, kept telling them, “don’t worry, the TENANTS will be held responsible…” He kept using the word “tenants.”  We’d just had a long discussion about how the only person who should be held responsible, is the person(s) who provided the alcohol to the underage drinker, and hey, that might be the landlord, or it might be the tenant, or it might be the under-age person’s parents, or a guy he/she met at the liquor store. I wanted to hear the legal lingo – dealing with these fuckers Downtown is a Repo-man grab – you have to get them to SAY IT, and you have to get them to say it in legal terms. Morgan is an ass, how he got a job as a professor at a college mystifies me – he just wasn’t getting it. We wanted to hear “responsible party,” which is what city attorney Roger Wilson finally gave us. There’s legal import to terminology, just like when you accuse somebody of LIBEL! But this idiot thought he had to tell us, they’d stick it to the TENANT, he was just trying to buy us off and shut us up. We had to demand, and that doesn’t happen in a three minute puke-up from the podium, it happens in a give-and-take conversation.

I’ll tell you why they did this – because the people have gotten a little too  tired and a little too wise to take any more of their illegal bullshit. People have been packing those little rooms to tell these fuckers where to stick it, and guess what – Brian Nakamure and Scott Gruendl and Mark Sorensen have got some kind of royalty complex – they think people are just supposed to do what they say without asking questions. They don’t like too many questions. And they have some kind of fatal allergy to THE TRUTH.

The people have been overthrown.  Long live King Gruendl and his jesters Morgan and Sorensen.  

Finance Committee meeting, Part 2: here’s how the Capital Projects fund ends up over $3 million in the red

14 Dec

I was in such a hurry to flop out that post yesterday, I didn’t explain what made me so mad about that Finance Committee meeting. 

They were talking about the cost allocation study recently completed by a consultant. A cost allocation study is a breakdown of the costs related to doing business with each department in the city – everything from salaries and benefits of department employees  to that department’s share of the muni building water bill on the day they were working on a project.    Not only is this good information to know when council is making decisions on various projects, but it’s necessary to receive payment for those employees when they work on any project funded by a federal grant. 

Because we don’t have this study, we have gone seriously into the red doing these federal projects. The Capitol Projects fund is over by more than $3 million dollars as they’ve tapped it to pay the salaries of the employees who’ve been involved, in the tiniest way, in these projects. They wouldn’t tell me which projects, and I’m not going into the research, but I’ll use a state-funded project as an example.

For several years staff worked toward this Downtown remodel – the stupid roundabouts and re-striping, etc, etc, a project that has at last report already gone at least a million over budget. They racked up hours and hours on that project, and all those hours, along with the air-conditioning bill, were supposed to be paid by that project.   Staff will tell you, that project was paid for with state grants – as though, that’s not our tax money too? Well, don’t forget – for any grant, we have to match funds out of the city coffers, so stop letting them act like these grants are free manna from Heaven.

In the case of state grants, staff tells us, we are able to charge staff costs to the grant. But, I’m going to guess, without this cost allocation crap, we weren’t able to recoup as much money as we should have. And, don’t forget, a lot of it gets paid out of the matching funds.  Furthermore, in the case of projects done with federal grants, we are not allowed to even charge for the employees. We pay them and all the bills related to keeping them in a building right out of the Capital Projects Fund. That’s why that fund is over $3 million in the red. 

The problem here is still our stupid council. They have approved these projects, millions and millions of red dollars, without any concern for what they would actually do to our budget. If they didn’t know this stuff, they should have – they tell us, especially those fucking idiots Goloff and  Morgan, that we elected them to make decisions for us, we’re supposed to sit back and trust them to know what the hell they’re doing. 

That, my friends, is the joke, and unfortunately it is on us. 

Divvying up the city pie

25 Nov
This is a "pie chart" of the city budget.

Imagine this as a “pie chart” of the city budget.

