Tag Archives: Mark Orme Chico City Manager

The discussion is finally getting interesting

13 Jun

Last week’s meetings (6/9 continued to 6/10) were the most outrageous yet. You can get an entertaining and informative recap from Rob Berry here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/chicofirst.org/

“One day later, another city council recap, June 10, 2020”

Berry’s a lawyer, he understands a lot more of this crap than the average housewife, and he loves to yak, so I like to read his recaps.

I also like to check the comments on Chico Engaged. I don’t think Engaged is a substitute for open meetings, but it’s an interesting site. For example, the biggest conversation regarding this past week’s meetings was the tax measure. Of 87 comments, I only counted 3 or 4 that said they would support a simple measure. The rest registered themselves as “opposed.” A few of those said they wouldn’t support any tax, others expressed a willingness to discuss a 2/3’s measure, even support it. Most of those cited public safety, but a few others mentioned roads.

Troubling to me was that some actually mentioned schools – it’s scary how little people know about the government and which agency funds what. The city has nothing to do with the schools, in fact, those agencies are often pitted against each other over property issues like mowing weeds and bum camps.

The most common reason to oppose was distrust in the current Chico City Council – 44 comments included that as a reason they would not support the proposed measure. Some named Ory, Stone, Brown and Huber directly, some included Schwab, and a couple included “the city manager.”

Here’s a high note – 22 people complained that the discussion was taking place in closed meetings. Some cited the shut down as their only or main reason to reject the sales tax measure, accusing the council of trying to shove a poor measure through the chute behind closed doors.

Which brings the conversation back to the mistrust in council and staff. Look further at the Chico First site, I see these comments:

“If 30 or 40 Chico City employees would reduce their fat bloated salaries, we might have enough money to operate.”

It is so refreshing to read someone else’s thoughts on that, I was afraid people are deaf, dumb and blind to the payroll expenses. I wish everybody was this interested in the budget.

Here’s another that says it pretty plain.

“If the council weren’t crooks wasting the tax money they already have and actually used it for its said purposes the city wouldn’t be in this situation! Cut the council’s salaries! NO NEW TAXES! Screw you your vagrants, addicts, park campers and the crime that you fucks promote! To hell with your communist college too!”

It’s comforting to know that other people know about little perks like the council members’ salaries and, hopefully, their overgenerous health packages. And, as I knew, people are pissed off about what the “homeless industrial complex” is doing to our town. But you know, I haven’t heard the college called “communist” since I was a kid!

Finally, a really well thought-out response to the weird meeting I watched on Tuesday night:

“My three thoughts from this meeting.

First, I found Chris Constantine’s presentation uncomfortable. I didn’t appreciate him telling the council his marriage ended because his job is so hard. The simple fact is the citizens of Chico do not trust this council or staff to spend the money wisely.

Second, I laughed out loud when the discussion of ‘sunsetting’ the sales tax came up. When has a tax ever seen a sunset? 😂

Third, did anybody catch Mark Orme’s sneaky maneuver with the Homeless Solutions Coordinator position during the budget discussion? When Joy Amaro was brought on board, it was only funded as a 4-month trial. When Ann asked about that approaching end date, Mark Orme said: ‘I asked them to put that in my budget…the full year’s worth of funding.’ Ann’s reply: ‘I appreciate that you have done that. I think that’s an investment this community really can’t go without.’ Hmmm.

The whole presentation was unbelievable. Very emotional, unprofessional, troubling behavior. Constantin’s melt-down, then Ory’s stuttering, shaking, desperate delivery, followed by a very visibly pissed off Mark Orme. I sense a lot of trouble Downtown. These people can’t even run their own lives, but they think we should be grateful to have them? Grateful to the tune of paying their outrageous salaries and then paying them again in pension? Thank you Mother, may I have another?

And no, I have never seen a tax sunset, including the recent sales tax that Governor Moonbeam foisted on us as temporary and then put it on the next ballot as permanent. It passed – people get used to things fast, especially when they are not implemented for a year after the election, as Ory suggests for this measure. People forget, and then they don’t notice a few pennies here and there. Ka-CHING!

And yes, while they keep telling us Orme just laid off 11 employees (which is misleading, they were empty and part-time positions, even interns), they don’t talk about the hiring of Amaro or the new Public Information Officer. Full time positions with benefits.

I’m so glad others are hip to the poor decisions and the misleading by staff that add up to a big mess for those of us who pay for all of it.

Yeah, what a meeting. So now we have a proposal for a half-cent tax that will not take effect for one year after the election and which will sunset in a short amount of time – did Ory say 9 years or something like that? But thank goodness we have some voters who question what’s going on. The discussion is finally picking up.

Schwab shuts down local businesses, kicks the public out of public meetings, but her bike shop is wide open and making lots of money – what?!

1 May

Happy May Day – whether you celebrate it as a tribute to the work force or as a rite of Spring, take time to enjoy the sights and sounds of Spring.  It’s my dog Biscuit’s 14 birthday, and she’s raring for more. 

