Tag Archives: telecommunications tax

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

26 Jan

I been rattling chains over at the Finance Department to find out how they plan to legally notify the public about cell phone tax refunds. I feel  it’s more their job to protect the citizens than to protect the city itself, but they agree to disagree with me on that. It’s all about civility people – don’t ask too many questions, you will be treated like you’re from Glenn County or something. 

I feel the city should be more responsible for returning this ill-gotten booty, so I’ve been e-mailing the Finance office about once a week for more details. I have to give Frank Fields some credit – at least he answers my e-mails.   He told me they’d finally decided how to notice the cell phone tax  refund:

Ms. Sumner:     The City will be placing a “Notice” (much like the notice for the annual UUT Refund program) in both the Chico ER and Chico N&R beginning late next week (i.e., sometime over the weekend).   – Frank

We’re so damned civil around here! Don’t fart, you gauche bastard! 

So, next Thursday there should be something in the N&R, and then we’ll maybe see it in the ER later that weekend.  

Of course, as far as I know, they’re still taking it out off people’s bills, which really isn’t very civil, but you know how they are. Down at the city, civility means, you get a kiss with your screwing.

 I have not heard one more word on their quest to inform the cell phone companies. That’s a question for Jennifer Hennessy, and I forgot to ask her at the last Finance Committee meeting. I’ll have to drop her an e-mail soon. 

What I do know is, people are hitting that link I posted to the refund application – here it is again:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/CellPhoneRefundApplication_0117

I hope people will get their refunds – that’s the real “victory” I’m looking for here, that the city is called on it’s bad behavior, and made to set things right. 

Don’t forget about those cell phone tax refunds!

9 Jan

At the December 26 Finance Committee meeting, Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy and City Attorney Lori Barker reported on their efforts to notify cell phone carriers that they no longer need to collect Utility Tax on cell phone bills, given the defeat of Measure J. You might be sick of hearing this but I never tire of telling it – they’ve been collecting the tax illegally for years now, knowingly, and when they noticed that other cities around the state were being sued for perpetrating this fraud, they wrote a measure legalizing it and plopped it on last November’s ballot. As you may recall, WE KICKED THE CRAP OUT OF IT, thankyouverymuch. 

So, what’s the big hold up with telling these companies to stop collecting, you might ask. Any intelligent person might ask that. Any intelligent person might run screaming out of these meetings. I prefer to think of myself as not quite intelligent, maybe just “dog smart.” I may not understand exactly what’s going on, but I got a very suspicious nose. So I go to these damned meetings and ask these persistently annoying questions – if you think I’m  annoying, just try being  me! 

It was asked at the meeting, I don’t remember by who or in exactly what words, but something like this –  well, Jennifer, since you receive these payments from these companies, wouldn’t you know which companies are collecting the tax? 

I’m so glad somebody asks questions besides me – you only get so many pointy questions before certain people get all pissy on you. When that question was asked, all I could do was yell  “You GO girl!” in my head. 

The answer – they are having a hard time segregating (their word) the land line taxes from the cell phone taxes. 

Okay, I thought, that sounds reasonable. You know me, at 8:15 in the am,  “hand me your purse” sounds reasonable to me.  I’m not really awake until about 9:15, three or four cups of coffee down the gullet and a couple of loads of laundry. I come home from these meetings and realize I let all kinds of weird stuff go by without so much as a squawk. 

Have you looked at your cell phone bill? They not only “segregate” your cell phone charges from your land line charges, they segregate all your calls and the amount of time you talked and everything. I could track my husband around the city for the better part of a month using that phone bill.  

The measure was defeated in November and they’re still grappling with, as the News and Review put it, “the daunting task of how to repay local cell phone users the utility tax that is has been collecting under an outdated ordinance.

They can’t even answer questions about it yet. I sent an e-mail to the Finance Department today:

Hi,  I understand the city will be refunding cell phone taxes taken as a result of the defeat of Measure J – could I get the details on that? When and where can we get it, what documentation would we need, etc.    I assume this information will be posted on the front page of the city website eventually, but I’m writing a letter to the editor about it, and I wanted to get the  facts right.  

