Ventura asks for more money in Measure A

Shameless Politicians Propose Measure A For More Money

“No creature smarts so little as a fool. Destroy his fib, or sophistry – in vain! The creature’s at his dirty work again.”—Alexander Pope

911 TAX – POSTMORTEM

[THE GREAT BOONDOGLE. WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?]

The City Council keeps saying they do not understand why the citizens of this community have such distrust for city government.  They are not likely to understand if they are not listening.

Refunded only part of the money

Ventura refunded only part of the money collected in the 911 Tax.

No need to again examine the history and the woof of the pathetic effort of the City Council to tax 911 calls, but it does serve to examine the aftermath.

This idea, spawned by our City Manger, Rick Cole, followed on the heals of the defeat of his Measure P6.  Of course he has no public exposure and can duck any critics’ comments because he was not elected to office, and did not vote for the tax.   Councilmen Monahan, Summers and Brennan, currently up for re-election, however were elected to office, and they did vote for the 911 tax.

Citizens protested, but did so in vain. Lawsuits followed, and only then did the Council take steps to set this all aside to avoid being tagged with a huge bill for attorneys’ fees if they lost.  Make no mistake, they were going to lose. It would then be logical, and reasonable, to assume that the money collected under this concocted scheme would be refunded to the people who were FORCED to pay into the program, right?  Au contraire!

Money from 911 tax never returned

Citizens left hanging for refund of over $1.2 million from 911 tax.

Our fine City government collected $1,220,005 during FY 08-09, representing 54.2% of the hoped for annual revenue of $2,250,000.   Once the law was cancelled you were then offered a refund, if you could prove you paid, only if you had “opted out”, and only then if you attached the necessary documents, and jumped through the required administrative hoops to get your money. Why only if you “opted out”?  Because the City Manager surmised that if you did not “opt out”, you must have chosen to “opt in”, meaning that you wanted the city to have this money, and it was your intention for the city to keep the funds all along.

Only $17,096 was refunded. The City kept over a million dollars, used $800,000 to balance the 2008-09 budget and  kept $402,909 in the general fund for use this year.  Having bilked the citizens of this community,  and having failed to refund the money to those who paid,  it would seem that at least the Council would have the decency to do the right thing and use the money for its declared purpose – fund the 911 system!  That did not happen. Instead the money was stuffed down the proverbial rabbit hole. [okay! used for other expenses like?]

Editors Comment:

Are we hoping in vain that this Council may exhibit some shame, and do the right thing?

THE NEW SALES TAX- “MEASURE A”

[COUNCIL ASKS VOTERS FOR MORE MONEY TO FINANCE FAILED POLICIES]

Masure A takes more money

Ventura politicians are shamelessly asking for more money with Measure A.

It has been clear, since Measure P-6 was defeated at the polls,  that this Council would attempt a new sales tax measure.  This new measure to raise the city sales tax by ½% was put on the ballot for November, 2009, on a vote of 6 to 1.  Councilman Neal Andrews opposed that measure.

In the process of approving Measure A the Council referred constantly to the fact that a “Blue Ribbon Committee”, appointed to consider this proposal, had recommended that a sales tax increase be put on the ballot for public approval, and that the tax be automatically cancelled after  4 years.    This was something to behold — that this Council would have our good citizens believe that the Council really needed a Blue Ribbon Committee’s approval in order to place a new tax measure on the November ballot.  Members of the Council appointed a majority of the blue committee because they were “friends of the Council” (FOC), so the result was always a foregone conclusion.  Former Mayors Jim Friedman and Sandy Smith were on that committee, and each was heard to smirk that they thought “the Council was just trying to seek political cover”.

Now the spinning and fact distortions begin anew.  As you are reading you will recall what happened when P6 was proposed.  The Council wanted a  1/4% special tax for police and fire.  That measure failed, as well as the lawsuit filed by “the City” ( Actually, it was filed by a political action committee headed by Assistant Police Chief Corney, to which each Council member contributed money) against citizens who opposed the tax.  They lost that too after paying their Santa Monica lawyers $30,000.

The Council and the City Manager vowed to come back at the citizenry with a new tax.  Thus Measure A was put on the ballot seeking double the amount of money sought by P6, but this time as a general tax, which only requires a 50%+1 voter approval.  Their hope is that since they received 61.95% of the vote on P6, ergo the voters will approve a ½% general tax increase.

So the rhetoric and distortion begins by the cabal controlling “the City”. To avoid the label of being a “special tax”, requiring a 2/3 vote, the Council decided to promise to spend any new sales taxes in certain ways, but without telling the voters at the same time that they were not obligated to do so [ one could almost see a sly grin and wink from the 6 Council members  as this statement was made]. Their promise of how they will spend this $10,000,000 in new sales tax money may prove to be their undoing.

If approved by the voters it will be interesting to see how Measure A survives a legal challenge, and it will be challenged under Proposition 218.  That state proposition requires a 2/3 voter approval for any tax devoted to

Police and Fire want more money

Police and Fire departments would receive 40% of the money collected from Measure A.

a special purpose as opposed to general tax, which is collected and placed in the general fund. The Council hopes to avoid this problem by saying the funds are “not required” to be used for any specific purpose, yet they announce that the funds will be used for a specific purpose as in inducement to get voters to approve the measure.

Interestingly one of the specific promises made by this Council, as an inducement to voters to approve the measure is that they will spend 40% of the new tax on police and fire — the exact sum they sought to raise in the failed P-6 measure.

Today it’s hard to know what the City is really doing, except that most of the individual Council members are campaigning hard to convince you that you should ignore the waste and spendthrift policies of the past and impose the new tax.  They do not want to address the underlying economic malady – overpaid public employee unions and the millions wasted in ill advised decisions like the plan to narrow Victoria, or the ill-fated 911 tax or increasing the fire department retirement programs by 50%.  Councilman Fulton, who is also campaigning hard for the incumbents advised one contender that he could not approve of their candidacy because they (the Council ) would lose “consensus”  – he really means control.  He also stated in a public meeting that we should forget the past and move on. So how, again, was the 911 tax money spent?