Friends of mine have promised to go to Sacramento today and participate in a protest of the COVID Shut-down at the State Capital. Of course the CHP would not give permits, so they will drive around the Capital building in cars, honking their dissatisfaction with the governor’s foot dragging in lifting the order for counties that have not manifested a real threat – like Modoc County, who, in the spirit of Captain Jack,  went ahead and opened up today, despite Newsom’s onerous orders. 

https://news.yahoo.com/no-coronavirus-cases-california-county-165302692.html

Most Butte County towns would like to  follow suit. Mayors and county board chairs all over Butte, Glenn, Sutter and Yuba County have signed a letter to the governor, a written request from Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher that he lift the order for our counties.

Conspicuously absent is the name of Chico mayor Ann Schwab. An excerpt from the Enterprise Record:

Jake Hutchison  4/

OROVILLE — Assemblyman James Gallagher and state Senator Jim Nielsen have put forth a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office with a request to begin opening up economies in their collective region amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.The letter, which was announced Friday, has gained signatures from elected officials throughout the north state including Butte County Board of Supervisors Chair Steve Lambert, Glenn County Board of Supervisors Chair Leigh McDaniel, Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin, Oroville Mayor Chuck Reynolds and Willows Mayor Kerri Warren.

Various points are covered in the letter such as economic impact and low infection rate. It also cites Enloe Medical Center’s handling of the potential medical surge by opening an additional facility with beds.“At this point, given the COVID-19 numbers locally — and our enhanced healthcare capacity — we ask you to allow our counties to exercise local authority to implement a careful and phased reopening of our local economies,” the letter reads.The letter also cites concerns of long-term economic impact creating health issues.“The public health stakes are high too,” the letter says. “We know that prolonged recessions cause dire public health issues of their own. The indirect impacts of this virus can cause a higher risk of heart disease, acute sleep deprivation, depression, decreased response to vaccines and an increase in smoking and drinking alcohol.”

In March, Newsom launched the stay-at-home order and numerous businesses were closed if deemed non-essential. Since then, many people have been out of work or furloughed as a result.

On the other side, the virus is considered deadly and highly contagious, prompting the extreme response.Chico Mayor Ann Schwab chose not to sign the letter, saying that she had a good discussion with Gallagher but after thinking on it was concerned about opening up too early.“I think the request comes too soon and could put an additional strain on our health care system and endanger lives,” Schwab said, adding that she does agree with many of the points made in the letter but still thinks some safeguards are needed.Additionally, Schwab said the governor has announced that he was aware of the differences from county to county in relation to how the virus has made impacts.

“The governor has already said he realizes the virus has affected different regions in the state differently,” Schwab said. “When the time comes that we can join the state in reopening, I want to have some parameters in place before those announcements are made.”

I just don’t know where Schwab is coming from. She says she wants more safeguards? Force us to wear masks, but not the N-95 which are the only ones that really protect us? She’s practicing behavioral experimentation.  This is the woman who gave us the single-use bag ban, but you’ll notice, she doesn’t make a squeak as grocers all over town refuse to allow our used bags in their stores. 

Schwab is just a Democrat, and that’s her first priority – toe the party line.  There she says it, ““The governor has already said he realizes the virus has affected different regions in the state differently,” Schwab said. “When the time comes that we can join the state in reopening, I want to have some parameters in place before those announcements are made.”

Sure, the governor has acknowledged different regions are different, and that some have a lower infection risk based on the characteristics of their region. But, little dictator that he is, he steadfastly denies our sovereign right to take care of our own business based on our needs and situation. Like Schwab, he’s  a creepy, entitled little fascist who wants to be king. 

Well, excuse me, but My President, The Donald, has declared the social distancing bullshit is over. Let us get back to work, and back to SPENDING MONEY. The city cries poor mouth, and wants a sales tax increase? Well, Mark Orme’s capricious and subjective shut-down order is doing more damage to local retail every  day. People are shopping online and in other, friendlier towns,  and liking it. If Chico Council doesn’t wake up soon and wrestle back control of the city from Queen Ann and Sir Mark of Gisborne, the damage will be irreversible. 

Let me tell you, I suddenly realized the other day, Schwab’s bike store, Campus Bicycles, determined to be “essential” by our city mangler Orme, have been open the entire time, every day of the pandemic. I called the store one day, and a bright and pleasant young man answered the phone. Yes, the store is open, wide open – no appointment necessary, nor did he mention any restrictions on how many people can be in the store at one time. I asked about repairs, cause I’ve taken my old puddle jumper in to Budd Schwab before – he’s got some kind of reputation for fixing bikes, from when he just worked at Campus. The boy on the phone surprised me – repairs are backed up 2 – 3 days, which is very unusual. He said business is very good, very brisk, and attributed that to COVID. 

I think that sucks Ann, you rotten bitch. Scuse me for emoting, but who the hell does she think she is? Who gets to decide, what’s an “essential” or “non-essential” business, what kind of shit is that? Orme decides, and Ann gets to decide if he keeps his job, I think that’s pretty obvious.

