Tag Archives: Measure J

Measure J was just the test run for the sales tax increase

12 Mar

Brian Nakamura forwarded along Jennifer Hennessy’s answers to Stephanie Taber’s questions from last week’s city council meeting.

Stephanie’s questions, below in black, with Hennessy’s responses in blue, and my smart ass observations in green:

1) What/who is the source of information that is now being used to verify the $500 loss (or whatever the current figure is) in revenue due to the defeat of Measure J?  At the offset of the proposal there was no definitive way of separating how much revenue was received based solely of cell phone calls and texting and how much on land line costs.  At least that was my understanding.

Answer:  City staff will be able to determine Measure J’s impact over time, as Telecommunication companies stop collecting the tax on cell phones and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services.  Future UUT revenue will be compared to revenue collected prior to the notification to the companies to cease collection of this tax. 

Wait, this doesn’t sound right. For one thing, in December, Hennessy reported a loss of $500,000 to the General Fund, and blamed it directly, in so many words, by name, on “the loss of Measure J.” There was no doubt in her mind, our budget had been hit broadside to the tune of $500,000 by the petty taxpayers who defeated that ill-begot scheme. Now she tells us, she won’t know how much, til “over time”?   She’s our budget director, in charge of our financial “IN” and “OUT” boxes, and she doesn’t know where our money comes from? She gets checks all year from the phone companies, but she doesn’t keep track of how much? That answer sounds fishy to me on a number of levels. 

2) Are telephone tax collections a separate revenue line item that can be compared month-to-month and year to date?

Answer:  Yes, revenue collected for Utility Users Tax on telecommunication services is reflected in the City’s General Fund, under account 40492. 

And here she says the opposite – that the revenue collected is kept track of in the budget?  Month to month? I looked in the budget, available under “Finance Dept” on the city website.

Click to access 2012-13CityAnnualFINALBudget_000.pdf

Yes, under the General Fund summary, page FS-1, Fund 001, Utility Tax is separated out – gas, electric, telecom, and water – but only year to year. I wonder if she even read Stephanie’s question all the way through. The fund is there, but we don’t see how much is added and subtracted, just the balance. Like she says for Q #1, we would have to have all the budgets, and compare that number from year to year, and we’d have to know how much money had been taken from that fund in order to figure out how much had come in over any particular year. She knows that stuff, or she should – why she can’t give us a straight answer is beyond me, and it just makes me suspicious of everything they say Downtown.

What they continue to say Downtown, is that Measure J is to blame for all our fiscal difficulties. This even as they sign that new cop contract – raises, especially for lieutenants, fully-paid “employee share,” the whole nine yards. And did you see those new cruisers they bought, just to be “traditional”? They’ve also raised department head salaries about $25 – 30,000 each.  Oh, but $900,000, or uh, is it $600,000 – oh, just $500,000? Really? Well that’s still a TRAGEDY! QUE LASTIMA! You rotten, petty taxpayers! You’re so stingy! 

This is their foot in the door for that sales tax increase, you just watch. 

And don’t forget, Frank Fields said he’d have the UT rebate application on the website “in the next couple of  weeks,” so I’ll keep you posted there.

The figures are in – Schwab, Gruendl and Goloff just flat LIED about Measure J

12 Mar

As most of you probably remember, Measure J, the cell phone tax measure, was promoted by Ann Schwab, Scott Gruendl, and Mary Goloff. I really have to hand it to them – they were the only ones with the balls of brass to put their names on this obvious money grab.  That doesn’t mean I have anything but contempt for this group, I’m just saying, I’d hand “it” to them, “it” being a big turd.

In the argument they posted in favor of the cell phone tax, Ann, Scott and Mary claimed, ” A loss of $900,000 a year would result in reduced police and fire services, road maintenance and park funds.’