When we went to the Tea Party meeting at Marie Callender’s last month, we picked up a pie heading out the door. I told my husband, make it something decadent, so he got this chocolate cream pie, pictured above. When we got home and divvied up three little pieces among ourselves, I said, “Wow, police and fire get the rest.”

The picture above is a pretty good representation of the “public safety” portion of the City of Chico budget. Last time I looked, the annual expenditures were around $43 million, and the police department was getting over 21 of that, or roughly half. The fire department gets less than the police department, but between the two of them, they eat about 84 percent of our communal pie.  Imagine – all the other departments, I think seven other employee groups in all, get to fight over that last little piece. Give you a little look-see what the contract negotiations are all about, eh?

Tomorrow morning I’m going to try to make it out of here by 7:45 to get to a Finance Committee meeting. I’ve already looked over the agenda and reports, available here:


According to the monthly finance report, the police department is more than $100,000 over budget for overtime.  I’m looking forward to hearing Trostle’s explanation, I’ll keep you posted.

Just how should parking revenues be spent?

28 Aug

Yesterday I hauled out of here at 7:45, and I mean hauled ass.  I can never get out of here in the morning, always have to go back for something, bike lock, ink pen, notebook, whatever. Just getting out my driveway can take me 20 minutes. If I’m lucky I don’t get halfway up the street and then realize I’m still wearing my pajama top.

I made the 8:00 Finance Committee meeting at about 8:04, having achieved flight somewhere under the freeway overpass, screeching into my chair just as Brian Nakamura and some other $taffers were taking their seats, and  Mark Sorensen was calling the meeting to order.

I had gone down there to ask some questions about the parking fund.  I find these meetings are the best time to ask questions, as long as they are relatively on topic. I must say, despite my feelings about their obese salaries, Chris Constantin and Frank Fields seem competent and are cooperative.  They give me an answer when I ask. The only part I have to figure out is, which question to ask.

Yesterday I wanted to know, what salaries are paid out of Downtown parking revenues, or Fund 853. I saw in the reports that fund takes in a little over a million a year – that’s just coin from Downtown parking meters – Whoa Nelly!

I also saw, half that fund goes to salaries and benefits, and I wondered – that can’t be just the parking meter crew. No, it’s not. Mark Sorensen mentioned, they take $120,000 for a cop, and no, he’s not assigned Downtown.

Well, I must say, that’s questionable. And that was the topic – just what should the city be able to do with the parking revenues. Fields, speaking on behalf of Constantin who is out of town til Sept 9, wants direction on that. It’s not his job to set policy, he’s just there to give us the facts. The fact is, we’ve been spending money “loosey goosey” (yes, that term has made it’s way permanently into the finance lexicon), and the Finance Department is asking council to put some limits on various funds, make some rules about spending.

Oh my geeshy sakes, isn’t that just Rocket Science! 

I know, we’ve heard this before, months ago. It’s not staff’s fault here, Constantin has been asking for direction, telling council they need to come up with new budget policies. Council has been moving like sap in Winter. I keep going to these meetings, months apart, and hearing the same conversation.  At one meeting, Constantin said departments had all been spending money without Finance Department oversight, and then just handing the bills to the Finance Department. Also, historically, whatever a department spent became their budget for the next year, encouraging departments to spend more to get more.  This is called “rollover,” and Fields says that while it’s really not a good way to run your finances, it’s “become the norm in government, I’m not sure why…”

Well, Frank is being too nice here. I know why, cause I remember an article in Tim Bousquet’s paper, years ago, about a lady named Jan who worked at the college. She said her boss had bought an enormous, gorgeous teak desk one year with what otherwise would have  become a “budget surplus,” meaning, their budget would have been cut. Rather than take a budget cut, this man bought himself a grandiose desk, at the taxpayers’ expense. This has become “the norm” in government.

And don’t forget, budget surpluses can also be taken as bonus by the department head – watch that episode of the office, where Staff is divided over buying new chairs or a new copy machine, and Michael “solves” the argument by taking the surplus as a bonus and buying himself a pimp jacket.