But you know the worst thing the city has done, is shut the public out of meetings, that’s very purposeful. They are also hiring a new chief of police right now, and that isn’t even on the agendas. Huber wants to bring back the supplemental allocation that was removed from the April 7 agenda. They’re playing hard and fast with the rules, hoping you’re just sitting behind that mask breathing your own methane, too stupid to say anything. Take off the stupid masks and wake the hell up People!

Here’s a letter I sent to the Enterprise Record.

Since March 13 Chico has endured the COVID shut-down. Schools closed, working parents left without daycare, “non-essential” businesses closed, and  city management threatening to close parks if we do not observe strict “social distancing” guidelines. 

The result – on the positive side, Butte County only had 15 (Wolcott updated me to 16) COVID cases and all have recovered.  On the negative, city management has admitted the shut-down has been bad for the economy, predicting millions lost in city revenues if the economic strangulation continues into Summer. 

But Chico mayor Ann Schwab has refused to sign Senator Nielsen and Assemblyman Gallagher’s request to open up the county again. The mayors of every other town in Butte County have signed the letter, which states, “We know that prolonged recessions cause dire public health issues of their own,” but Schwab wants to wait until the rest of the state, including hot-spots like San Francisco, are opened up. 

Meanwhile, Schwab’s bike store, deemed “essential”, is doing great. An employee told me, “people have a lot of time on their hands due to COVID,” sales are booming and repairs are backed up, which is unusual. 

I think that’s outrageous. How is a bike store “essential”, but not a clothing store or a barber shop?  Public meetings are closed to the public right now, but the Mayor’s business is open and making a hefty profit.  That’s ridiculous. Sign the letter Ann, and end the shut-down.  Or step down as mayor, due to obvious conflict of interest. 

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

City of Chico double ends us on our utilities, collecting Utility Tax on our total bill while adding franchise fees to our rates

31 Dec

If you watch the government steadily over time like I have the last 50 or so years, you see the contradictions and the outright lies. My favorite of late was Obama’s promise that we would not lose our health care providers under Obamacare.

So when Chico City management started repeating their Big Lie about the Camp Fire evacuees all landing on Chico  like a plague of locusts, I knew it was really all about pushing for the sales tax increase. In fact, at a Finance Committee presentation of the proposed measure, Ass City Mangler Chris Constantin actually said we should put it on the March ballot so we could “take advantage of the population influx.” He not only acknowledged then that the evacuees would be temporary, he also predicted that the economy would tank soon. That’s another blog.

But CARD got their parcel tax (Measure A) on the March ballot before the city could decide what to do with theirs, and knowing they would be stupid to have two tax measures on one ballot, the city decided to wait until November. That gives them more time to campaign anyway, since they can’t campaign for the measure once it has  been submitted and accepted for the ballot by the county clerk.

Brian Nakamura made the mistake of using taxpayer money to produce and distribute flyers promoting the city of Rancho Cordova’s tax measure, and that got him the can, so his former cronies will not make the same mistake.

http://www.kcra.com/news/rancho-cordova-faces-formal-campaign-mailer-complaint/28980752

So staff has to be creative, they need to create financial problems and then convince the taxpayers that they need to pay more money to solve them. They don’t want us to find out the real truth about city finances – whole funds are in arrears because they’ve been siphoning off money to pay down the pension liability. Look at the budget here,

Click to access 2019-20CityAnnualFINALBudget.pdf

and push “Control F” on your keyboard. Then type in the words, “pension” or “pension liability”, look at it for yourself if you don’t want to take my word for it. Then type in “gas tax” and be further outraged. 

I think you will see stuff that inspires you to write your own letter to the editor, here’s mine.

NOTE: Here’s a further irony I was not able to address in 250 words – they add a franchise fee that increases your rates, and then they use that total to figure the 5% Utility Tax. Sock it to me BABEE!

After a year of Chico staffers complaining that the Camp Fire evacuees were “straining” our services, we find a $20,000,000 “boost” in city coffers. Where did that come from?

Staff reports sales and bed tax were up, way up, during those months after the fire. Staff didn’t mention Utility Tax or the franchise fees that are tacked onto our utility bills. The city adds a 5% Utility Tax to your PG&E, Cal Water/sewer, and landline bills, taking $7,051,581 last year. With rate increases and new development, that goes up about $50,000/year. Think what a temporary population influx meant.

 A letter writer mentioned the trash tax or “franchise fee”.  The city also collects franchise fees from PG&E and Comcast. Last year the city added $1,102,674 to our trash bills and expects to collect about $1,600,000 in 2019-20. They tacked another $757,192 onto our PG&E bills and $899,942 to our cable tv bills. 

Shouldn’t these funds be used for street maintenance?  Last year staff used almost $400,000 in Comcast fees to remodel council chambers. These hidden taxes go into the General Fund, where they are available for any whim of council.