Where’d they get that figure? In the same argument, they cited “the average cell phone bill of $50 per month…”. I remember doing the math, and asking, “how could that add up to $900,000 a year?” My husband said it was possible, but I had to remind him – only AT&T and Metro PCS – the two cheapest cell phone providers out there – collected the tax. How many people in Chico use those providers? We don’t know, but it’s hard to figure how these two providers, who cater to welfare recipients and other low-income customers, could possibly come up with $900,000 a year in tax.

Well, they couldn’t. In subsequent discussions, finance department employee Frank Fields estimated a truer figure of $600,000/year, and, at a December council meeting, Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy reported the actual figure at $500,000. Yes, exactly $500,000, no odd dollars or cents. Go figure.

This whole discussion has been highly questionable. So you know Stephanie Taber, she did the asking. She stood up at the end of the meeting and asked very pointed questions about the figuring for Measure J. Crickets chirped.  Mayor Mary Goloff thanked Stephanie but neither offered answers of her own nor questioned $taff. So, Stephanie had to e-mail her questions to Brian Nakamura, Jennifer Hennessy, and the council.  The first two deal with Measure J, I didn’t include the others because I want to focus here on Measure J. I’ll  get back to the others.

Stephanie’s letter begins, “Perhaps you were unable to jot down the questions that I asked so here they are again:

1) What/who is the source of information that is now being used to verify the $500 loss (or whatever the current figure is) in revenue due to the defeat of Measure J?  At the offset of the proposal there was no definitive way of separating how much revenue was received based solely of cell phone calls and texting and how much on land line costs.  At least that was my understanding.

2) Are telephone tax collections a separate revenue line item that can be compared month-to-month and year to date?

(Questions 3 and 4 left out)

Stephanie Taber

On Sunday evening Silly Manager Brian Nakamura e-mailed back, saying, “I wanted to share that Ms. Hennessy has provided draft answers for me to review and share and its my delay that is slowing down the response to your questions.”  And he said he’d get back to Stephanie, which I assume Stephanie will clue us in there when she has something.

In the meantime, she answered Nakamura, ” As to the comparison one year against another to verify the $900K lost as a result of the defeat of Measure J, it would be of value to have that specific item as part of the quarterly report since a lot of taxpayers are skeptical of the figure. “

Yes, a lot of taxpayers are skeptical of that $900,000  figure – we’re damned sick of hearing it repeated. The News and Review used it in a February editorial, even after they’d printed Frank Field’s estimate back in November. I asked Robert Speer about it when I sent in a letter last week, he printed my letter and thanked me for it, but did not respond to my remark about the $900,000 figure.

What is this – the Big Lie? They think if they just keep repeating that figure, we’ll buy it hook, line and sinker? Well, that probably works when they’ve got both newspapers and the tv station to go along with them.  We need to get some folks writing letters, demanding answers to the “creative bookkeeping” they’re using Downtown. Ask questions people!

I did some asking – last week I dropped another note to Frank Fields over in Finance. I asked him, again, how many people have applied for and received cell phone tax refunds, and what’s the average refund amount? Frank is a sport, he got right back to me:

Ms. Sumner,
 
To date, we’ve processed 91 refund applications averaging $52.65 each.  In addition, I have another 10 or so applications waiting to be processed.
 
Finally, we’ll be posting the “UUT refund application” for the annual UUT refund program in the next couple of weeks.
 

Frank

Vielen Dank Frankster, that is just what I suspected above.  If the average refund is $52.65, that works out to $4.38 a month in tax – almost twice the figure Schwab, Gruendl and Goloff stated in their “argument for.” That would also make the average bill about $87 – again, almost twice the figure stated in the “argument for.” 

From the voter’s manual: “This rate, if applied to the average cell phone bill of $50 per month, would equate to a monthly charge of $2.25 as opposed to the current charge of $2.50.”

Boy, there it is – as Al Franken would put it, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” 

And here’s the link to that refund application:

http://www.chico.ca.us/documents/CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

40 people have so far applied for their Measure J refunds – don’t forget, time is limited on these refunds

12 Feb

I wrote to Frank Fields over in the city Finance office and asked him how many people have applied for refunds so far – he says,  40 people.