Editors’ comments: 

Only a fool does not learn from the mistakes of the past.

THE STATE STRIKES

It is now official.  Remember that money that you sent in for property taxes, and which is supposed to be returned, in part, to our community? Well our fine state government has decided that to correct their mismanagement and budget deficiencies by taking the money that is supposed to be returned to the cities. Thus our City will not receive $2,760,358 that would be normally  returned. We have been  forced to loan to a state government that has achieved junk bond status in the market place.

The money is not gone, just delayed in delivery.  Of course the State promises to pay this back in 3 years.  How about interest?  The answer we get is that this will be set by someone and sometime in the future — you know the line — “trust us”.

It gets worse.  In addition to the loss to the general fund, the Redevelopment agency has lost $1.2 million, and that will never be repaid.  It is gone.  Makes you wonder if Ventura had spent some more Redevelopment agency funds in the last 2-3 years, whether there would have been any funds to raid?

CITY COUNCIL USES A SMOKESCREEN

[NEVER LET A GOOD CRISIS GO TO WASTE]

This City Council again has to scramble to adjust their budget to allow for this loss.  The hyperbole and spin from City Hall, and the proponents of this tax is that we really need the new sales tax because they have adjusted the budget as much as they can, employees have taken a 5% pay reduction and our State Government has taken our money.  What is a poor City Council to do?  Long before the state did its most recent raid on City funds the die had been cast.  The ½% sales tax was already in the plan.  The City Council members are campaigning hard for the new tax as if the problem is all due to the State and they had some great insight – in short playing the fear game as a reason for the voters to approve the new tax.

Opponents point out that such a tax is regressive, that business has never prospered in such in an environment, that even though there is a 4-year sunset provision the Council proposes to use the new tax money to make long term commitments to police and fire (40% of the new tax money), and that when the 4-year period is up the Council will go back to the voters arguing that if we do not extend the tax there will be cuts in services — you know the old saw — crime, untimely emergency responses to medical emergencies, etc. The opponents also point to the spendthrift policies of this council over the last 6 years, for example $1,000,000 alone was spent to narrow Victoria Avenue.  That should be money in the bank, but instead is sitting in the pockets of City employees and Los Angeles consultants.  There are $13,000,000 of such expenditures, which should be in the bank, but is not  because of unrealistic planning and spending by a liberal out of touch Council.

Mayor Weir is campaigning for the new tax and has stated publicly “we will not spend any money we don’t have”.

Editors’ Comments: 

We hope each citizen will reflect on whether the past should matter in deciding how to vote.

Editors:

B. Alviani        S. Doll          J.Tingstrom

K. Corse          B.McCord    T. Cook

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Pension reform needed

Grand Jury Exposes City Pension Out of Control

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not” —Thomas Jefferson

THE FLEECING OF VENTURA

The Ventura County Star reports the Grand Jury finds Ventura’s Pension Out Of Control

On July 26th the Ventura County Star published an article about the deplorable conditions of the public pension plans in Ventura.   The Ventura Grand Jury labeled these city pension plans as headed for disaster — an out of control cost [They actually said “uncontrollable cost”].  To see how out of control the one in Ventura is see the October, 2008 issue of Res Publica, which  provided an in depth analysis of just how much unfunded debt exists because of the lavish pension plans given to public employees by the City Council.  We republish some of that article here as a reminder to our citizens when they go to the polls in November.

(c) THE FIREFIGHTER PENSION

In a vote of 4 to 3 the council  approved the Memorandum of Agreement and the new pension contract with the firefighters of this city giving them a pension equal to 3% of their highest salary times the number of years in service plus all medical, dental, the same plan received by policemen.  The yeas were Councilmen Fulton, Brennan, Summers and Monahan.  The neighs were Mayor Weir, Councilmen Andrews and Morehouse who stated just before his “NO” vote — “I HAVE GRAVE CONCERNS TO COMMIT WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHERE THE FUNDS WILL COME FROM”.

I have grave concerns to commit when we don’t know where the funds will come from.

In our August 2008 letter and postscript letter titled “IN THE SHADOW OF VALLEJO”. We posed a hypothetical retirement scenario — a fireman goes to work for the department at age 20, works 35 years and retires at the age of 55 earning a salary of $100,000 per year.  The adopted increase now provides that he/she will receive 3% of their salary in their last year of employment multiplied by the number of years of service.  So he/she will retire earning $105,000. [$100,000 x 3% = $3,000 x. 35 = $105,000].

ed summers pension blunder

Councilmember Ed Summers voted for pension increase because city employees only live 7 years past retirement.

Since that publication Councilman Summers, who is up for reelection in November, pointed out that we need to make some “minor corrections”.  We quote from his letter:

In the example it indicates that an employee has the ability to retire and receive 105% of their annual salary.  Regardless of the time of service and age at retirement, the program is capped at 90% of the eligible salary.  The example also includes add-back for accrued sick leave and vacation.  The City’s formula does not include any add backs, the formula uses only the base salary.  It is the County’s formula that includes add backs…(in addition)…unfortunately the assumption of a 30-year future obligation per employee is incorrect, the average life expectancy of a public safety employee is 7 years from retirement”. 

          We do not know what source Councilman Summers uses for this remarkable revelation that firefighters retiring at age 55 are projected to live only 7 years. His assertion is nonsense and not supported by any credible source.   Further, when he and the other profligate four argued that “the increase was only 1%, it in fact was an increase from 2% to 3%, which is a 33 1/3% increase in the retirement plan.   So what is the reality? We have less money now than we did in October, 2008.  This City Council has led us into a sea of red ink — $294,673,595 as of April, 2009, yet our Council and the public safety unions ask us to pretend that this not a problem.  Instead they want more money in the form of new taxes.  Here is an example of what we now have to pay just 15 retired folks yearly for the rest of their lives — $1,707,086.