Council created the ordinances by which these taxes are added to our utility rates, and council can lower or eliminate them.  Ironically, they also created a “no price gouging” ordinance, but proceeded to make profit from the tragedy.  Let them know how you feel about that by claiming your annual Utility Tax Rebate, available from May 1 to June 30. Email the clerk at debbie.presson@chicoca.gov for details.

Juanita Sumner, Chico CA

 

Linda McCann: Wake up people, you should be concerned as another hand wants to slip in your pocket to remove your cash!

11 Dec

It’s official – I got my “free” subscription from Mike Wolcott and now I know – the only good part of the tired, old and fuddled Enterprise Record cat box liner is the letters section. Thank you Linda McCann for tipping us to the latest assault on Prop 13.

 

I read with interest and concern the article in the December 6 Chico E-R regarding AB 48, or as it’s been dubbed Proposition 13.   OK I get that,  a proposition to put to a vote a bond issue to raise money for our schools. However there’s one sentence that is of great concern to me as it should be to all home owners protected under the 1978 Proposition 13.

The article states and I quote, “AB 48, Proposition 13 is not to be confused with the 1978 Proposition 13 which some education groups hope to overhaul in November to raise revenue for cities and schools.”

Wake up people, you should be concerned as another hand wants to slip in your pocket to remove your cash!

— Linda McCann, Paradise

Here’s the legislative digest entry:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB48

This is a proposal to lower the voter approval for bonds from 2/3’s to 55 percent. This is not democracy, it’s overpaid school administrators sticking their hands in our pockets to pay for their outrageous pensions. In Sacramento, one school district is tanking because of a 15% raise they gave their already generously compensated teachers. 

Do they really think we’re stupid enough to fall for this trick? Calling a bad proposition “13”? Are we that dumb? Don’t wait until after the election to find  out – tell your family, friends and neighbors not to fall for this trick. Write a letter like Linda McCann. 

Just think, what if Paul Revere had thought his actions didn’t matter?

The Homeless Industrial Complex is a failure – how many people will die on Chico streets this winter despite all the money shoveled into the system?

30 Nov

The headlines were conflicting this week in Chico – Black Friday shopping, Thanksgiving fun run, community meals, city setting up a “warming tent”, and a woman found dead along Lindo Channel.

Knowing how extensive our “homeless” services are here, I have to wonder – how does this happen?

The city and county continue to bumble the whole operation. We have services, plenty of them, but they are not coordinated, often compete for funding, and work toward their own instead of the public’s best interests. For example, Tom Tenorio gets a very generous salary out of the Esplanade House, even taking one of the apartments intended for housing a family to supplement his office. I’m reminded of a scene from Doctor Zhivago: “All this office, for just one fat-cat bureaucrat!

There’s alot of competing for funds and in-fighting in the Homeless Industrial Complex. They fight over money like crows fighting over road kill. When Stairways manager Mike Madeiros made a decision not to accept a grant because it would mean allowing transgender individuals into his shelter, Tenorio went on the warpath, complaining that they would lose that grant because Madeiros had refused it. Wow, that was an eye opener about the way these “non profits” are operated – too bad so few taxpayers were paying attention.

We also have disagreements over who will be served.  Madeiros was uncomfortable with allowing transgender or women in his all male shelter, worried about conflicts. Some shelters will not accept inebriated people, so CHAT (Chico Housing Action Team) has had set up “low barrier” shelters in houses around town. The city offers a warming tent, set up this weekend, that is supposed to be open to anyone who is cold. So far these tents have served less than 20 people a night, including city officials  and staffers.

And now Chico Housing Action Team wants to install “elderly” transients in Tough Sheds in a field along the freeway. 

All these programs are competing for money. And, as of this weekend, they are failing in their mission to get people off the street. 

In Chico we have many “low-income” subsidized housing projects. I just found out a huge old apartment building around the corner from one of my rentals is owned by HUD.  We have newer stuff, like Jarvis Gardens in south Chico, and 1200 Park Avenue, both built to house low-income seniors. These are public projects, paid for with tax dollars. 

But again, there is a lack of coordination. The Camp Fire is a good example of how these agencies have failed – here we had truly needy people, a natural disaster, and we couldn’t house them? But we spend millions a year on programs set up for drug addicts and criminals? 

CHAT proposes little sheds built on an empty lot along the freeway. These people are duplicitous. They already run low-barrier shelters in homes spread out across Chico, no noticing of the neighbors – CHAT knows they need to keep this project a secret. They have nothing to crow about – no list of names of people permanently taken off the street into stable housing. No success stories. And every year, several people die out on the street, regardless of all their feel-good fascism.

Now they want to build a project with city support –  they’ve already racked up a pile of $taff Time with their demands.  They want to be let out of the regular building process, sub code, no environmental review, NO FEES. And they are not being honest about how much it will cost to provide sanitary infrastructure. They first said there would be a common bathroom – now they show us plumbed sheds with toilets? Those will all have to be hooked up to sewer, which is not available on the property. There isn’t even water or electricity on the lot. 