I want to be happy about that, but when I figure, how many people get AT&T, which is the most popular carrier, and when I think about how many people voted against Measure J, I just figure there ought to be more people applying for this refund.

But, it’s a real pain in the ass to get all your bills together – or, as Jim pointed out – PRINT THEM ONTO PAPER, if you get electronic billing – then, either carry them in during business hours (yes, your work hours), OR, stuff all that tree pulp into an envelope and mail them in, yadda, yadda, yadda. 

So, I wrote back to Frank, and I cc’d Brian Nakamura and Mary Goloff, asking for that electronic application that Jim and Rick came up with at our last meeting:

well great, we must be getting to people. I’ll do everything I can to get the information out there and we’ll see if we can get 100, maybe more. Thousands of people voted against Measure J, and I’m guessing thousands in town get AT&T, which we know to have collected the tax. According to my research, AT&T is the most popular carrier.  There’s been a lot of money collected improperly here over the years, so, I hope the city will go further in noticing this refund and returning as much of this money as possible, it’s really the right thing to do. 

I think we need to allow electronic applications. I have friends who get all their bills electronically, that’s the new fad,  – save the planet, right?  I think a lot of people do it. My friend Jim keeps his billing in a folder on his desktop – he could send this in with an e-mail application, paper-free, no trees harmed in the processing of the application. It does seem silly for people who have used electronic billing to have to print out all those bills to get the refund, or their UT rebate, for that matter. 
 
I think this is how we should do all Utility Tax refund/rebate applications in future, so I’m forwarding this message along to Brian Nakamura and council members. 
 

thanks for your work in this matter Frank, Juanita Sumner

I neglected to ask Frank, what was the average refund amount, but I’ll get back to him later and also ask again how many refund applications. I don’t mean to be a nuisance, but judging from the number of searches I get regarding this refund, I think plenty of other people are interested too.  Here’s that application link again:

No, big spending doesn’t guarantee election success – CTA kicked ass with $330 – have a glass of turnip juice, it’s on me!

8 Feb

I’ve been so disappointed in the Enterprise Record lately, I wish I could stop reading it, but for Chico news, that’s all there is.  It’s not really news, but it’s a good indicator of what they want us to think is going on around here.

I was just reading an editorial by David Little, where he just gushes all over Tom Lando. That’s good to know.  Remember what Madame Web said – “Keep your enemies even closer.” 

This story below, which details some of the spending in last November’s local election, ignores Measure J completely. Wouldn’t you like to know what the city spent on Measure J?   I’ll tell you what I spent – $330, and some change. That bought 100 “No on Measure J” signs, and we didn’t even get all of those out. But we won, go figure.

We followed Tami Ritter’s advice – we ran an effective campaign, not a costly one.  Although, I will say, for a family like mine, who live on about half of what Sean Morgan spent on his campaign, $330 is a lot of money. It would have gone most of the way paying for my kid’s class at Butte College. Luckily, the CTA came through, everybody chipped in. We found out – an individual can spend almost $1000 without creating a PAC or having to fill out paperwork. On whatever they like. We chose signs.

Ritter talks about giving money to charity. She should know – I wonder if she’s ever had a salary that did not get squeezed out of the public teat. She acts like she spent nothing – $15,000 is chump change to these people.  We kicked the crap out of Measure J with roughly two percent of what she spent.

 I call that, damn good turnip squeezin!

And here’s that application link again:

Click to access CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

Big spending doesn’t guarantee Chico election success

By ASHLEY GEBB-Staff Writer
Posted:   02/05/2013 12:21:45 AM PST
Click photo to enlarge

Chico City Council candidate Dave Donnan removes his election signs along the Skyway on Nov. 7,…

CHICO — Spending big bucks in the Chico City Council race was not a guarantee to secure a seat at the dais last year, with two out of three top spenders failing to get elected, the latest finance filings show.Finance reports released this month for Oct. 31 to Dec. 31 show that Sean Morgan spent and received the most in 2012, at $40,928 and $41,081, respectively. He was the third-highest vote getter for one of four available seats.