 Thanks, Juanita Sumner

I received this response:

 

Hello Juanita, thank you for your request for information on refunding cell phone taxes as a result of Measure J.  We will be responding to your request soon.  Thank you!

 

Well, we can make it easier for them – sing out people – who among you has been taxed on your cell phone bill within the last year? Bring those bills forward, e-mail the Finance Department – that’s jhenness@ci.chico.ca.us or ltheisen@ci.chico.ca.us – and tell them you have your bills, and you’re wondering how to get your refund. Simple as that. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need to remind Jennifer Hennessy and Ann Schwab to get cracking on getting that phone tax off our bills

12 Nov

I’m still poking Measure J with a stick. It lays there as if dead, but we’ll see.   Not that I’m so worried about those 14,000 uncounted ballots, but, will the city stop taking the tax now that we’ve sent it to the boneyard?

And according to an article in the Enterprise Record the other day, “it’s unclear what the city’s next step will be.” Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy says the city will “likely have to proactively inform” the phone companies they no longer need to collect the tax. Well, let’s write those letters folks – that’s jhenness@ci.chico.ca.us  – no, that’s not a typo, that is her correct city of Chico contact.  Remind Ms. Hennessy she needs to contact those phone companies NOW. Tell her you’d like to get copies of those notices. 

And, ask her for a list of those companies that DO collect the tax – as far as I know, it’s only AT&T, even though the ER article says there’s only one carrier that doesn’t collect. 

In Chula Vista, ratepayers are still awaiting the outcome of a trial, set for this coming January, to determine if they will be REFUNDED of money that was collected by way of the old tax. This old tax was in effect all over California, and all over California people are throwing it off. The original law allowed for taxing of land lines, NOT cell phones. The City of Chula Vista brought forward their own version of Measure J, to “modernize” the tax for their own use. Their voters rejected it soundly. But, the city continued to collect the tax.  They said the law was too vague.

Your vivacious Mayor, Ann Schwab, admitted in her “argument in favor” of Measure J, that the old law  needed to be “modernized,” or the city was “at risk” of losing this revenue. What does she mean, “at risk” ? Is she going to pull the same kind of bullshit they pulled in Chula Vista? Ask her at aschwab@ci.chico.ca.us

In Chula Vista, the city claims that ” municipalities all over the state collect a similar tax under similar ordinances.  The original ordinance never intended to exempt from taxation the usage of mobile communication devices that are in common use today.”

See that article at 

http://www.thestarnews.com/latest-news/judge-oks-pursuit-of-lawsuit/

Be ready to hear the same bull from Schwab and Barker. And be ready to go right back on the warpath. If they don’t stop collecting the phone tax, we should go after a reduction in the Utility Tax rate, to 1 percent or less, and then go after an exemption for ALL citizens who qualify for the rate assistance programs offered by the utility companies.  

When the ER reporter asked me for a comment, I told her The Chico Taxpayers Association would follow this thing, and I’m ready to do that. That’s what it takes. The CTA isn’t going to go away. 

 My grandma had a little poem hanging on the wall of our bedroom when we were kids. “Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn! The sheep are in the meadow, the cow is in the corn! “  For those of you who didn’t grow up on a farm, those are bad things – the sheep are scattering, and the cow is wrecking your corn patch.  “But where is the boy who’s to look after the sheep? Why, he’s under the hay mow, fast asleep!” Hey, is that you? Are you sleeping while the cow is eating your good sweet corn, and your sheep are about to be hit by some drunk on his way home from The Four Corners?   At the bottom of the frame, there were the words, “Go After the Cow!” Yes, wake up, write those e-mails, tell those cows, “get your hooves out of my phone bill!” 

HERE’S THE ER ARTICLE FOR REFERENCE

With Measure J failure, City of Chico waits to understand impact

By ASHLEY GEBB-Chico Enterprise Record, Staff Writer
Posted:   11/08/2012 12:05:48 AM PST

CHICO — While Chico voters appear to have defeated a change to the city’s telephone users tax Tuesday, it’s unclear what the city’s next step will be.

Measure J asked voters whether to amend wording to the city’s telephone users tax to encompass modern technology such as cellphones while decreasing the tax rate from 5 percent to 4.5 percent.

With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, the tax measure was failing, with 53 percent opposed.