But when my family bought a crapped out old house, the city and county, the school district, CARD – they all wanted to get their thumb in our pie, with all kinds of fees and constant inspections. The code enforcement officer, without so much as a smile, told us we had to put more Dap on the toilet because we had male children. She demanded a ladder to climb up on our roof.  She told us we had to  tear down an old building on the property before we could get clearance on the house.  And then she told us the tear  down required yet another permit. 

This is how taxpayers get treated. 

The city of Chico is a mess. Our finances are in the red, we have constant threats of bankruptcy, although, you will only hear about these problems in Chris Constantin’s pitch for a sales tax increase. Constantin and Orme are walking a fine line – trying to tell us what a mess our city is in without taking any blame for that mess.  For years they’ve mismanaged our money, putting most of it into their salaries, pensions and benefits, admittedly deferring maintenance on city infrastructure all the while. Management salaries are at an all time high, and Constantin admitted recently we spend more on cops than other California cities our size. 

The transient problem is just another part of the mismanagement. They allow these bums to trash our parks and creeks, predate on our neighborhoods, and spread drugs to our kids because they are a revenue source. When the city council signed the Shelter Crisis Designation, they got an annual grant worth over $4 million. They got another $4 million for handing part of the county fairgrounds over to the Jesus Center. That’s an annual grant, and it will go up. And they don’t have to spend it on the “homeless”, it just goes right into the General Fund. 

Just like the proposed  sales tax increase. 

So, we need to ask ourselves – why would we hand a tax increase to Mark Orme and Chris Constantin?  They stand over this whole mess, it’s their recommendations that council follows, dumb and blind. The best argument against this sales tax increase is our current management, and how they have mismanaged millions already.

Jen Sidorova: Why millennials should care about government pensions

25 Nov

Here’s something hopeful – Bob sent this piece from Market Watch, written by a young person. 

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-millennials-should-care-about-government-pensions-even-if-they-dont-have-one-2019-11-21

Jen Sidorova explains the pension crisis and why young people should be concerned. 

“Governments with underfunded pensions need to come up with the money somehow, and the most obvious way is to raise taxes. What this means for millennials, who are already the largest generational group in the workforce, is that more of their tax dollars could be diverted to paying down public pension debt instead of paying for public services. All the funds that should have otherwise gone toward schools, roads and state parks, could be redirected to cover underfunded pensions for employees who stopped working 10 or 20 years ago. So, pension debt will affect all millennials, even those outside public sector jobs — because everyone’s a taxpayer.”

That last line, “everyone’s a taxpayer,” seems to escape certain groups – like renters, and young voters who still live at home or are supported by their parents. Young people have to stop saying “No worries” and start worrying about this mess before it’s just a fact of their lives. 

Sidorova explains the two-prong fork – not only will young people live with crapped out infrastructure and higher taxes, if they go into the public sector – like my son and many of my friends’ kids – they will not enjoy the same level of pay and benefits generously lavished on their predecessors. In fact, their contributions go directly into the pockets of retirees they never even knew.

“Currently, state and local pension contributions make up about 26% of the total payroll costs. According to my analysis of the PPD, in states like Illinois and Kentucky, the government’s contributions exceed 50 percent of the total payroll costs of their largest pension plans — a consequence of enormous unfunded liabilities. All the money that could’ve gone toward increasing salaries and improving work conditions now goes toward paying pension debt. That means young workers are missing out on benefits and pay raises in the short term. For state employees, given the constitutional protection of pensions, salary freezes are another likely consequence of growing pension debt.”

Here she talks about solutions,

“As these systems try to find solutions, it’s crucial they focus on reforms that ensure paying down debt as fast as possible, adopt more conservative actuarial assumptions about investment returns, and introduce financially sustainable retirement plan offerings, as those could go a long way to ensure retirement security of the millennial labor force.

what she doesn’t talk about is who should pay down the debt. I believe the workers should assume much higher shares, or accept the loss of their pensions and go with 401ks. But that would take strong, publicly supported politicians, and I don’t know where we will find those people. What I do know is, neither our city councilors not the CARD board have the guts to do this. In fact, Tom Lando, who has been with CARD for a few terms now, is the city of Chico’s biggest current pensioneer.

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

LANDO, THOMAS J CHICO $11,236.48/mo $134,837.76/yr

That’s a nine year old post, they get cost of living increase every year. Here’s an up-to-date table from Transparent California.

https://transparentcalifornia.com/pensions/search/?q=Thomas+Lando

Wow, cost of living increases more than $1,000/year, for some people, because Lando’s pension has gone up by about $16,000 in 13 years, to $150,671.00  And he serves in various interim positions, which come with more salary – for example, he was the interim director of Feather River Recreation District, and then the interim city manager of Oroville for a couple more years. 

https://www.chicoer.com/2018/03/21/tom-lando-appointed-interim-oroville-city-administrator/

He took a smaller salary – “not to exceed $30,000” – so what? How many of us would like to pocket another $30,000, in addition to the $150,000/year we already get? For nothing. 

This is so  ridiculous – people have to wake up.