But two candidates who raised the second- and third- highest sums of money and also spent large amounts during their campaigns did not get elected.

Andrew Coolidge spent $36,822 and came in fifth place. Bob Evans spent $27,636.92 and received the seventh-highest amount of votes.

First-time councilor Morgan thinks the money and effort spent on his campaign was worth it, but more importantly, he said, he hopes citizens who supported him got what they wanted.

“The deal was you contributed because you believed in my message — a safe place to raise a family, an ideal location for business, and a premier place to live,” he said. “And that is what we are working on.”

The three other candidates to be elected were Ann Schwab, who spent $27,342, followed by Randall Stone at $25,072 and Tami Ritter at $15,919. They received the first-, fourth- and second-highest vote totals, respectively.

In both spending and contributions, Ritter ranked seventh among the 10 candidates. She said she credits getting elected to an effective campaign,  not a costly one.”I made a commitment early, in terms of the amount of money I was going to spend,” Ritter said. “There is an awful lot of money that goes into the campaign process and for me that was a real challenge. Being as tied in as I am to the social services community, I see how much good those dollars could be doing.”

She devoted much of her energy to walking door-to-door, enlisting volunteers and utilizing free social media.

She invested what she did spend on well-planned advertising, using a targeted approach instead of blanketing the community, she said.

In total, last year’s campaign spending by the 10 candidates who accepted contributions totaled $224,680.41. Campaign donations totaled $236,220.87.

Some candidates spent more than some citizens’ annual incomes, Ritter said, but at the other end of the spectrum was candidate Lisa Duarte, who pledged to not accept any money and encouraged people to donate to community causes instead.

“I would love it if that were the norm for a campaign because clearly I can think of multiple organizations around Chico that can benefit from the $15,000 I spent,” Ritter said.

Yet, Duarte received only 3.26 percent of votes, a fraction of those tallied for candidates who amassed thousands of dollars in contributions and invested heavily in their campaigns.

Both Ritter and Morgan said spending money seems to be an inevitable part of campaigning.

“The neat thing about a city council race is you can still meet a lot of people. You can go door-to-door and meet people and say hi,” Morgan said. “But can you knock on 10,000 doors? Probably not. You need money to get that message out there.”

As a newcomer to political races, he did everything he could to reach out to strangers and people he’s known for decades.

“What I didn’t want to happen is for it to get to be the last week and not win because we missed one mailer or one ad,” he said.

Morgan pointed out the campaign finance reports show only what candidates raised and spent, not what was raised or spent in support of them by other individuals or political action committees.

“Somebody else could have had twice that spent on them, and no one looks at it because it is outside,” he said.

Hurry up and get those refund applications turned in – they will only give back your stolen money a year previous to your application

5 Feb

I been so busy lately, I am spun. I keep walking into rooms and finding some half-done job – – half-made bed, half-done dishes, half-folded laundry, half-eaten lunch, etc.  Right now I’m about half-way through boiling a half dozen eggs.

It is hard to keep up with city business, which of course, is everybody’s business. They move those nutshells fast down there, because they don’t want us to get ahold of that pea!

So, at this past Chico Taxpayer’s Association meeting, I asked if we could make this blog more of a “newsletter,” an information site, somewhere to go when you’re looking for something. Lately I have had a lot of searches and hits on the information and links regarding the cell phone tax refund. I’ve been posting the link, but when I tried to talk about the rules for the refund this morning, I realized, I didn’t know!  I frankly had a hard time figuring out, what do they mean, one year? Etc. But, I had a bunch of other junk to do, so I had to put it aside.

Stephanie Taber went to the city website and cut it right out for us, read below. 

There it is –  “Refunds may be claimed for City of Chico utility users’ tax paid for cell phone or VOIP services within 12 months prior to the application date”.  