I have to get to work around my house now, I’ll pick this up later. 

Later:  Since I last posted, I have got a bunch of figures from Frank Fields, regarding the parking fund (853) but I haven’t had a chance to look them over. I also got some figures for the park fund (050) and wow, that’s a can of worms. I will get back after I’ve read over those documents – today  I am working out of town.

Later Later: Well, the documents Frank was so nice to provide me didn’t tell me anything really new – just kind of answered my suspicions.  Nor did he give me a document that I can cut and paste or figure out how to post in any way for you – I’ll work on it. Suffice to say, yes, they pay too many salaries out of the parking fund, salaries that, I’m sorry, have NOTHING to  do with providing anybody parking. 

What stunk about this meeting was, they have had the same discussion in front of me several times now, over months – and years previous with Hennessy – but nothing changes.  Staff certainly seems willing to have new rules for spending money – they don’t want to take the blame for the mess we’re in, they want to make sure we all know they are at the behest of council. So, the problem – the head of this stinking fish – is COUNCIL.

Furthermore, I’m blaming the two who told us they’d bring “fiscal conservatism” to this council – Sorensen and Morgan.   These two, especially Morgan, who is an ass, are doing nothing but fiddling our money away. They both signed another set of contracts agreeing to pay the employee’s share. With Morgan completed embedded at Chico PD (he brags constantly about going on frequent “ride-alongs” with his personal friend CPOA president Peter Durfee), I don’t see this changing anytime soon. We will continue to pay whatever the cops hold their hand out for as long as Morgan has anything to say about it.   Sorensen is way too friendly with the Chamber crowd. We’ll never get our financial house in order with Sorensen and Morgan handing out our taxes to their friends.

City of Chico meeting schedule for week of August 26, 2013

25 Aug

Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, Monday August 26, 6:30 pm, City Chamber Bldg, Council Chamber:  The only item on this agenda is commissioner Richard Ober’s request to agendize a discussion about creating a “public/private non-profit partnership” between the city of Chico and the Caper Acres Volunteers. This is total news to me. The Caper Acres Volunteers Facebook has not been updated for almost a month, there’s nothing on it about the meeting they had at the end of July, and I have yet to hear any news about this handful of moms starting a legal non-profit. I will try to make this meeting, I haven’t attended one of these for years. 

Here’s that link:    http://www.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/bidwell_park_and_playground_commission/BPPC_Agendaandreports_13_0826.pdf

Finance Committee, Tuesday August 27, 8 – 10 am, City Chamber Bldg, Conf Rm 1: This meeting is chock full of interesting stuff – did you know the city takes in over a million dollars a year in Downtown parking revenues, and spends over $500,000 of it on salaries and benefits? Something tells me the fellows who service those parking meters are not taking in that kind of salary, I’m guessing, this is another fund that is being hit heavily for other than it’s intended purpose.  $taff is in fact requesting that this fund be opened up to all kinds of allowed expenditures, stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with securing you a parking space Downtown. 

Other items include a continuation of the user fee study, as well as the usual budget and finance department updates from Chris Constantin. If you can’t make the meeting, at least look over the agenda – over 100 pages, including a Downtown parking study and pages and pages of incriminating financial figures. 

Here’s that link:  http://www.chico.ca.us/document_library/minutes_agendas/finance_committee/8-27-13FinanceCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

Economic Development Committee, Wednesday August 28, 4 – 6 pm, City Chamber Bldg, Conf Rm 1:  THIS MEETING HAS BEEN ERRONEOUSLY POSTED AND NOTICED AS BEING SCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY THE 27TH.  Sean Tillman sent out a blast of e-mail corrections that loaded my mail box like a diaper, but has not corrected the notice on the website yet. I keep waiting for his name to disappear from the $taff roster, and I keep being disappointed.