Mike Tracy* $ 186,902
Gary McCaskill $140,602
Neil Gedney $129,856
Brian Gordon $132,548
Carl Handy $122,022
Douglas Aldridge $124,396
Bill Rigg $121,333
Robert Boehm $120,494
Donald Davis $112,735
Jim Walker $ 110,570
Everett Millais $105,245
Shelley Jones $105,013
Roger Nustad $101,836
Gail Bogner $100,515
* Retired Chief of Police. Running for City Council
Pat Miller pension out of control

Police Chief, Pat Miller

Mike Lavery pension out of control

Fire Chief Mike Lavery

More recently we learned that our present Chief of Police, Pat Miller and Fire Chief Mike Lavery would retire. Why did they push so hard for an increase in the retirement benefits in October, 2008 ?  Well  Duhh ! Thank you Councilmen  Fulton, Brennan, Summers and Monahan.

More recently Councilman Fulton announced that the City was going to appoint a committee to examine the public pension plan.  Let us hope against hope that they don’t pack it with FOCs like they did the Blue Ribbon Committee, and that they read the Res Publica analysis of April 2009, which concluded that the pension plan is headed on the same path as the City of Vallejo – Federal Bankruptcy.      

Councilman Neal Andrews has advocated for a change. in this area, and has published a lengthy memo on the subject:

“Immediately abandon the compensation formula that essentially forces us to mimic the weakest and most incompetent policymakers in other communities. Today we promise to compensate our employees at approximately the average level of other communities, though we sometimes count the highest paid three times as heavily as others. This is an artificial and arbitrary benchmark. We should instead adopt a clear policy of compensating at a level adequate to provide a sufficient workforce with the high level of competence we want in them.

Adopt a two-tier retirement system that provides a guaranteed contribution to the retirement plan for all new employees, instead of the current guaranteed benefit program. This would not change a thing for current employees, but over time it would significantly reduce the volatility of our budgets by stabilizing a major element of our financial liability. This is the same type of retirement program offered today by most of the private sector.”

—Neal Andrews

Editors’ Comments:   

Councilmembers FULTON and MONAHAN deflect any criticism and defend the retirement plan by saying the decision to raise pension benefits was deferred. When questioned,  they cannot recall when the motion or official action was made, do not recall who recommended delaying the firefighters retirement plan increase or just what happened.  They act as if this is a non-issue.  For your information councilmen, the pension increase which you approved in October 2008, has NOT been rescinded or modified.

Editors:

B. Alviani      S. Doll            J. Tingstrom

K. Corse        B. McCord     T. Cook

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Tax & Spend California

Failed Tax Initiatives Force California To Look For Money Elsewhere

 

“Reflect how you are to govern a people who think they ought to be free …Your scheme yields no revenue; it yields nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience; and such is the state of America, that after wading up to your eyes in blood, you could only end just where you begun; that is, to tax where there is no revenue to be found…”
—Edmund Burke

THE FAILED TAX INITIATIVES

[WHAT IT MEANS FOR VENTURA]

California voters sent a message in the last election about a state government out of control, and out of touch. By rejecting the political establishment’s $16 billion in higher taxes, spending gimmickry and more borrowing, the voters got it right.  They are willing to accept the consequences of today’s economic realities notwithstanding the Governor’s threats of releasing criminals, firing teachers, firing public safety personnel, etc. The citizens have made it clear that it is time that our “elected officials” and the entrenched state bureaucracy faced the same spending limitations that this recession is imposing on everyone else.

Teachers unions, government funded business leaders, prison guards and everyone else, enjoying the good life at the public tax trough, outspent initiative opponents by six-to-one and LOST.  The voters decided that as painful as these cuts may be, the alternative of letting the state’s tax-and-spend machine continue was worse.

THE STATE SCRAMBLES TO FIND OTHER REVENUE

The response so far from Sacramento is typically short-sighted. To circumvent the apparent will of the voting public our good governor, legislators and public-worker unions are now pursuing plan B: a federal bailout or plan C: take real property taxes from the cities.   The Governor was seen scrounging in Washington a month ago, along side Mr. Gettelfinger of General Motors, sounding like a Detroit auto executive, declaring: “We need assistance.” in the form of  a federal guarantee on California’s next $6 billion bond offering.  Moreover, just who will repay the bonds Governor?

But a federal bailout is an injustice to the residents of other states, especially those that run their governments responsibly. Why should taxpayers in other states pay for California’s incompetence?  But even worse, we know that once the Federal Government gives you money they then feel they have the right to tell you what you can or cannot do.  It is not inconceivable to expect that the Obama Administration’s price of a bailout would be a demand that California remove its requirement for a two-thirds legislative majority to pass a tax increase; or, repeal of the Proposition 13 property tax limitations.  Once you make a pact with the devil you lose all freedom of choice.

Likewise, cities should not have to pay for the incompetence of state government or that of other cities.   Taking real property taxes from each City and County is an injustice to the residents of each community who pay those taxes for the benefit of their community.  It is disingenuous for the state legislature to “borrow” [steal is a more realistic term, albeit radical] each cities tax money, because the state “needs” the money to balance their budget, when they know that they will have no money to pay it back.

SOLUTIONS

Some want to throw all of the rascals out on their ear, some are leaving the state, some want a constitutional convention but most are just plain disgusted, not understanding what happens when that elected official gets Sacromentized.

Thirty years ago this November, the not so distant past, when California’s economy was in a similar rut, three-quarters of the voters approved the famous Gann Amendment. That limited the annual growth rate of state spending to population growth and inflation.  The result was that California’s annual average rate of spending growth after inflation fell to 2% through the 1980s from 9% in the 1970s. California’s state per-capita expenditures fell to 16th in the nation in 1990 from 7th in 1979. The economy soared, growing by 121% — 14% faster than the U.S. average.   This success however was just too good not to be tinkered with, thus in 1988 and 1990, through two separate initiatives the Gann limits were effectively neutered by two initiatives that exempted education and transportation from the cap.  Expenses soared.  This must be fixed, not the elimination of the Prop 13 Gann Amendment.