Think what that means – the longer you wait the less money you will be able to claim.  Every month you wait, you lose another month’s tax, money you paid involuntarily, money they took illegally.  Of course, I have to ask – if you apply for your refund before they stop taking the tax from your bills, will you be able to reapply for those bills that came after you applied for your first refund? Oh people, there are so many questions here, and so few willing to ask.

 Thanks again to Stephanie Taber, who is out there asking questions and getting answers.
CITY OF CHICO – FINANCE OFFICE
Location: 411 Main Street, Chico
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 3420, Chico, CA 95927
Phone: (530) 879-7320
TELEPHONE (Cellular Phone or Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP)
USERS’ TAX REFUND APPLICATION
Refunds:
1. Refunds may be claimed for City of Chico utility users’ tax paid for cell phone or
VOIP services within 12 months prior to the application date (i.e., applications filed
in Feb 2013 would cover billing periods Feb 2012-Jan 2013).
2. You may not claim a refund for amounts previously refunded through the City’s
Utility Tax Refund program.
3. Refunds will be issued beginning February 21, 2013.
4. Refunds will be mailed to the name and address on the bill(s).
5. Refund application and copies of bills may be submitted to:
a. The City’s P.O. Box as listed above; or
b. Dropped off on the first floor of City Hall located at 411 Main Street.
Items Required:
1. Copies of phone bills showing utility tax paid. Please note that the bills must show
an address within the Chico city limits.
2. Completed and signed application.
APPLICANT INFORMATION
Name on bill: Street Address on bill:
Zip Code on bill: Contact number:
Mailing Address if different than on bill:
TELEPHONE USERS’ TAX PAID (Only List Actual Tax Paid)
Month Year
Provider/Acct Provider/Acct Provider/Acct Provider/Acct
January $ $ $ $
February $ $ $ $
March $ $ $ $
April $ $ $ $
May $ $ $ $
June $ $ $ $
July $ $ $ $
August $ $ $ $
September $ $ $ $
October $ $ $ $
November $ $ $ $
December $ $ $ $
Total $ $ $ $
1. I certify that the information supplied is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
2. I understand that any person required to sign and verify any report under the provisions of the City of Chico Municipal
Code, who makes any false or fraudulent request with intent to defeat or evade the determination of any amount, is
guilty of a misdemeanor (City Municipal Code 3.56.160).
Applicant Name: _____________________________________ Date: ____________________
************************************************************************
Internal Use Only: Verified no previous cell phone refund Verified not paid via UUT refund process
Check # issued ____________

Happy Anniversary Baby, I got taxes on my mind!

4 Feb

Yesterday was the anniversary of our first Chico Taxpayer’s Association meeting. I’d say we’ve had a great year, but that’s just me bragging. 

I had a busy day lined up yesterday, but took time out for a quick  meeting.  Consistency is a strength.  We had a couple of members unable to attend, so just discussed “old business” – mainly, the city is giving us the business regarding Measure J.

As a group we wondered aloud, how many people have applied for the cell phone tax refund, and how many have actually been paid?  I know one thing – every day I get searches regarding refunds directed to the blog, and at least a couple of people a day hitting that link to the application.   We are also curious as to the progress of staff to notify those cell phone companies currently collecting the tax that they must stop. Members agreed to make those inquiries of city staff.

Rick and Jim had a great idea – we need to ask the city to make it possible for people to apply electronically. Jim said he gets his phone bills electronically, and keeps them in a folder on his computer. Couldn’t he just attach that folder to an e-mail application form and send it in to the Finance Department? Here’s a guy who gets billed by computer to save the planet, but to get his refund, he has to print out all those five page phone bills (the tax is scattered throughout the bill), stuff it all into an envelope (more dead trees), stick at least two postage stamps on there, and mail it in? Or, take time off his job during the day to deliver it at Jennifer Hennessy’s convenience? 