The tally to date is 12,451 no votes and 10,973 yes votes, with still about 14,000 ballots left to be counted in all of Butte County.

If the measure fails, the city will likely sustain a major hit in revenue that supports the general fund, said Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy.

The city currently receives about $1.4 million annually in telephone user tax revenue, of which $900,000 to $1 million comes from wireless telecommunications providers. That may not be the extent of the loss, Hennessy said.

“Over time as more people transfer from having landlines to having cellphones or other types of voice communication that’s not covered under our current ordinance, our tax base will continue to decrease,” she said.

City Attorney Lori Barker declined to state impacts until Measure J’s outcome is finalized, but she said she will prepare a report for the City Council once all the votes are tabulated.

Measure proponents said its passage was critical to protect tax revenue, while opponents argued it was a regressive tax that unfairly targeted students.If the measure does fail, Hennessy predicts the revenue loss will begin this fiscal year.

The time frame also depends on phone companies, she said, and the city will likely have to proactively inform them they no longer need to collect the tax.

All but one company currently collect the tax. Metro PCS stopped paying the tax in March 2011, causing a loss of nearly $80,000.

“We will be working with the new council as for what priorities are, where we cut the funds, where we cut the expenditures,” she said. “There will be some tough decisions.”

Juanita Sumner of the Chico Taxpayers, a group that worked to raise public awareness about Measure J, said members now will wait to see if the city stops collecting the tax. She noted that in Chula Vista, where a similar measure failed but the tax continued to be collected, the city is being sued.

“Chico Taxpayers are ready to follow this issue to its end,” she wrote in an email.

NO on Measure J – No Cell Phone Tax!

17 Sep

It’s always good to listen to people who disagree with you.  If you know what they are thinking, you can oftentimes get them to listen to your point of view, and maybe change their minds.

Sometimes it’s a simple matter of correcting misinformation. For example, the promoters of the new cell phone tax, City of Chico Measure J, are telling people the measure will  lower their taxes. Of course this is not true, but if we don’t step out there and make that clear, people may believe it. We need to make sure people know – the tax is being expanded to forms of electronic communication, like cell phones and pagers, that were not legally taxed before.

Something our opponents are telling us here is  they know people feel overtaxed. They are trying to trick people into voting for this tax increase, they’re telling them it will lower their taxes.  We need to tell people the truth – their cell phone bill will go up!

We also need to remind them, the tax can be further expanded – this measure allows the Finance Director to add any new forms of electronic communication that may be introduced to the consumer, at any time in the future, without voter approval. And, by the way, the tax rate can be raised by vote of council, again, without voter approval.

Finally, we need to ” de-bunk the bunk”, to borrow from an old blog-mate (who, by the way, currently receives over $149,000 per year  in pension). Measure J proponents are using the same old tactic – they are holding “public safety” up like a baby and threatening to throw the baby out the window if they don’t get this tax increase. According to Ann Schwab’s argument in favor,  failure to pass this tax increase “will result in reduced police and fire services, road maintenance and park funds. “ She’s  threatening to throw all my babies out the window, I just can’t believe that woman, Good Gravy,  she’s a  mean one.

Of course we need a competent and adequate staff, public safety and otherwise. But there is nothing in the text of this measure that guarantees we’ll get that. The revenues from Measure J will go into the General Fund, from which they can be spent at the discretion of council, on anything from Spirit Flags to the unmet pension obligations left to us by the CalPERS disaster.

It is a simple thing to tear down this measure, because it’s a bad idea. It is a matter of speaking up and telling people what’s happening. Write those letters – I hope you will find the above points helpful, but I’m sure you have plenty to say for yourselves.

Ballot measures – today featuring state Proposition 30 and local Measure E

15 Sep

I thought I’d share this interesting link:

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/qualified-ballot-measures.htm

Look them over, some of them are tax increase measures.  There at the top you see Proposition 30 – that’s Jerry Browns’ pit bull disguised as a tea cup poodle. “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Gee, they make it sound so harmless – “Temporary” – oooo! “Fund Education” – ahhhh!  That’s like saying,  “well he’s just a little ol’ alligatah, Honey!”