The next item is to fix California’s steeply progressive and anti-business tax code. California’s 10.55% income tax and 9% sales tax are driving businesses and high income taxpayers out of the state, depleting the tax base month after month.   Add the city sales taxes to this mix and the picture is worse.    When tax money flowed in times of plenty our good state and city governments were slurping up the public revenues, spending and enacting expensive new social programs like as if such revenue would flow forever. Those who urged cautions were labeled as doom and gloomers, or were dismissed as ranting eccentrics.  In the last 5 to 7 years those with money (you know, the ones who pay 75% of the income taxes) and business are leaving this state, and they will not return when a neighboring states imposes fewer taxes. A 5% to 6% tax rate on sales and income without deductions would halt the flight to low-tax neighboring states and invite newcomers who could start buying houses again, hire people, pay salaries, buy goods etc.

The state’s public-employee pensions also need to be overhauled. According to the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, the state pension funds are more than $200 billion under funded. Public employees can retire after 30 years on the job in their early 50s, with lifetime retirement benefits at 90% of their final salary. Some retirees receive $200,000 a year or more in pensions. The cities are not too different.  The City of Ventura alone faces an unfunded liability of $ 294,673,595.   Just how state legislators or city council members can myopically ignore what happened to the airlines, Chrysler or GM, when faced with such unfunded union liabilities, seems perplexing to a logical person, until you recognize that these politicians depend on the votes of vested interest groups, such as public employee unions, to get into office.  A solution, short of firing a gaggle of public employees, is to follow Florida’s lead and require new workers to accept defined contribution pensions like the 401(k) plans now dominant in the private work force. Without such a reform, many California cities will fail just as the City of Vallejo failed.

Editors’ comments: 

Edmund Burke’s observations are as relevant today for all levels of government as they were in 1774.  You can expect government at all levels to impose taxes and fees to cure their malfeasance.  Truly, “No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

 

Editors:

B. Alviani        S. Doll                J. Tingstrom

K. Corse          R. McCord         T. Cook

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living dead because Ventura has no money

The Ghost of No Money Haunts Pensions and Cemetery Park

‘Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. I’ve had nothing yet, “Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I can’t take more.” “You mean you can’t take less, “ said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing” —Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

THE SPECTRE OF BANKRUPTCY

[T.E.A. PARTY ANYONE?]

In the August 2008 edition of this newsletter, we suggested that Ventura “may” be following the missteps of the City of Vallejo right into bankruptcy court. After you read this you will realize that our unfunded pension debt and contractual obligations are staggering.  We as a community owe $150,000,000 alone on the City’s pension debt, which is $1,500 per person in a community of 100,000.  Incredulous?   We’ll explain.

no money in the CAFR

The 2008 CAFR shows Ventura has no money to pay unfunded liabilities.

Start with the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), ending June 30, 2008.

Remember, the pension statistics are based on numbers as they existed on June 30, 2007, These CAFR reports are published 18 months after the fact. At page 15 it reflects that our long term debt, labeled “total non current liabilities” totals $135 million dollars ($134,984,820).

You might recall that the City financial types reported to the Blue Ribbon Tax Committee that we have $10,000,000 in our general operating fund — that’s our reserve, which has not changed since 1992.  All investment  income from that reserve was spent. They also reported that we have $145,000,000 in other investments (after marking down the $10,000,000 lost to WAMU and Lehman Bros. investments), but we can’t touch this money because the funds are committed due to previous contractual commitments of the City Council.  So we owe $135,000,000 and have $155,000,000 in investments, ignoring the contractual obligations for the moment. On the face of it we have $20 million more in assets than debts, so we are looking good right?

Wrong!

Let us take a closer look at the City of Ventura’s Pension Plan. Turn to page 70 of the CAFR (page 102 of the PDF file) of the City’s 6-30-08 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which lists the “off the income statement” underfunded obligations — money we owe as of June 30, 2007, for which we have no money.  The total Actuarial Asset value for the City pension plan investments is stated as being $313,847,955, the actuarial accrued liability is $362,521,549.   The  unfunded accrued liability for regular employees is $5,176,721 and for Safety Employees (Police and Fire)  is $43,496,873, or a total of  $48,673,594.

This liability ($48.7 million) accrues interest at the rate of 7.75% per year on the amount that is owed as an “unfunded liability”. Remember again this was 18 months ago. Then move to the end of 2008 and add to this the fact that CALPERS devalued our actuarial asset value by 35%.  The result is that the actuarial asset value went down by $109,846,784 ( $110,000,000), thereby increasing our liability by the same amount thereby reducing the value of our pension assets to $204,001,171. —we lost the  money in the market. The following is the real financial picture right now:

True Financial Picture
(1)  June 20, 2007 unfunded debt $48,673,594
(2)  Interest 6-30-07 to 12-31-07 @7.5% $ 1,825,259
(3)  Interest 1-1-08 to 12-31-08 @7.5% $ 3,650,519
(4)  Loss of pension value 35% $110,000,000
Total Unfunded Liability of City $164,149,372*

Now go back and add in what IS shown on the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report(CAFR) for 2007 (page 15 of the document, page 33 of the PDF). This is what is owed by the Citizens of this community — right now, and getting worse each year!

(1) Long Term “noncurrent” Debt $135,000,000
(2) Unfunded pension benefits $ 164,149, 372
Total debt $294,673,595

How would you view our current financial posture?  We owe $294,673,595 and we have $10,000,000 in the bank.  Any suggestions for our City Manger or City Council?

Consider that the City of Vallejo decided to file bankruptcy when their obligations amounted to $730 per person. To further add to your perspective, Orange County, California filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the U.S. at a cost of  $600 per resident.  Ventura’s obligation is approximately $1,500 per person.

If you were in charge, what would you do?