You know they make it onerous on purpose. They don’t want us to get our refunds. They want to keep our stolen money. The year deadline is ridiculous – like Casey Aplanalp said in his (thanks Casey) letter to the editor, they stole that money, they shouldn’t be allowed to hold us off by the forehead with their little rules.

But, short of hiring a lawyer, there is not a lot we can do. It would be good if other people made these inquiries to staff and council – especially that idea about electronic applications. That ought to be the standard for all Utility Tax rebates too.   I will have to write a note when I get back to my desk later today. I hope more of you will write also. Go after that cow people. 

Thanks all, and see you next meeting, March 3!

Does the city of Chico owe you money? Well go get it!

31 Jan

One of the nice things about wordpress.com is that you get a “stats” report every day, showing what people are reading and which links get hit on your blog. Lately, the cell phone tax refund application has been getting POUNDED!  

That makes me happy, because I don’t know what this whole Measure J fight was about if it wasn’t about getting back illegally gotten gains.  Here’s that link again:

Click to access CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

This refund has been getting attention – there was a story on Ch 12 news the other night. But, the reporter was kind of sloppy again – this time, we heard Debbie Cobb announce that the most you can get back is $5 a month. She also said the city expects to lose $900,000, in refunds?   When the biggest refund is only about $60?  Do the math there, maybe Debbie should listen to her own reports. When I had AT&T, and we had the cheapest plan available with only two phones, we were seeing at least $5 /month taken for UT. Just imagine what these big families, with phones for each kid, were paying. And Mark Sorensen projected the average business was paying hundreds a year for Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP.  But, even with these kind of refunds, there’s no way the city will pay out $900,000 – silly Debbie, that’s what  the city originally predicted they would lose annually from not having the tax.  At a Finance Committee meeting last month, Hennessy said it was really only $500,000, anyway.   I wish these “news reporters” would pay attention. They make it harder to get the truth out there when they stick their big foot in it. Sometimes I have to wonder if they do it on purpose. 

I just hope people saved their bills – this isn’t a giveaway, that’s  for sure. Hennessy acts as though she’s refunding the money out of her own checkbook. Well, she is, kind of. They’re starting to get worried about how they will make payroll down there, including her salary. Look at some of these people – they’ve been living it up on their big salaries, getting way into debt, I’m guessing. Some of them are faced with absolute ruin. I guess they’re worried!  

Well, to borrow a phrase from the playground – “‘tough titty!’ said the kitty, when the milk ran dry…”

City announces they’ve instructed cell phone companies to stop taking tax – check your bills to make sure!

29 Jan

I see the Measure J refunds story is in the “most read” section of the Enterprise Record  today, but I posted it here just in case you missed it – read below.

I see a couple of problems in the story – for one thing, Ashley Gebb is a sloppy reporter. There she says, “Nearly 54 percent of residents voted in November to not update the city’s phone user tax”.  No no Dear, it was 54 % of the city’s VOTERS, not residents, duh. Does she understand how voting works?  Sorry to be a nit-picker, but this is the same gal that lectured me on the proper mis-use of the word “average“.  I notice she dropped that word from the part about billing amounts. In her pre-election story she said the “average”  bill in Chico was $50. When I questioned her about that, she came back like, “Oh silly, I didn’t mean mathematical average, I just meant, you know, AVERAGE!”

Another bit that bothers me is where Hennessy says folks will have to provide not only proof they were billed for the tax, but proof they PAID the tax? Of course, that should come up on the next bill, but what about your last bill? You need to wait until you get the following bill, that says you paid your previous bill? For Chrissake Jennifer, LET IT GO!  This whole thing reminds me of “Repo Man” – the old movie with Emilio Estevez. 

But, the good news is, ” the city has notified wireless phone companies to no longer collect the tax.”

Now, there’s some news! But I’d like to hear from those of you, who, like Jim in Chico, have seen the tax on their billing, who can check to make sure it’s gone. Let me know. 

