I’m a weird woman with weird interests

Some people might say “strange”, “bizarre”, or “weird,” but I like to think of myself as an “interesting” person. I know it makes people wonder when they find me reading something like engineer’s reports for local landscaping and lighting districts, but, frankly, I think it’s weird, bizarre, and strange that more people aren’t interested in how a bunch of snout faces can land in your neighborhood like visitors from another planet and slap a tax on your house to pay their salaries and benefits.

To me, it’s like that episode of Simpson’s where Homer and Ned go to Las Vegas and wake up married to a couple of strange women.  Agencies like Chico Area Recreation District (CARD) and Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District (BCMVCD) can determine the “need” for a district, determine the boundaries of the district, and determine the “expenses” of maintaining the district, based on “benefits” they dream up, and then determine the charge per household. This is how CARD can assess Chico residents to get money to pay their own salaries and benefits.

They are supposed to notice the residents, and then take a vote – both by mail and in an obscure ad in the newspaper. Oftentimes nobody even shows up at the hearings, and it doesn’t say how many ballots were sent or returned in the engineer’s report.  If you’re one of those people who thought  the assessment ballot was just another piece of crap mail (the CARD survey looked like junk mail, so did the Butte Vector’s assessment ballot), you just wake up one day with a strange bill added to your property taxes.

I wonder – how many of you pay your property taxes directly, and how many pay through their mortgage payment? I know you get a bill even if your mortgage holder pays it, and I’m wondering – how many people read their tax bills? I read mine, but I won’t profess to understanding all of it. For example, I know “Chico 2012 Refunding Bond” has something to do with the collapse of our Redevelopment Agency, but that’s it. I try to look these things up online and I find definitions that need defining.

I’ve been following CARD lately because a couple of years ago they sent out a survey asking property owners if they’d support an assessment to build an aquatic center. At the time CARD was rife with budget problems, they were cutting hours and laying off workers to save money, subsequently cutting programs and turning away paying customers. All the while their 33 or so management employees were enjoying pretty generous salaries by private sector standards, the General Manager making about $112,000/year, but paying nothing toward their own pensions or benefits. In 2012 they made a $300,000 “side fund payoff” to CalPERS, bottomed out their budget. I immediately realized, this proposed aquatic center was just a rainbow they were promising to get the public to give  them a general purpose bond that would be eaten before it hatched by management compensation.

That’s the major “expense” in the engineer’s reports on these parks – salaries and benefits, says it right there, in as many words. For example, Amber Grove Park, a big green rectangle located in the Amber Grove subdivision  north of town – total budget, $42,560, salary/benefits, $28,000. $8,500 goes to PG&E and Cal Water. About $3,700 goes to “agriculture,” “maintenance structure and grounds”, and “vandalism”.  Another $4,432 goes to “incidental expenses,” defined as “county collection charges and project management” – more salaries and benefits.

So, it’s really more like $32,000 in salaries and benefits, out of a $42,560 budget. And, I’ll remind you – fulltime CARD employees pay nothing toward their own pensions, and the part timers were cut to 28 hours or less last year so CARD would not have to pay them any benefits. That means we have to cover these people with public  health programs. These are the people who actually do the work that keeps the parks clean and usable (pick up garbage and dog doo, mow lawns, fix broken equipment), but most of the money goes to management employees (sit in air conditioned CARD center, drive around town in brand new air-conditioned SUV, sit in air-conditioned meetings like Butte County Association of Government, etc).

I don’t like being a sap for this stuff, so I try to read this junk. Apparently, your neighborhood can vote down these assessment districts, but that takes organization. Most of them seem to pass without a whimper from the public, judging from the reports I’ve read. I know these taxing entities really don’t go to any trouble to really inform the public, and in the case of CARD and BCMVCD, I felt they went out of their way to misinform the public, leaving out all that important stuff about salaries and pensions and CalPERS side fund pay-offs.

I don’t think CARD can assess for the aquatic center, I think they’ll have to get a bond. I don’t know for sure, I’ll have to check into it more. Right now I have to go outside and play with Biscuit, she gets pretty annoyed with these reading sessions.

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