THE CEMETERY PARK PROPOSAL

no money for Cemetery Park

Cemetery Park will remain a ghost town because Ventura has no money for a Memorial.

[FINDING THE MONEY IS A DEAD ISSUE]

The City has spent $40,000 for the architectural renditions of  a plan to create a memorial place at Cemetery Park..  This $4,000,000 Plan includes a memorial to commemorate those buried at the cemetery, memorial gardens, refurbished landscaping, veterans’ memorial walk and flagpole, and repairs to the historic WPA rock wall, 3,000 bronze grave site markers, and the retrieval and display of existing headstones. The City acknowledges there is no money, but assures the proponents that over time, with a combination of city funds and outside grants, perhaps they can find the $4,000,000 million dollars.

Then there are the opponents. One group, the restoration folks, want the park restored as a cemetery, and claim the City plan does not go far enough.   They want it like it was headstones and all.  Another group contends that the decision to make this into a park was made forty years ago when the City  was forced to do something because those responsible did not maintain the cemetery. The park has been serving the community as a passive park and a memorial since and is used daily by local residents. This is a 7-acre park serving the mid-town community.

As an interesting aside  the City code enforcement folks have stepped up a campaign to issue expensive citations to owners of dogs that are not on a leash in Cemetery Park.

Editors’ observation:

Perhaps the question we all should be asking instead is why our City Council  is so willing to spend $40,000 to placate a vocal minority by voting to pay for a study to formulate a plan to restore an old cemetery site when we have so many other pressing priorities.  How about – No!

THIS FROM A READER

We receive many emails from our readers which have been very positive. This concerning our March issue:

Thank you so much for this current issue. One of the many things I  like about your report is that it stays on course and is not distracted by all the non-issues brought up by the City for dodging the bullet. The concept of public employee’s being exempt from the reality’s of this economy really, is the height of arrogance”.

—R.M.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

 Until the Citizens of this community solve the systemic problem, by electing city leaders who are “qualified” to manage a municipal corporation, with a operating budge approaching $500,000,000, and in electing leaders who will make the hard (not political) decisions to solve the pension and unfunded debt issue, the taxpayers and citizens of this community will always be at risk and a target for more taxes and more fees.

 

Editors:

B. Alviani        S. Doll           J. Tingstrom

K. Corse          R. McCord    T. Cook

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Government tax burden

No New Tax Will Make Up for Lost Investments and Bad Management

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”   —Thomas Jefferson

THE VENTURA BUDGET CRUNCH

[SEND IN THE CLOWNS]

“Clowns to the Left of me, Jokers to the Right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”—Stealer’s Wheel (Joe Egan & Gerry Rafferty)

On January 24, 2009, at 8am the City of Ventura held a special meeting at the Police/ Fire Department community room with the full City Council to discuss the city budget.  This  “public hearing” was on a Saturday and was not televised. The usual coterie was present.  The other half of the room was occupied by City personnel.

Once the current budget figures were shared with the audience, reflecting a lower projected income  of $83 million. City Manager, Rick Cole stated, “if we must, we can run this government on $83 million.”.  The projected  deficit was $12,000,000.

THE GOVERNMENT THREE STEP

[Tea Party anyone?]

First, steps forth our fine State legislature, which seeks more tax money from the citizens, with a quadruple  whammy:

  1. Raising the Sales Tax by 1%
  2. Doubling DMV registration
  3. Reducing the dependent tax credits
  4. Increasing personal state income tax by  .125%.

If you want to follow the bouncing tax ball visit the calculator on The Sacramento Bee web site to see how much more you will have to pay, if all of the proposed tax increases pass.  Fill in a few figures and voila – your new tax burden.

Here is our projection of the impact on the citizens of Ventura.   Assume 70,000 Ventura Households, an average annual income of $75,000 and that our city projects tax revenue of $7,000,000 of every increase of ½% in tax.

Cost to Ventura Citizens

State Sales Tax Increase (1%) $14,000,000
DMV 50% increase ($160 average x 2.5 cars per household x 70,000) $28,000,000
Additional Income tax ($140 per 70,000 households) $9,800,000
Loss in dependent tax credits (2 children per household) $29,400,000
Total $81,200,000
Cost per Ventura household (Total divided by 70,000 households) $1,160

Second, steps forth the City of Ventura with the local version of the sales tax.  A proposal to add ½% to raise our local rate to 7.75% from 7.25%. (Don’t’ forget the State has already added 1%, so it will be a  9.75% sales tax, if Ventura voters approve the local measure)

Ventura’s 1/2 percent sales tax $7,000,000

Now steps forth the Ventura Unified School, which is considering a real property Parcel Tax on City of Ventura residences and real property to cover their budget deficit.

Parcel Tax ($200 per parcel times 32,000 parcels $6,400,000
Recap of TOTAL PROPOSED NEW HOUSEHOLD TAXES $94,600,000
Cost per year per Ventura household in new taxes (State, City, VUSD) $1,351

A NEW TAX — THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE

[The City Council with rose colored glasses]

The Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) has worked out alternative budgets that will get them through this financial crisis. With careful management, over the next two years, The VUSD can adjust and reduce expenditures by $20,108,500, making the need for a new property (parcel) tax unnecessary. Some members of the School Districts Budget Advisory Committee are thinking that it is just  easier to just get more funds from the general public in the form of a new property tax.

The City of Ventura is pursuing its own path to financial Armageddon.  Facing a $12,000,000 deficit, because income will only be $84,000,000 against expenses of $96,000,000 (they project and hope), the City manger is realistically seeking and trying to operate within the existing revenues by reducing staff and expenses.  An effort to be applauded, given the specter of five years of depression.