It’s up to us to vote for better people. In the mean time, we need to get the word out to young people about how they can change their own futures for the better.

Joshua Rauh: Public Pensions are an economic time bomb, and young people will be at the epicenter of the blast

24 Nov

Bob sent a link to a really interesting video that explains the “pension time bomb” in language the average person can understand.

https://www.prageru.com/video/public-pensions-an-economic-time-bomb/

Josuah Rauh is a professor of finance at Stanford School of Business, Director of Research for the Hoover Institute, and has written extensively on the nationwide pension problem. I love his no-nonsense style. This problem is really simple.

Rauh doesn’t mince words.  “I want to talk about three words that should scare the heck out of you, especially if you’re young. PUBLIC PENSION LIABILITIES”

He’s absolutely right, young people will be left holding the bag.  To quote Chico City Manager Mark Orme and Assistant Manager Chris Constantin, this city has “kicked the can down the road” on infrastructure maintenance  for many years. What neither man mentions is that the city has continued to pay increasing salaries and benefits for city management. They both lie through their teeth, claiming to have “stopped the bleeding…” performed “a miracle”. In truth they have both taken very generous pay raises and have already added a 401k plan to their already generous pension packages. More about that later.

So, our kids will get stuck with failing infrastructure and the billions in taxes it will take to fix it. Not to mention, paying for generations of public workers, like Orme and Constantin,  allowed to retire at age 50 – 55 with well over $100,000/year in pension.

Unfortunately, this is a message that mostly falls on deaf ears. Rauh continues, “that’s why all of this is so scary – no one is paying attention.” Well, in defense of the average citizen – myself – I’ll say, it’s been made complicated on purpose – go to a meeting, and listen to staff make it as convoluted as possible. 

Rauh puts it in simple language, as if he is explaining this to someone from another planet, who has never heard of such a ludicrous policy. “What is a public pension liability,” he asks rhetorically. “A guaranteed lifetime payment to somebody after they retire.” That seems simple enough, but the important word here is “guaranteed“.

Years ago,  private sector workers got pensions, but private businesses were not able to keep up with the costs associated, and either dropped their pensions plans for 401K’s or went under. Right now, once giant media conglomerate McClatchy (which formerly owned newspapers and tv stations all over the state), is going under due to unfunded pension liabilities. 

McClatchy’s financial distress has the company exploring options — including a sale

 

But public workers will not cooperate, they demand to keep their guaranteed pensions.  According to public employee unions,  no matter how the economy tanks, they get their money. While CalPERS promised to fund these outrageous pensions via investments in the stock market, they have failed miserable, and now they are laying the bag at our feet. 

Rauh continues, “They are eating state and city budgets alive… more than 62,000 retired public employees are receiving pensions of over $100,000/year…  Currently many cities are paying for multiple public departments at the same time, the department that’s working now, and (due to people living longer) a generation of two of public employees.” Estimates of the state’s total unfunded pension liability go over $200 trillion. 

The problem, he says, is “a corrupt merry go round  – public employee unions give donations to candidates who are then responsible for negotiating how much of your money  goes  to public sector workers“. In Chico the biggest donors in every local election are the employee unions, usually led by Chico Police Officers Association. 

The other problem is, “they hide the payments that are  due down the road.” Here in Chico, you have to know the right question to ask, in the proper vernacular, or they just ignore you. You have to watch agendas and read onerous reports printed in the smallest typeset available, sideways on the page. 

You have to be forward with these people.  Even when Dave Howell corrected CARD General Manager about their pension deficit, Willmann overstated employee contribution figures at the informational meetings. She corrected herself in an email when I questioned her about it later, after she’d already been misinforming people for weeks. She made no attempt to correct herself publicly, even after I wrote a letter to the paper about it. 

Rauh points out same. “How do they get away with this? They use a time tested political strategy – they lie.

The first, big lie was that they could pay for these increasingly generous pensions, “not by collecting taxes but by making investments.” Then they went about raising the roof on salaries. For example, former city manager Dave Burkland left in 2012 at $130,000 base salary. His replacement, Brian Nakamura, came in at $219,000. About a year later, Nakamura left for another job, and his assistant manager Mark Orme, also his former assistant in the city of Hemet, replaced him at a salary of $205,000. Now Orme enjoys a base salary of $223,000/year, with a benefits package of over $42,000. 

CalPERS keeps claiming a return of 7% on their investments. But, as Rauh says, ” it’s less and less likely that they will make their investment assessment, because they do risky investements.” So, why, oh why, does our council keep agreeing to annual pay raises for Orme and other management? Why did they give these people, in addition to their costly and generous benefits packages, 401k plans complete with an employer share? 

The problem is the salaries are too generous for the taxpayer to ever be able to guarantee 70 – 90% in retirement. Rauh says, “We need to turn things around using public pressure, discipline and common sense.”

Public pressure – read agendas and reports, do some simple research, and contact your elected officials to tell  them what you know about this problem. Some of our city council members seem genuinely clueless, willing to be led by  staff instead of the people. It’s time for the people to lead.

