What would you do with $4.8 million?

I like to keep an eye on city business, rather than wait to find out what they already did and squawk about it like an old chicken. I have signed up with the clerk’s office to receive agendas for various city meetings, so I can at least be aware what’s coming up, even if I can’t attend.

I’ll tell you why I can ‘t usually attend – these meetings are onerous, full of non-necessary chatter, nonsense discussions, with the public being held out of any serious conversations by use of the three minute time limit. A member of the public is only allowed to speak once, barf out their prepared comments, and then sit down to hear the council members yak at will, spreading misinformation, even berating the speakers after they’ve left the podium. We are not allowed the give and take of a normal adult conversation, we’re treated like children.

At a morning Finance Committee meeting, Mayor Mark Sorensen interrupted my questions about the “forgiveness” of an $800,000 loan made to the Nature  Center, telling me loudly, ” That’s enough!” when I asked about their financial records. Now they’ve instituted limits on public comment in those morning meetings, which used to be far more conversational.   I wasn’t the only one asking too many questions – and more people need to be asking questions right now.

I got the agenda for tonight’s council meeting on  Friday afternoon, and it just said there would be a financial report from  Frank Fields. They have stopped putting the reports on the agenda – it just reads, “verbal report.”  So, the newspaper must have some source down there – yesterday they came out with the story about the $4.8 million “found” in the city’s books.

Bob was saying he found a dollar recently – that’s exciting for most people. One day I was traversing One Mile on my bike, a nice summer day, the druggies and creeps were milling around, and there on the sidewalk lay an old crappy bill –  it was 100 freaking dollars. I just about had a stroke. I knew it came from some drug deal, so I pocketed that  baby,  and with hardly a thought, I went straight to Malvina’s and ordered myself a soup and salad lunch.  

Yes, I had bills to pay, there was some guilt. But it was fate – turned out to be the last time I ate at Malvina’s, one of the last times I saw Sal Corona before he closed up shop. He was a pistol, that guy. There were some city employees having lunch with some people from the chamber of commerce, so he entertained them with a ramble about then chamber director Katrina Woodcox Davis, who just happened to be pulling up across the street. He complained that she took up as many as three parking places  when she’d park her car near his cafe, on Second Street, where parking was in demand almost 24-7.   He put his hands on his hips and asked derisively to the window – “Oh hi Katrina – how many parking spaces you gonna take today?”

I got my $15 worth that day, and still had $85 in found money to apply to the household expenses.

Frank Fields has of yet offered no explanation for this “found” $48 million. He does warn us that this in no way indicates we are out of the woods. In the agenda he mentions all these recent “budget allocations” the city has  been making – that’s when they go  over budget, they just “allocate” more.  As if they have some special printer in the basement, making up more money all the time.

What Fields and the other suits know and don’t discuss often enough is our HUGE unfunded pension liability.  The last figure I heard was $64 million. Simply put, that is the difference between what public employees have paid or had paid for them toward their pensions, and what they actually expect to receive.

City of Chico employees receive between 70 and 90 percent of their highest year’s salary in pension.  Currently, city employees pay only 9 percent of this burden, with the city picking up about another 30 percent. Incoming employees will be expected to pay 50 percent – but “incoming” means, they have to be hired fresh, not transferred from another public entity. If you look over the records, you see new hires are very rare, most public employees move from one entity to another, raising their salary as they go along.  For example, the city just hired former CARD employee Scott Dowell to fill Frank Fields’ vacated position when Fields was promoted into Chris Constantin’s former position when Chris Constantin was promoted to Mark Orme’s old position when Orme was promoted to Brian Nakamura’s vacated position. Dowell was promoted from about $95,000/year at CARD to over $150,000/year at the city, for the same job. He will pay only 9 percent of his benefits, we will continue to pay an increasing portion, unless we get a city council that is not on the take. Every member of our so-called fiscal conservative majority either gets or is married to someone who gets a public pension.

The roughly 50 percent that nobody is paying, is our “unfunded pension liability”. Ooh, do the math – makes that $4.8 look like spit on a griddle, doesn’t it?

Reminds me of my $100 bill. Compared to my property taxes? Spit on a griddle. So, I tried to get something before my spit sizzled away – a good meal with a good friend. The rest of that money sizzled away on household bills, gone and almost forgotten except for the joy of the find, and the memories of my friend, swishing his hips back and forth, taunting the suits.

I also told you, and anybody who would listen, where I got that money. I’m assuming Fields will give a better explanation for this found money of his tonight at the council meeting. I am out of town, and can’t get the meeting on my tiny tablet, so will have to check it out later on the website.

What would I do with that $4.8 million? I’d start by hiring a lawyer to get us out of the employee contracts. I’d put it in my battle chest, and I’d go for an ordinance that restricts the city from paying more than 10 percent of employee benefits and pensions. I’d ask for an ordinance that restricts the city from paying full benefits for council members. 

What would you do with that $4.8 million?






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