They write these titles knowing how many people actually read the text of a measure. Sure, some of those people don’t bother to read it because they ritually vote NO! on anything smelling like a tax increase – that’s not a bad strategy as far as I’m concerned.

But, it’s not my strategy. I know we need taxes to fund public needs. It’s not like I’m just Anti-Tax – my family is full of teachers, I went to public school. I’ve driven my car, rode my bike and hoofed it on public roads for over 50 years.  I like public utilities, which are largely subsidized with taxes, and I like having some sort of police and fire protection, even if I have to take the ticks with the hound. 

On the other hand, I also know, it’s stupid to throw money at budget problems. We certainly do have a budget problem in the state of California, but it’s not a revenue problem, it’s  a spending problem.  Year after year the governor and the legislature have screamed that we are in deficit, need to “cut back,” but they just keep approving more spending. For the craziest stuff, I don’t even want to go there. Mostly for the lifestyle they’ve managed to make out of it for themselves – why do we allow these public servants to live like demi-gods? Alot of us could live on their wardrobe and dry-cleaning allowances, their cell phone allowances, their car and gas allowances. We have “allowanced” these people until they are so far removed from our everyday reality –  I guess, we’ve made our own monster, and we deserve to be destroyed by this creature.

Well, not me. I’m going to fight. This “temporary” tax is another hike – add that onto the hike in the cost of housing, the cost of medical care, the cost of groceries and gas and everything else you need to live. Add that to the city’s utility tax hike and the state’s wood products tax and the proposed Chico art tax and a grocery bag tax – pending state legislation would allow retailers to charge the public for plastic grocery bags, currently illegal.  I’ll tell you what, it sure seems to me, the people of  California are being told to TAKE A HIKE!

First of all, “temporary” means, after the allotted time, the legislature can vote to extend it.  I don’t know if they need public approval for that. Like local Measure H, which would extend a “temporary fee” that was placed on our vehicle registration a few years back. Once you vote something like this in it’s like giving the vacuum salesman a foot in your door. 

And then there’s the WHY? of it. WHY? would we give the schools more money? Here in Chico, they just pad their behinds with the stuff. What does a school district the size of Chico need with all these $100,000 plus administrators, including Stuporintendent of Snooze, Kelly Staley, who makes well over $180,000 a year, plus benefits and pension paid by the taxpayers.

Furthermore, Chico Unified has foisted their own bond on the local ballot – how much money do they need down there? Are they making clothes out of it? Here’s the info on that:

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln27/27_local_measures.html#a

Staley wants to issue $78 million in bonds, placing a $45 tax on your home for every $100,000 worth of value. Read Staley’s request here:

http://clerk-recorder.buttecounty.net/elections/archives/eln27/measure_e_resolution.pdf

Staley only wants $78 mil. Jerry Brown is hoping to raise $6 billion annually. I can imagine Santa Claus, and maybe even the tooth fairy, but I can’t begin to imagine $6 billion.

He says his measure “bars use of funds for administrative costs, but provides local school governing boards discretion to decide, in open meetings and subject to annual audit, how funds are spent.” That is a loophole – everything after “but” .  Everybody who’s dealt with government types knows what the words “discretion” and “open meetings” mean – in other words, we listened to what the public said but we did what we wanted anyway. 

And there’s this line: “Guarantees funding for public safety services realigned from state to local governments.”   Let’s have a collective, “oh, sure!” on that one – which turnip truck does Governor Moonbeam think we fell off of? How many times have they just TAKEN money from local jurisdictions, saying, “make us give it back” ? And we’re supposed to fall for it? Fool me once, Shame on You! Fool me twice, well, I’ll probably buy it a third time too. But the fourth time, I’m not only not going to fall for it, I’m going to kick your ass for trying to pull it.

Oh, you know, I’m not advocating violence, oh geeshy sakes no! I’m asking everybody I know, everybody within blog-shot,  to bring in a LANDSLIDE against Prop 30 AND local Measure E, the school bond. We have to clean our financial house, and it’s going to be a lot of work. Lately, adding more money to the state of California engine is just like putting cheap gas in your Pinto.  Clunk-clunka-clunk-clunk-clunk!  Clunka-clunk!