Discipline – I mean, really, read the damned agendas, read the reports, look up stuff you don’t understand, ask questions. Don’t let yourself believe you can’t make a difference, but yeah, it’s a lot of hard work. 

Common Sense – this issue really is simple, don’t let public employees try to make it sound too complicated. Here’s one common sense question to ask yourself – was I included in the conversation? Did I make these promises? Why should I be on the hook for these outrageous salaries and pensions? 

Now, using public pressure, discipline, and common sense, here’s what Rauh says we need to do:

“We need state and local governments to report their  unfunded liabilities honestly, the real numbers, using the 2 – 3 % yields that sound financial reporting would require. No more pie in the sky stuff…”  We have Stephanie Taber to thank, back in 2011, for demanding the finance reports be given properly. Then Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy was not doing reports at all, her boss Dave Burkland didn’t require her to do it. Can you believe that? What private sector company would get away with that? Taber had to use public pressure, discipline, and common sense. Now the finance reports are given every month and available online. 

And now, using letters to the editor and posts on this blog, Dave Howell is trying to question the city about their true pension costs, demanding they make their Annual Finance Report (CAFR) available to the public. The city is hiding their true liability figures, saying they are only $130 million in deficit when the true figure is over $200 million. 

“the truth should shock  voters into demanding action.”  Yes, it should, but people use the most ridiculous excuses for not paying attention. This is where discipline comes in – I’m not an accountant, but I’ve made myself read and understand those finance reports. You can too. And then open your mouth and squeal like Ned Beatty, cause you are being screwed.

The action Rauh suggests we demand is “to phase out the guaranteed pension programs as quickly as possible and introduce 401k plans…

I agree with Rauh. Public employees who do their jobs should be amply compensated. He calls 401k’s a “win-win’ which,  “if designed properly, can provide excellent retirement benefits…” Here’s the win for taxpayers – employees are responsible for their own investments, and if they choose poorly, the taxpayer is not on the hook to bail them out. 

Furthermore, “401k’s are portable, employees can take them along, don’t have to be locked into government jobs to get retirement benefits.

Now, unfortunately, here’s where the corrupt merry-go-round comes in – our council, fed on employee union donations, has already given management employees a type of 401k called a “457 plan”, in addition to their guaranteed pensions. Here’s Orme’s contract, read it for yourself:

Click to access OrmeEmploymentAgreement10-2017.pdf

“The City has established a Deferred Compensation Plan in accordance
with Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 457 (“IRC 457 plan”). Effective from the first pay period in
January 2017 considered in calculating the maximum IRC 457 plan limit and annually, City agrees
to contribute nine thousand dollars ($9,000), to Employee’s IRC 457 plan. Additionally, effective
October 15,2017, the City agrees to contribute four and fifty- two hundredths percent (4.52%) of
base salary to Employee’s IRC 457 plan.”

In Chico, public employee unions SEIU, CPOA, AND IFFA are among the biggest donors in every council election. I think the only donor that gives more money is Franklin Construction.  So, I would add to Rauh’s list – change the laws to restrict donations from public employee unions. Our city council can do this, but as you can guess, that would take a lot of public pressure.

Rauh suggests “lets end the current structure of public sector pensions and move to a sustainable way of compensating our public employees.” He’s not advocating cutting anybody off, but frankly, I am. I would suggest we press council to refuse to approve new contracts for management employees who refuse to take pay and benefits cuts. As stated in Orme’s contract, council has the right to refuse salary increases, and even to ask employees to take a cut. Again, this would take a lot of public pressure. 

So, it’s really up to us. 

 

Dave Howell: Chico ranks 50th worst financial risk out of 471 California cities

14 Nov

Dave Howell has been telling us about the CAFR – a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, a set of U.S. government financial statements comprising the financial report of a state, municipal or other governmental entity. Out of 471 cities of similar population, Chico was ranked 40th worst financially. 

Read more about CAFR here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comprehensive_annual_financial_report

Thanks for writing Dave, and I hope more people will chime in.

Of 471 cities, the state auditor ranked Chico 50th worst for financial risk. Chico is at high risk in four pension and OPEB categories. The most recently available CAFR indicates Chico has over $200 million in liabilities, most of that for CalPERs which assumes an unrealistic 7% discount rate.  Chico has runaway employee costs that must be reformed.Instead, council member Scott Huber criticizes council member Sean Morgan for not supporting a tax increase. Yet Morgan like the rest of the city council voted to move the sales tax increase forward. Tax increases will not solve runaway unfunded liabilities. The city council knows this which is why they will use the revenue from the sales tax to take on hundreds of millions in new debt resulting in future tax increase demands. Of course the PR firm the city is paying our hard-earned tax dollars to didn’t mention any of this to the registered voters they contacted for their survey used to word the ballot measure.

Instead of reforming runaway city employee costs, Huber, Morgan and the rest of the city council put us on a path of ruinous debt and future tax increases. This in a county with a 21% poverty rate where bureaucrats and other city employees can retire in their fifties with multi-million dollar pensions.