I had been looking forward to this meeting, because at the last meeting I attended, Tillman excitedly promised the results of the shopper’s survey undertaken earlier this year by Tri-Counties Bank, sponsored in part with our tax dollars.  Audrey Taylor from city consultant Chabin Concepts even mentioned having some sort of exciting “event”,  “in August”. But I don’t see anything about that on this agenda. Instead they will be continuing the conversation about merging this committee with the underground “Mayor’s Business Advisory Council,” which operates without public oversight. I’ve asked to attend MBAC events and been refused by $taff, as well as Ann Schwab and Mark Sorensen. Only Ann would even tell me who else is in this secret committee – PG&E? So, I don’t know if this is a good move. I’ve heard, at last week’s council meeting, they’ve re-opened the conversation about hiring a new Economic Development Director, also behind closed doors. I’m sick of all this sneaky business with the Chico Chamber, DCBA, and various consultants who come around at Community Block Grant Funding time. This issue needs more sunshine. 

There will be a “report” from “Team Chico” – another behind closed doors effort between the City of Chico, Chico Chamber, Downtown Chico Business Association, 3CORE and the Alliance for Workforce Development and who knows what other “stakeholders”. Their meetings are not noticed to the public, Tillman reports whatever he feels the public needs to know. These reports are all full of rainbows and lollipops, nothing substantial.  But, city money, in the form of Tillman’s salary and benefits, is being spent on these consultants, many of whom also get CBGF money. I read the slick report included in the agenda, and some of the information is no longer correct (Hwy 32 widening was KO’d the other night), a lot of it is just soap bubbles. 

Here’s that link:   http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/8-27-13EDCommitteeAgendaPacket.pdf

I wish more people would take time to attend these meetings, just once. I hate to think people just like to sit around complaining but doing nothing! 

Save your old phone bills – the city may be doling out refunds of illegally taken cell phone taxes

28 Nov

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I been busy hanging laundry these last fine days, anticipating the wet stuff. Kris Kuyper has predicted, today the honeymoon ends, and we’re going to get a little taste of Winter. About five days of it, apparently. Well, speak of the Devil – it just started pouring down as I sat here typing.

So yesterday I mounted old Myrt, my old Raleigh Superbe,  and we headed out through the park about 7:45 to a Finance Committee meeting Downtown.  Wow, what a morning it was, I didn’t even need a extra pair of skivvies. There was a mist along the ground. The leaves were still clinging to the trees, and that far-away sunlight was filtering down through all the light greens and tones of gold, it was like some magical forest. Right up til you get to the freeway where they’ve slaughtered every living thing. Oh well – did you think we could go along like a nice little town after Schwab and her friends permitted Meriam Park – “a city within a city.” The freeway widening as well as the upcoming widening of Hwy 32 were necessitated by Meriam Park and a couple of other subdivisions permitted by this “sustainable” council of ours. Tom Varga stood up and told us, gridlock will get worse, air quality will get worse, we will have all the trimmings of a city before you know it. I choose to get out there and enjoy what’s left of Old Chico before the developers bury it in a pile of shitopia.

If you’ve been watching meetings lately you’ve seen, we have to come up with matching funds for those projects. Business as usual Downtown.

At yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting, chaired by Scott Gruendl, they were busily giving away more of the taxpayer’s money. Gruendl really seems to believe that’s his job. The first two items on the agenda were approval of two mortgage subsidy deferrals. The mortgage subsidy program is intended for low-income first time home buyers, a low-interest loan that is supposed to be paid off or refinanced in five years.  Yesterday, on the recommendation of staffer Sherri Morgado and city manager Brian Nakamura,  Gruendl and Mark Sorensen voted to extend the loans of an individual and a couple who have moved out of their city-subsidized houses but “can’t” sell them and want us to go on footing the bill for their life styles. The first woman has had her loan out for 10 years, and has already got one extension. Now she’s coming forward for her second extension, even though she owns a second home. The other couple says they had to relocate to the Bay Area for their jobs.