 I read an article today, in which the author professed being in favor of Prop 30, and challenged opponents to come up with good alternatives to the “problem”. Of course, he thinks the “problem” is, teachers don’t get paid enough, and we don’t have enough money to hire adequate teachers. I feel the “problem” is, the school system is top-heavy with administrative salaries and drowning in benefits and pensions obligations that should be paid by the employees.  His answer is either raise taxes or watch the California schools fall further into the abyss. I say,  cut administration positions down to bare bones, and make Superintendent a publicly elected position. Then,  fire people, and rehire other qualified applicants at reasonable salaries. Finally, throw out the notion of “benefits packages” altogether – benefits packages are something you use to lure highly skilled candidates in an employee’s market. That is not how I’d describe the average employee of Chico Unified, and Chico is certainly not an “employee’s market,” with Chico State squeezing out Liberal Studies candidates like a sausage press.

 What the government isn’t admitting, is that these contracts come up for review every so many years – every year down at the school district –  and they have the alternative of NOT RENEWING. Instead, they hold the public out of the negotiations with BS about “collective bargaining rights” and renew even worse contracts than those expired. Why do we pay our public workers three, four, five times the median income, while also paying even the “employee share” of their benefits?

That has got to stop. If we really want to live within our means, we need candidates for public office who are willing to tackle the issues of salaries and benefits, not in some future “tiered” system, but NOW. When existing contracts come up for renegotiation, we need candidates who are not afraid to look unreasonable employees in the eye and tell them not to let the screen door hit them on the ass. We need council members who are not afraid to tell employees they need to pay MOST, if not ALL, of their own benefits. I’m sick of these cowards, people who are more interested in keeping their ass in the chair than working for the taxpayers. People who are afraid of $taff because they are too lazy or intimidated to do their own homework and depend on $taff to feed them like infants. 

Do your homework this election, tell your friends, get the word out – “change” is actually a wonderful word, we’re all allowed to use it. 

 

Ann Schwab’s argument in favor of Measure J – “to protect against the risk of losing” illegally collected tax revenues

25 Aug

Here is the “Statement of Accuracy” signed by those arguing in favor of Measure J – Mayor Ann Schwab and councillors Holcombe, Gruendl, and Goloff. Jim Walker submitted a letter of consent.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail with these documents attached – arguments FOR and AGAINST Measure J, the cell phone tax, submitted to the city clerk earlier this month.  None of them cut and pastable into my blog, so I’ve been hem-hawing around trying to figure out how to load them up. I hate to break this kind of news – I am not exactly a computer whiz kid.  Word Press is a wonderful forum, but there’s buttons I still haven’t figured out yet. 

So, I finally just took a picture of the above “Statement of Accuracy” sheet with my camera – you can see how that turned out. The “Argument in Favor” below had to be typed in from a window on the little “notepad” my kids gave me for Christmas.

The city clerk has said she can’t give me the cut and pastable versions cause she’s afraid I’ll “edit” them.  Well, I’ll assure you, I have typed this argument in very carefully, word for word, and this is what Ann Schwab has to say for herself. I will admit, I received this argument before the county clerk had assigned a letter to the measure, so I added the letter ‘J’.  Let’s discuss this over the next few weeks :

Argument in Favor of Measure J – Utility Users Tax

We recommend approval of Measure J to protect existing revenue to continue vital services for the residents of the City of Chico.

The City of chico is at risk of losing $900,000 each year if voters do not approve Measure J to modernize the language of it’s current Users Utility Tax (UUT) ordinance. This would represent a significant reduction in General Fund revenue. The primary purpose of amending the telephone users’ tax is to protect existing revenue for the General Fund. A loss of $900,000 a year would result in reduced police and fire services, road maintenance and park funds.

In recent years, there have been significant changes in both technology and billing practices. The use of wireless services and voice over internet protocol has become widespread, billing for local and long distance services  is frequently bundled, and long distance calls are not always billed based on time and distance, even for land lines.

To protect against the risk of losing tax revenues in the face of legal issues, approval of Measure J will modernize this existing tax to ensure that all users of communication services are treated the same, regardless of the type of technology they are using or billing practices employed by their providers.

This proposed amendment includes a slight rate reductionk, from 5% to 4.5%. 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.