This is what happens when a clueless citizenry doesn’t hold an incompetent and corrupt city council accountable and is yet another example of how democracy is failing in our country.

Dave Howell, Chico 

These letters writers can smell a rat, even at the sewer plant

16 Oct

Sometimes I’m afraid that if I let my guard down for one minute the liars will win. There are more of them, and they get paid. I’m talking, of course, of our Downtown city $taff and their specious claims that the Camp Fire evacuees overran our town and are causing all kinds of “strain” on the system, necessitating a sales tax increase.

I’ll tell you this, I heard Chris Constantin tell a group at a Finance Committee meeting that we better jump on board with this increase while we have the Camp Fire refugees in town – he was talking about them like they were a herd of exotic cash cows, hardly a strain on the system.

I haven’t had a chance to look at last year’s sales tax revenues, but I’d bet my last $5, they’re way up, along with Utility Tax revenues. 

But both city manager Mark Orme and his partner in crime, Public Works Director  Eric Gustafson, have been pandering to the media with the repeated lie that the Camp Fire victims are causing all the city’s problems – Gustafson again crying about the sewer. The sewer is barely over half capacity, read the story again. And, look around you – the city has permitted new homes and apartments all over town – and that means permit fees and new property taxes.  And more money paid in sewer fees. 

Like letter writer Jim Hertl and Linda McCann, I know the truth to these claims – it’s the money. Staff not only wants a sales tax increase, they want to raise sewer fees on everybody. To pay for their fucking pensions, is the thing. 

And, as both writers point out, City of Chico staff was begging Paradise to hook up to our sewer system – what happened to that? Paradise opted out – and now the city of Chico has to come up with some other scheme to prop up a sewer fund that has been siphoned off to pay pensions for years. Along with the road fund, the park fund, and every fund on the city books. 

Thank you Jim Hertl and Linda McCann, for speaking up! We all need to start screaming at the top of our lungs – no tax or rate increase until the city manager and his staff are out, and new employees are hired who pay their own pensions.

In the Sunday E-R was an article that stated our sewer system is being “strained” by the population spike caused by the Camp Fire. If I recall, before the Camp Fire, there was talk of Chico treating ALL of Paradise wastewater because we had enough capacity at our treatment plant to do so. What happened, in the meantime, that our system is now being strained by the influx of 20,000 people from that same area? Is it just because of the “sudden influx”or are there other factors involved?— Jim Hertl, Chico

PUBLISHED:  

Jim Hertl brings up an interesting point regarding the “strain” on Chico’s sewer system. Even after the Camp Fire, the Paradise town council brought up the subject of sending our waste to Chico. Thankfully they opted to go with our own treatment plant. That would mean jobs for our people and give us control over our sewage.

Jim, I think the answer to you question can be summed up in one word: Money.

— Linda McCann, Paradise

What a co-inky-dink! Sales tax measure and city manager salary increase on same agenda! Oh, but we should talk about building an ice skating rink…

11 Oct

If you ask the city clerk (debbie.presson@chicoca.gov) she will add you to the mailing list for the city council and other agendas, also available here:

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

This week council will be hearing a report from their tax consultant EMC of Oakland, who says there is support in the community for a 1 cent sales tax increase. 

Here’s an item on same agenda that explains why they want a 1 cent sales tax increase:

 

7.2.
CONFERENCE WITH LABOR NEGOTIATOR – Pursuant to Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6
Negotiator: Mark Orme, City Manager
Employee Organizations: Management

See that? City Manager Mark Orme negotiates his own contract, and then writes a recommendation for council to approve it. Yep, that’s right. He’s like Sheriff/Justice of the Peace Andy Taylor there in Mayberry RFD! 

This is the problem with our city, $taff is in control, and that’s what you call “Fox in Charge of the Henhouse.”

Here’s what the sales tax increase is really all about – current projections from CalPERS estimate that our (city of Chico’s)  annual unfunded actuarial liability payments will increase from approximately $7,600,000 in 2018-19 to $11,400,000 in 2023-24.

Here’s the link to the city’s finance reports:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/CAFRMainPage.asp

The city clerk recommends we sign up for Chico Engaged if we want to have input with council. This program allows you to comment on the agenda in the days preceeding the meeting. Look at the discussion I found in progress:

https://chico-ca.granicusideas.com/discussions/ice-skating-rink

Is an “Ice Skating Rink” in our City’s future?  We would like your input! 

Staff has received a preliminary proposal for a seasonal ice skating rink in the City Plaza between November and February.  The estimated rink size or skating area would be about 5,300 square feet which equates to a maximum of 177 skaters on the rink at any given time. 

What are your thoughts? 

This is exactly what an early consultant suggested to the  city staff – make rainbow promises to get people to go along with the  tax measure. He specifically used “skating rink”. The city has been telling us they are too broke to fix our streets, but they are promising a skating rink? What the hell? 

I’m just waiting for somebody to stuff a dormouse in a teapot.