On the other hand the City Council has other ideas — save this fireman’s benefit, this policeman’s job, the library, the arts, the homeless etc. — programs unrelated to essential governmental functions, which they lavishly funded, and pay scales they generously promised to pay between 2003 and 2007, when our elected officials knew we did not have the money for such increases. ( See 2003 Budget Report, Donna Landeros, City Manger, Economic Overview)

The temptation to resort to the citizens and seek new taxes seems to be the politicians path of least resistance at all levels of government.  Ventura is no different.  What if instead those programs were eliminated and pay and benefits were modified , so as to allow the government to operate within their existing  tax income?   While workers in the private sector are cutting expenses, laying staff off, not funding 401K matches and eliminating raises, the public sector seem to feel they are immune from economic realities and seek more money from YOU.

Editors’ comments:

What say you, citizens of Ventura? At what point does living within our means and going back to the basics really take affect? If this is the worst economic crisis since the “Great Depression” or “World War II”, at what point does government start reducing programs and staff to only provide the necessities that only city government  should provide? Or, that only state government should provide? As long as there are economic constituencies (public employees) within government who define their own job description, bargain and politicize through unions their own pay and benefits, the citizenry will always be in danger.

CONTINUED PROBLEMS ADD TO FINANCIAL DEFICIT

While the City seems proud that it only lost $10 million in investments in 2008, they defend their loss by comparing the loss to the average citizen’s 401K losses.   Hardly a realistic comparison given that the investment policy for a municipality is  and should be much be more conservative and  restrictive.  Some at the City makes it sound as if it is heresy to suggest that they should not have lost anything.

The City Attorney on the other hand  is crying “fraud” on the part of Lehman Brother and WaMu — a distraction away from the real issue. None of the four members of the Investment Committee have investment licenses,  nor the experience and qualifications to oversee a $200 million portfolio in this current financial market. Months before the Lehman and WaMu  debacle,  the City had a prior warning of problems due to  a potential  $10 million loss they had invested with Bear Stearns.  It turned out that the Bear Sterns was acquired by JP Morgan and thus avoided bankruptcy, however at this writing we do not know how much JP Morgan is willing to pay the City of Ventura on that investment.

It is easy to raise taxes and bury our heads in the sand. It is difficult to make the tough decisions that will avoid a future disaster but we have reached the point of critical mass. The City is under funded in its pension plan by over $60 million as of 2007, which is exacerbated by the 52% drop in value of  the pension fund investments by CalPERS, the pension investment manger for Ventura. Over $362 million (Page 70 of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, page 102 of the PDF) is owed in future pensions and this amount is growing each year.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

If we can’t sit back, inject humor and laugh in these hard economic times it has  truly become a” foul wind.” Hope you enjoy the humor of this.

In this current economic crisis, we had to reduce our staff. We had no laternative. RANDY HAS TO GO !

Editors:

B. Alviani         S. Doll           J. Tingstrom

K. Corse           R. McCord    T. Cook

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Citizens Don't trust Ventura City government

Ventura City Government Gives Citizens Few Reasons To Trust Them

don't trust government

“The most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power” —John Stuart Mill

Keeping Track Of Lost Opportunities, Revenues and Unnecessary Expenses

With the passing of sales tax increases in Oxnard and Port Hueneme, it will come as no surprise to Venturans that our city Council will take this as a signal that it is time to attempt to impose a new sales tax increase again in Ventura. If citizens read the Ventura County Star article of November 9, they should catch the reason why Ventura’s tax failed while others passed.

Lack of Trust Killed P6

The operative word is TRUST. The City of Ventura has been determined and relentless in their effort of to unilaterally impose new taxes, in the form of fees, regardless of the wishes of the citizens of this community. It seems clear that we are not in charge of our own community and are to be punished for having the audacity of not approving a sales tax increase in 2006.

Financial Failures Killing Trust In City Government

Here are some examples of how this City Council has been attempting to increase revenues at the expense of Venturans:

Increased taxes or increased fees:
911 Phone tax $2.2 million per year, estimated
$10 Fee to process a Business License $40,000 per year, estimated
$99 Hillside weed abatement inspection fee $250,000 per year, repealed
$140 Toxic Waste disposal fee on restaurants $200,000  per year, estimated
$100+ fee on all restaurants for beach clean-up $150,000 per year, estimated
¼% Sales tax increase (Measure P6) $6 million per year, failed
User fee increases in 2004-2006 $500,000 per year, estimated
Safe Beaches fees $133 per business $266,000 per year, estimated
SUB-TOTAL OF FEES/ATTEMPTED FEES $8,206,000
Loss of new businesses or loss of existing businesses:
Ventura County Star moves to Camarillo $0, estimated
Harbor Development — 10 years in planning $0, estimated
Seaward and Harbor Development $0, estimated
Failure to complete Olivas Park Road to Auto Center $4.0 million, estimated
Harbor and Figueroa — Embassy Suite Hotel $2.0 million, estimated
SUB-TOTAL LOST REVENUE $ 9,000,000
Inaction, indecision or bad decisions by city gov’t.
 Waste Water Discharge penalty imposed by State Water Control Board  $733,000
 Wal-Mart lease – annual loss of sales taxes  $600,000 per year, estimated
 State Water Contract – annual cost  $895,000 per year
 Helen Yunker legal defense costs  $500,000, estimated
 Legal expense in Ventura v. Tolman & Wiker, low income housing dispute  $800,000, estimated
 Staff costs to track/ resolve 911 refunds issues  $65,000, estimated
 33% increase in retirement pensions for Firefighters  $1.2 million per year, estimated
 Cemetery Park Beautification Plan  $4.0 million, estimated
 Viewscape Consultant  $110,000
Use of out of town architect(s) for review $1.0 million, estimated
Victoria Avenue narrowing project $322,332
Solar compactor Trash can $ 4,500
Failed Computer System 2005-2006 $1.7 million, estimated
New Computer Program $800,000, estimated
Annual Living Wage Implementation for public contracts $171,000, estimated
City personnel cost to pursue P6, the failed sales tax increase initiative $ 40,000*
New City Attorney salary increase $ 85,000 per year, estimated
Buyout of old City Attorney Contract $150,000, estimated
SUB-TOTAL OF OTHER EXPENDITURES $13,175,832, estimated
GRAND TOTAL $30,381,832, estimated

The Cost of Trust Measured In Dollars

Missed opportunity and bad judgment contribute to citizens’ lack of trust in city government.