Frankly, I don’t believe either of the buyers would qualify under the income requirements, but Morgado didn’t present all the documents. She argued that the city would lose if they force these folks to sell now. I don’t agree – the city could easily recoup their money by foreclosing. None of these people are threatened with homelessness, they just don’t want to lose on their investment, like families all over town. So they expect us to subsidize their bad judgement. Morgado is the one to blame – she is loaning money to people that banks won’t touch.

So both of their houses are being rented below market here in town, competing with landlords like me who run our businesses properly. I also believe they could be lying about the actual rent they collect, but there’s no way to know.  I find that kind of mismanagement of a fund that is supposed to help low-income people buy houses pretty disgusting. But, Mark Sorensen and Scott Gruendl went ahead and gave them the extensions. That matter was settled by 8:05, when Mary Flynn walked in the door with wet hair and a startled look on her face. She had already missed the first two agenda items. She looked surprised, as if she expected them to wait for her.

Flynn’s attendance at meetings has been so shoddy, a few months ago council had to vote as to whether to kick her off or not. They let her slide.   I’ve heard she’s pondering quitting, even before her term’s up. But that’s just gossip, we’ll have to wait and see what she does.

She made it to the meeting just in time for the quickie financial report from Finance Director  Jennifer Hennessy. This consisted of charts and doodah made up by consulting firm HdL Coren and Cone – “2013 Property tax Summary” and “City of Chico Sales Tax Update” – five pages in  total. I’ll ask – why do we need a consulting firm to do these reports? To do our everyday bookkeeping? We have not only Jennifer Hennessy (salary over $133,000/yr, benefits over $60,000) but her staff of thirteen accountants, account clerks, senior account clerks, accounting technicians, accounting manager, financial planning manager – as Yul Brynner would say, “Et-CET-era, Et-CET-era, Et-CET-era!” God only knows what their salaries and benefits add up to, I only have the management salaries from 2010. 

I asked Jennifer what we pay for HdL, Coren and Cone, she answered, very nicely I might add – “$4200 a year, for the Property Tax Summary.” I asked her what it cost for the sales tax report, but she didn’t have that figure. 

Well, I’ll say, it was three pages long and with all kinds of groovy colors and little pie charts and bar graphs and all that stuff you always wondered if you’d ever use beyond 9th grade math. It gets confusing. All  it represents to me  is $4200 (just for the prop tax report)  that should have gone toward flood mitigation on Big Chico Creek. 

While it might make a good read for the dentist’s office, it’s really just the same old stuff, gleaned from the Butte County  records, analyses of various statistics regarding the housing market, comparisons between prop tax revenues over the last few years, “real estate trends,” yadda yadda. It’s a great illustration of how they can use figures to say whatever they want, as long as they leave out a lot of pertinent information. For example, “Home sales have begun to rebound…The reported median price of an existing, single family detached home in California during July 2012 was $281,000. This was an 11.5 percent increase from $252,-000 in July 2011.” That sounds great, as long as you don’t include the fact that the same house was going for more than $500,000 just four or five years ago. That’s a loss of almost 50 percent. Bad, bad, bad!

Hennessy had to admit, we’re in the red on prop taxes – declined 2.1% – because “our budget assumed there would be zero impact” on property tax revenues this year. She speaks as though it’s the budget’s fault.  That seems kind of dumb to me, but I’m no Financial Planning Manager.

The rosy report for sales tax was a 9.9 % increase – mainly due to “building and construction.” Yes, you’ve seen those low-income apartment projects going up all over town, as well as some new housing. And you’ve seen home improvement projects all around town, people are spending money.  While “Lumber/Building Materials” were up by 42%, “Plumbing/Electrical Supplies” were up by a whopping 139% .  Yes, mom and dad remodeled the bathroom alright! 