Vote yes for Measure J and protect existing police, fire, roads and parks in the City of Chico.

Measure J – That’s Ann Schwab sliding her hand into your purse.

23 Aug

The other night the Chico City Council signed a new city manager at $217,000 a year, plus benefits. That’s an increase of about 14 percent over retiring city manager Dave Burkland’s salary. Meanwhile, the median American income, according to the census bureau, has fallen by 7 percent. In Chico, the 2010 figure for median income was about $38,000. Seven percent would be a hit of over $2500. OUCH!

I wonder if the researchers took into account those families whose incomes have remained fairly steady, while expenses like utilities and taxes have grown unrepentantly. You’ve probably received the same notices I have got from PG&E and Cal Water – they seem to raise rates at will these days. You probably read Cal Water’s notice that we weren’t using enough water so they had to raise rates to recoup money they spent when they thought we were going to use a lot of water. But,  talking out both sides of their mouth, they raise the rate per ccf tremendously when we use over a certain amount of water – to encourage us to conserve water! What kind of circular bullshit is that?

The same circular bullshit you get from the city of Chico, that’s what.  For several years now we have heard one report after another about our dismal financial situation. We had to close a fire station for a month.  We can’t keep enough cops on the street to serve a citation for a second noise complaint. We don’t have enough money to fix our streets. We don’t have enough money to properly maintain Bidwell Park.  But without missing a beat, they tell us they are increasing their own salaries.  They are signing a contract with Chico PD that gives them a raise, along with structured overtime and pays the “employees’ share” of their benefits and pension premiums. And now they hire a guy at $217,000  a year, plus the benefits and pension payments, whose successor in Hemet is only making $162,000 a year.

http://www.pe.com/local-news/riverside-county/hemet/hemet-headlines-index/20120821-hemet-council-selects-orme-as-interim-city-manager.ece

And they propose to cover these asinine appropriations by raising our taxes. That is the intention behind the phone tax –  measure J – already placed on this November’s ballot, as well as the motivation behind Tom Lando’s coming sales tax increase proposal – watch for that in a special election in 2013.

Measure J is our immediate problem. It is billed by it’s sponsors, including Mayor Ann Schwab, as a tax reduction.  Sure, they will lower the existing land line tax from 5 percent to 4.5. But this measure will allow them to extend the tax to cell phones, pagers, and forms of electronic communication that have not even been introduced to the consumer yet.   This measure will allow the city Finance Director to add any future form of electronic communication that is included in your phone bill to the tax base without consulting the voters. You will simply see the increase on your phone bill.

Remember when the only people who had cell phones, or “mobile phones,” were guys like Elvis Presley? Yeah, a cell phone used to be for rich people only, a status symbol even. Well, try living without one today.  Land lines are pretty unreliable – unless you live within a few blocks of the router over in college town, you get hit and miss service, at best. When we had AT&T, we’d be without either phone or internet service for days at a time.  We felt forced to switch to cell phones. When my son was looking for a job, they expected him to have his own cell phone, mom or dad’s number was a real turn-off to employers.  So, yes, in this day and age, not having a cell phone has become akin to not having a car – what’s wrong with you?

This cell phone tax is a matter of TAKING, by people who just expect to TAKE. The city does nothing to guarantee or improve or even cheapen the cost of your cell phone service. They’ve actually refused to permit cell phone towers on occasion, citing “aesthetics.” But they expect to add a 4.5 percent TAX to a service you contract with a commercial provider?

We need to get the word out on this TAKING. Ann Schwab and her friends are billing it as a TAX DECREASE! You know better, and you need to tell your friends, your co-workers, and people with whom you do business – you need to start telling everybody you know who lives in the city of Chico, that they are about to be had.

I’m starting with my close friends, and then I’m going to mail letters to people like my dentist, my auto shops, my vet, etc. You would be surprised how many people don’t know what this phone tax is all about. People who don’t have time to educate themselves often depend on their friends to give them the heads-up. Be a good friend, tell everybody you know about this tax.

That’s Measure J, Ann Schwab’s plan to stick her little pig nose into your phone bill.  Bad Pig! Time to give her a sharp rap across the snout – No on J!