When you total this all up, there is over $30 million in lost revenue, new taxes, new fees or expenditures that combined would have eased the City budget greatly from wanting to tax the citizens further.

One third of this total is in lost businesses for our community directly attributable to the City Council’s failure to direct city staff to actively process new economic developments and opportunities in an expeditious and cost effective manner.

Then there is the collateral impact of such fiscal mismanagement. Consider, if you will, the impact of projects which failed and/or were not built because of inaction by the City Council and the staff, which resulted in loss of property taxes which were needed to support the Ventura Unified School District. Property taxes would have been collected from the Harbor Development marina, Seaward and Harbor Development, Olivas Park Road-Auto Center development, the Harbor and Figueroa- Embassy Suite Hotel property, the old Ventura County Star site and a fully leased K-Mart property. Forty percent (40%) of those taxes would have been spent on the children of this community.

EDITORS’ COMMENTS

Citizens are now being actively polled to see if they will agree to a ½-cent sales tax. We predict the reversal of the 911-tax blunder, and that our politicos will then spin this as a “carrot” to persuade a yes vote from the voters on a new sales tax. See this for what it really is, a threat of fewer services unless we tax ourselves further. Please review the way our City Council has conducted business in the past, and ask yourself one question- “Do we TRUST them to continue to make more decisions on how they manage our community and spend our money in the future?”

Editors:

B. Alviani          S. Doll             J. Tingstrom

K. Corse             B. McCord      T. Cook

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Keeping track of the City Council

Keeping You Up-to-Date On The City Council Decisions

SUMMARY UPDATE OF CITY COUNCIL DECISIONS

In our last several publications we treated issues that are important to our community. We now provide updates on those issues as they have evolved and as information has become available:

(A) The 911 Fee

You refused to pay, filled out the forms and opted out, but you are being charged monthly. What more could happen? Out of town residents have been ensnared in the program. Those who purchased their cell phones in Ventura are being billed. The City has no jurisdiction over them but they are being charged the fee. The official response of the City is “we are working on it, or it is the fault of the telephone company”.

If you are one of the 27,000 that opted out you should check your bill and write a letter to the Council.   At $1.49 a month, the City is collecting approximately $40,000 per month from you and they are not entitled to it. What a mess!

There is light at the end of this dark tunnel. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has drafted a civil complaint to determine that this ordinance is a tax under Proposition 218 and therefore illegal. The complaint is to be filed in the next two weeks.  Reported in today’s Ventura County Star another lawsuit is planned to compete with this one.

(B) Increased Fees

[A Quest — “Who’s got the soap”?]

In our last three monthlies we reported to you that the City Council is seeking to increase fees and raise another $2.6 million dollars, and that the early June Council meeting the issue was tabled after Councilmen Fulton and Summers commented that there had not been sufficient time for the community to address this issue.  Another important point was the inability of anyone to obtain and read the MAXIMUS REPORT(s) [the experts hired by the City), which was designed to be the “legal” for the fee increases in the first place. These reports could not be found.

Somehow that lack of critical financial data did not stop the Council from increasing fees in 2006 and 2007. So, good reader, ask yourself how an elected official can vote to increase fees based on a report that they don’t have? Or, you ask rhetorically how an elected official can ask the community to pay another 2.6 million dollars if they are not able to provide logical answers?

In July VREG received the MAXIMUS 2004 AND 2007 reports. These reports only provide conclusions and none of the basic financial data that led to those conclusions. For example, the 2007 report incorporates a “Cost Plan which has been provided as a separate document”. That plan is not available. Another example, the 2004 report says that MAXIMUS “used the standard methodology that we have employed for hundreds of similar studies: MAXFEE”. At page 29 the reports says “MAXIMUS provided the voluminous detail and background materials behind all of the calculations and analysis to the City under separate cover. Appendix 5 of this report contains the summarized results (potential fees)”.

VREG has not been able to locate the basic cost report that served as the foundation for the MAXIMUS reports. Officials at the City have been helpful, and now have provided all eleven (11) appendices. The cost report has not surfaced. It is hoped that the Council will not race to judgment until all parties have a chance to evaluate the data.

(C) The Firefighters’ Pension

In a vote of 4 to 3. the Council approved the Memorandum of Agreement and the new pension contract with the firefighters of this city giving them a pension equal to 3% of their highest salary times the number of years in service plus all medical, dental. The yeas were Councilmen Fulton, Brennan, Summers and Monahan. The neighs were Mayor Weir, Councilmen Andrews and Morehouse. It should be of grave concern to all when one councilman says, before he cast his “NO” vote – “I HAVE GRAVE CONCERNS TO COMMIT WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHERE THE FUNDS WILL COME FROM”.

Editors Comment:

Councilmen this was an increase of 33 1/3%!

The councilmen casting the yea votes and our fire chief, Mike Lavery, defend their position by saying that they need more benefits because they must remain competitive with other cities and counties, using as a current example the fact that they have unfilled openings. When asked why they are not filled, the answer is that the Chief REQUIRES all firefighters to be trained paramedics.

We all want qualified firemen and police officers and certainly want Councilman Summers “to sleep well at night knowing that he has the best public safety officers” (quote from his speech on August 4th) but somewhere a limit must be established on how much of our general revenues will be devoted to this purpose. The City of Vallejo is in bankruptcy because they devoted 80% of their budget to this purpose compared to Ventura at 51%.

How much of your tax dollar do you want to pay out for police and fire? You only have 49 cents left to pay for streets, recreation, other employees and widgets, so what are your priorities? We at VREG would like to hear from you.