Here’s Gebbs’ story:

Measure J-related phone tax refunds now available in Chico

By ASHLEY GEBB-Staff Writer
Posted:   01/29/2013 12:00:00 AM PST
 

CHICO — Chico residents can now apply for refunds for phone taxes paid to the city during the previous 12 months. 

Due to the failure of Measure J, the city is offering residents refunds for any utility user taxes paid for cellphones or Voice over Internet Protocol services within a year of application. 

Nearly 54 percent of residents voted in November to not update the city’s phone user tax to include modern technology such as cellphones, and the city has notified wireless phone companies to no longer collect the tax.

“If an individual showed documentation they were billed a tax and it was paid, we will issue them a refund,” said Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy on Wednesday.

The 5 percent phone tax would equate to about $2.50 of a monthly $50 bill or $5 of a monthly $100 bill.

Since November, any phone tax revenue that has come in has been placed in an account earmarked for refunds. If any remains after one year, the revenue may be placed in the general fund.

As for how many people may apply, “I have no idea,” Hennessy said. The potential fiscal impact is about $900,000 if all phone tax collected were to be reimbursed.

The City Council has not yet addressed what it will do to compensate for the loss in revenue, which supported the general fund.

Residents will need to provide documentation, including their cellphone bill and proof the bill was paid. Refunds will be issued beginning Feb. 21 and be mailed to the name and address on the bill.

Residents may not claim refunds for amounts previously refunded through the city’s utility tax refund program for income-qualified individuals. Verizon Wireless and MetroPCS customers are also not eligible because the providers did not collect the tax in the last 12 months.The refund application is the only way for the city to issue reimbursements, Hennessy said. The tax payments it received from phone companies are a lump sum, with no indication of who paid, for what and how much.Applications are available online and at City Hall’s Finance Department counter.

“We will be processing them as they come in and issuing refund checks,” City Attorney Lori Barker told the City Council this month. “Checks will be issued on the city’s regular cycle of processing and accounts payable.”

The City Council unanimously made final approval of the refund ordinance at its Jan. 15 meeting.

 

Connect with Ashley Gebb at 896-7768, agebb@chicoer.com, or on Twitter @AshleyGebb.

Latest news from Chula Vista – these people are fighting a battle for everybody

25 Jan

The citizens of Chula Vista are set to take their case to court February 8, asking a Superior Court judge to make the city stop taking a utility tax on their cell phones, and refund money the city has been collecting illegally for years. 

When my dad was working on the San Diego freeway, we visited him in his motel in Chula Vista – it wasn’t a bad town at all, we had a pretty nice weekend there.  I’m wishing them all the best. 

 

From the website of Casey,Perry, Schenk, Francavilla, Blatt and Penfield, LLP – the firm representing the people of Chula Vista:

http://www.caseygerry.com/news/chula-vista-fights-cell-phone-taxes-update

Chula Vista Fights Cell Phone Taxes: Update

DECEMBER 13, 2012

Chula Vista’s Cell Phone Tax Woes: Checking Up

By Will Carless

In the latest of our posts checking up on past stories, I’m taking a quick look at the legal fight over taxes on cell phone calls in Chula Vista.

The tax, introduced in 1970, charges a small fee on users of telephones, electricity and other utilities within the South Bay city. As cell phones came into popular use, Chula Vista started allowing phone companies to tax cell phone calls too, and for years it collected and spent that tax money.

The tax on cell phone calls was always on rather shaky ground. It was loosely based on Internal Revenue Service rules governing what can and can’t be taxed. But in the mid-2000s, the IRS lost a number of court cases over whether it could tax cell phone calls and, in 2006, a cell phone carrier wrote to the city of Chula Vista saying it didn’t think it still needed to collect the taxes.

But Chula Vista didn’t stop taking the tax money. The city argues that the tax is legal, though in recent years it’s been carefully stashing away the proceeds from the cell phone taxes in case it loses in court one day.