Department stores and electronics stores took a hit – down about 9% and 13% respectively.  But, people are apparently buying new cars – that was up about 17%.  Wait til she gets the Christmas receipts – even  my family bought stuff for Christmas. We’re glad to do our part. 

 As Hennessy concluded her report, I noticed, it wasn’t even 8:20. Things were rolling right along, even with my bitchy questions. Time for a “discussion of Measure J.”

There was no staff report for this item. There was really no discussion. Scott Gruendl described Measure J as though he was reading it cold from cue cards, having never heard of the measure before. He asked Laurie Barker, “What needs to be done around the failure of Measure J?” I thought this was a no-brainer, but Barker, whose  total salary and benefits cost the taxpayers almost $300,000/year, said the city’s next move needs to be discussed and approved by the full council, probably in December. 

They all seemed tongue-tied and hesitant to talk about Measure J. Sore losers? I tell you, the linguistic gymnastics these people go through just to avoid telling it like it is – “we’re trying to define what the loss will be, what adjustments to make…”  The proponents, including Gruendl, said in the election booklet, $900,000 a year, what happened to that figure? What “adjustments” to make? You mean, contact the providers, and tell them to stop collecting the tax?  Stop spending the money? No, that wasn’t all of it.

Barker added, “How will we deal with refund requests?”

Oh, there it is. That’s what they’re nervous about discussing – I wasn’t crazy – they may actually have to refund money! 

Now, hold my horses, you know how excited I get. Barker made it clear, you can only claim up to the past year. And, she’s not sure if they’ll have to refund anything at all. She wasn’t pouring forth with details, but I’m pretty certain she is watching for the outcome of that lawsuit in the San Diego Superior Court – Chula Vistans suing their city for refunds on the same tax. 

But Gruendl was concerned about refunds – he said, “I’ve been paying that tax for years!” Earlier he said he’d be glad to pay a tax to help the “community,” but now he’s talking about getting his refund, I just don’t know what to make of that man.

Jennifer Hennessy said the city would hold the receipts that continue to pour into the city’s coffers until “further determination on the legal front.” 

Brian Nakamura, our harried and peaked new city manager, spoke up, saying “this will go into the ‘unfunded liabilities’ conversation.” He went on to say that the city had already made cuts, “reduced contributions to certain funds.” I think what he actually meant was, they’ve laid off all the lower level employees that actually provided service, and funneled their $20 – 35,000/yr salaries into the funds that pay pensions and benefits contributions. 

He went on to repeat, almost word-for-word, what he told Channel 7 News: the money “lost” by the failure of Measure J “would have funded 7-8 positions at the police department or 2/3’s the cost of operating one fire station (for a year?)” He talked about cutting maintenance to  Bidwell Park, mentioning “our grandchildren” and making all the usual threats. What a petty little man we got for $212,000 a year, plus undisclosed benefits. 

At this point I asked, “What is the current figure the city pays for benefits and pensions?”  Hennessy quoted the pensions figure alone – just pensions – “close to $7 million…”  She didn’t have the benefits figure. 

Scuse me – 7 million dollars? Just for pensions?

Coincidentally, the next item on the agenda  was a continuation of the “unfunded liabilities” conversation from October 23 – but Nakamura didn’t have the report that was requested at that meeting, so there was no discussion. I’ll have to catch up with that one in the next blog. 

The last item was rescheduling the meeting that fell on Christmas Day – that will probably happen on December 26.  Then, during “business from the floor,” former city council candidate Dave Donnan started a quick discussion about the revenues that might possibly be had through garbage franchise districts, but Gruendl closed the meeting just before 8:35,  saying, “the stage is set to discuss ‘enterprise zones’ in the coming year.” That’s also another blog entirely. 

I was shocked what they managed to cover in less than 35 minutes. I think that’s because, Donnan and I were the only members of the public in attendance. More people need to show up at those meetings, ask more pointy questions – but like the checker at the grocery store told me when I told him about it, “that’s why they have those meetings at 8am, they know we can’t show up.”