(D) The Sale Of State Water Options

 As previously reported we annually pay $950,000 to the State Water Project for the option to obtain 10,000 acre feet. Since 1972, we have paid $22,582,371. We are committed to pay another $25,650,000 through 2035.      The reality is that we will never build a pipeline, and that as a category A user we will only get a fraction of the entitlement because there is not enough water to meet all entitlements under drought conditions. Make no mistake – the Governator has declared a drought.

Since 1972, we have paid $22,582,371.

VREG last year proposed that the rights be marketed to meet our annual cost AND put money in the bank to help defer our water costs, and/or to hopefully fund and build a desalination/filtration plant. We are happy to report that the Council has commissioned Kennedy-Jenks Consultants to assist in an attempt to market Ventura’s contractual rights. There is precedent for such a step. Butte County recently received approval of the sale of their water rights on a one year plus one year option basis to Palmdale Water District. This was accomplished over the objection of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, which charges $425 am acre foot for untreated water. This 800 pound gorilla objected to the Butte-Palmdale contract and you can expect them to object to any sale by the City of Ventura in any sum below that which is charged by the MWD.

Editors’ Comment:

Doesn’t take a lot to grasp the market opportunity here so we encourage the City Council to forge ahead with “viga”, all due dispatch and total disregard for the MWD.

WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON FROM THE CITY COUNCIL

(A) Rate Increase For Water and Sewer

Enclosed with your last bill was a notice that you will be paying more unless you object by SEPTEMBER 22, 2008. The following is a summary and what it will mean to you as an owner or renter:

SINGLE FAMILY HOME
Current FY2008-09 FS2009-10 Increase/%
Water Bill $59.46 $63.66 $68.63
Wastewater bill $64.16 $68.52 $73.27
Total 2 month bill $123.62 $132.18 $141.90 $18.28 = 14.7%
MULTI-FAMILY DWELLING (10 UNITS) -89,700 GALLONS
Water Bill $282.10 $300.38 $321.96
Wastewater bill $437.80 $467.50 $500.00
Total 2 month bill $719.90 $ 767.88 $821.96 $102.06=14.1%
COMMERCIAL OFFICE – 29,920 GALLONS
Water Bill $137.03 $142.85 $154.16
Wastewater Bill $83.71 $ 92.98 $100.23
Total 2-month Bill $216.74 $235.83 $254.39 $ 37.65/17.4%

* Rates include assessment for the contractual right to obtain water from the State Water Project. If that entitlement is sold to another user that income would go a long ways in lessening the impact of water costs on this community.

If you oppose the rate increase then by SEPTEMBER 22, 2008, you must mail your name, property address or parcel number to:

 

WATER RATES

CITY CLERK’S OFFICE

City of Ventura

P.O. Box 99

Ventura, CA 93002-0099

 

If you object you can also attend the City Council meeting on September 22, 2008, and/or can obtain information from Gary Lee at (805) 652-4253, or email him at glee@cityofventura.net.

(B) The “Crime-Free Rental Housing Program”

[Specter of Aldous Huxleys “Brave New World” of

The City Council has asked its staff to appear at the council meeting on October 20, 2008, to consider implementation of a new program called the ”Crime Free Rental Housing Program”. The draft proposal seeks more fees, purportedly revenue neutral – meaning it will only cost what it costs to enforce – projected at $400,000 from our citizens who own rental housing. The proposal seeks to force owners to have all of their apartments or rental home inspected to make sure there is no criminal activity and/or to make sure that all buildings are in compliance with building codes and all City regulations. Here’s the proposal:

 

  1. The owners of apartment will have to pay an annual fee for each apartment in order to raise $400,000. The fee is for inspecting each apartment to make sure it is crime free. The City has not said how much the fee will be, and they don’t know how many rental units there are in the City.
  2. The owners will have to attend formal training on how to prevent crime and to show them how they can manage their property and rental agreements.
  3. Initially and every 47 months afterward each apartment is required to be inspected (searched) by the Fire Department and/or the Police Department and/or Code Enforcement Officer [all law enforcement] to determine if any crime is being committed or to determine if there are any building code violations.
  4. If you don’t get the certificate you can’t operate your apartments and penalties will be imposed. If you get the certificate the City Manager is given the power to revoke your certificate, along guidelines that his office is to develop, you will suffer penalties The penalties that can be imposed:
    1. You may be cited for a misdemeanor, jailed and/or fined
    2. The property, summarily declared a public nuisance by this ordinance if it does not have a certificate, can be sold, the nuisance abated at the owners expense or destroyed at the owner’s expense
    3. If your certificate is not timely renewed you will receive an Administrative Citation, and penalties will be imposed for each day beyond the expiration.

A large number of owners have expressed strong objections to this program, and a committee has now been established to try to determine if such a program should be modified or abandoned as a bad idea. Initial indications are that some type of enforcement is being considered but it is not clear what form this will take. Information can be obtained from Andrew Stuffler (654-7837), the lead person for the City. He has stated that since the initial proposal their data has shown that 93% of owners with rental units have not had any code enforcement or law enforcement issues.

Editors Comment:

Another 911 fee fiasco? This proposal seeks to impose new fees for police, fire and code enforcement, the costs of which by law are paid by general tax revenue. New “taxes” require a citizens 2/3 vote, whereas “fees” don’t. Now the city wants to re-label the police, fire and code enforcement officer’s inspections as a service to prevent crime and/or enforce the law against wrongdoers (7%) by imposing the costs (fees) of enforcement on citizens (93%) who are law abiding. Just who comes up with these ideas in the first place?

In case they haven’t thought about it our new city attorney might review California Code of Civil Procedure 1822.5, which requires Inspection Warrants before a residence can be searched to enforce regulations, and the decision of CURRIER v. CITY OF PASADENA (1975) 48 C.A. 3d 810, which held a similar regulatory scheme unconstitutional.

If passed as presented we predict that the lawsuits will fly. We citizens will have to pay for the attorneys fees and costs on both sides.

 

Editors:

B. Alviani          S. Doll               J. Tingstrom

K. Corse            B. McCord         T. Cook

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