That day might be coming soon. Let’s take a look at how this has played out:

Where we left it:

The last time we wrote about this was back in June 2011. A pair of law firms had just filed suit against the city of Chula Vista over the tax.
It was a tough time for the city to get slammed with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Chula Vista had just gone through a couple of years of financial misery, laying off staff and closing down city services.

The city had about $5.6 million stashed away in case in was ever sued on the tax, but attorneyThomas Penfield, who is suing the district, told me at the time that he would be seeking far more in damages.

What’s happened since?

The lawsuit was certified as a class action on Sept. 14. That basically means that a judge has

ruled that the plaintiffs in the case are the members of a class of people who have a claim against the city.

The city had originally challenged the lawsuit, arguing that a class action suit couldn’t legally be used to seek a tax refund. That challenge was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Richard E. Strauss in January.

Since the case was certified, the lawyers challenging the tax have been preparing to give notice to all the Chula Vista residents who might be a member of the class action. That involves sending out postcards to residents and setting up a website on the lawsuit. If any member of the class doesn’t believe he or she is being adequately represented in the suit, that person can choose to file a separate lawsuit, Penfield said.

Chula Vista’s city attorney and outside attorneys did not respond to calls for comment. The city’s finance director, Maria Kachadoorian said via email that the city’s financial situation has improved since the dark days of 2011.

“We are seeing modest improvements in our major revenue streams and the housing market seems to be settling down,” Kachadoorian wrote. “We anticipate that we will continue to see some challenges but nothing like what we experienced over the past four years.”

What happens next?

The case is set to go to trial on Feb. 8, 2013, before Strauss. Both sides of the lawsuit have proposed a two-stage hearing process, Penfield said. First, the judge will hear arguments as to whether the tax violates the law, and if so, whether damages should be awarded. The second stage, if necessary, will deal with how much the city will have to pay in damages.

As long as the city has continued to stash away the taxes and not spend them, the overall impact to Chula Vista’s bottom line shouldn’t be too damaging. If the city wins, it could potentially have a sorely needed windfall after years of cuts.

Penfield’s firm, CaseyGerry, partnered on the lawsuit with Orange County-based Capretz & Associates. The firm’s lawyers will be paid a contingency fee if the lawsuit is successful, and Chula Vistans who have paid the taxes will be entitled to damages.

Penfield said the amount of damages, and the method by which they will be paid, will have to be worked out in court.

In this case, the payoff amount per resident is pretty small. Cell phone users were likely taxed a few dollars a month by the city and they may have to go back through their bills to establish how much they are owed.

Penfield said the city is liable for the taxes for up to one year before the lawsuit was filed. That means Chula Vista is potentially on the hook for taxes it collected going back to April 2010.

I’ll write another update when there’s a verdict.

Segregating your phone bill – a sample Sprint bill

19 Jan

Sprint is another cellphone carrier I’ve found to collect Utility User’s Tax.  Notice, on page 5 of 5 of this sample bill, “Denver State-Community Service Taxes,” “Denver County 9-1-1,” and “Denver County-Comm Sales Tax.”  I’m assuming, if this bill were made out for a person living in the  city of Chico, it would say “City Utility User’s Tax.” 

This bill specifically refers to “mobile” service, with no reference to a landline.  

UPDATE:  Looking over these bills later, I couldn’t help but note – reread the arguments that Ann Schwab and Scott Gruendl made in favor of Measure J – they insinuate that the “average” cell bill is $50! Look at these “average” bills I’ve posted – these are based on real bills, for two to three users – $150 a month! 

Scott Gruendl is up for re-election in 2014. We need to call that little prick on his bullshit. 

Also, city manager Brian Nakamura keeps repeating, we “lost” $900,000 with the defeat of Measure J. But at last month’s Finance Committee meeting, Hennessy reported the loss for fiscal year 2011-12 was only $500,000, after  the N&R quoted her office boy Frank Fields as estimating it at $600,000 back in November.

Is our city manager just making stuff up?