Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jim Engle's Letter to the City Regarding Discrepancies In Sierra Madre's Prop 218 Water Rate Increase Process

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(Mod: Sierra Madre resident Jim Engle sent the following letter to City Manager Elaine Aguilar and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith on Monday. It details some of the odd discrepancies and presumptions to be found in the City's recent Prop 218 mailing. As far as I know Jim has yet to receive any response to his letter, but it's still early. The questions that are raised here should be of interest to residents concerned about any possible legal challenges to the City's Prop 218 water and sewer rate hike process. Preventative remedies would seem to be in order.)

Monday  Dec 16, 2013

Elaine Aguilar, City Manager
232 West Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Teresa Highsmith
City Attorney, Sierra Madre, CA
Colantuono & Levin
300  South  Grand  Ave.
Los Angeles, CA. 90071

Re:  Water / Sewer  Rate Increase,  It’s the Prop 218 Process Stupid

We received, “Public Hearing Notice with Official l Protest Ballot Attached” dated December 4, 2013 on December 14, 2013. There are concerns about the intent and legality of the process used to inform residents and the process for vote determination. Please respond to the concerns outlined below.

The process, Prop 218, where a non vote becomes a yes vote for legal recording may have been passed by the State Legislature (where the firm of Colantuano & Levin played a significant role in its content and passage), but the intent also was and is to confuse and disguise the desired result.  The rate increases are nothing less a Tax increase, which call for a two thirds vote for approval. The subterfuge of the Prop 218 process is awesome.

The instruction to “identify on the front of the sealed envelope for any protest whether mailed or submitted in person, that a “WATER OR SEWER FEE PROTEST IS ENCLOSED”.  This is an odd instruction and leads to suspicion, as well as a second attempt to sell the Tax Increase as  “FEES”.  The orange envelope included in the packet would alone suffice for a returned ballot.  No identification of the ballot inside (no or yes identified) is needed.  Again, other than an oblique reference to a “final meeting on Tuesday Jan 28 2014 at 6:30 pm in the City Council Chambers, City Hall to consider adopting an increase in rates for water and sewer”, no date for the ballot's return is instructed. We are led to believe this is not a Tax but a rate increase, and the failure to include a closing date on the ballot makes this an open ended process that may well result in confusion.

Item #3  Tabulation of Protests narrative, “The sealed protests will be opened and tabulated by Sierra Madre Staff Members who do not reside in the City of Sierra Madre, as such, they do not have a vested interest in the outcome of the proposed fee”. This is complete nonsense!   Staff and Executives of Sierra Madre depend on Taxes and Fees for salaries, pensions, capitol needs and many other expenses with a vested interest in the outcome of this “Fee, Rate, or Tax”.  Where the employees of Sierra Madre live is irrelevant.  To allow the City Manager to be a participant in the counting of votes  is most concerning as the outcome of the Tax Increase Ballot will affect how the City Manager administers the City.  One assumes that the City Manager is most interested in an increase in Taxes for obvious reasons and should not participate in the process.  The tabulation process should be completed by the City Clerk and and Accounting Firm Designate.  No Sierra Madre Employee should have any access to these ballots until tabulated.  This is pretty basic protocol for a fair and constitutional election.

Finally the Protest Ballots that might be judged incomplete or not properly filled out should be identified and if they are legitimate Sierra Madre Water and or Sewer Customers, be put on a publicized list, contacted, and given the chance to make adjustments for ballot inclusion.  There is no reason automatic exclusion should be part of this process. This should be an easy task for a small town like Sierra Madre.

The Tabulation of Protests section included in the packet should be completed and certified by the City Clerk and Accounting Firm CPA.  No City Employee other  than the City Clerk should have any input or control over the vote outcome.  It is far too important!

The Prop 218 process reviewed above is only a start on what needs to happen in Sierra Madre.  The emasculating and dismissal of the Oversight Committee reflects the highhanded techniques preferred by the City Manager and some City Council Members that cloud the process of how the City will spend its Funds. Transparency must become the process and strictly monitored by an Oversight Committee.  It is time we know how the City plans and then actually spends  Bond and Tax Funds.

But first the sloppy Prop 218 Process must be fixed.

Sincerely,
James L Engle

Certified to City Manager
Certified to City Attorney

Copies to:  City Council Members

(Mod: The "sealed protests will be opened and tabulated by Sierra Madre Staff Members who do not reside in the City of Sierra Madre, as such, they do not have a vested interest in the outcome of the proposed fee" bit is pretty funny. As far as I know there is currently only one management level City Hall employee that lives in Sierra Madre right now. Which means that almost anyone working there can count our Prop 218 ballots, vested interests and all.)

Sales Tax Rate Finder

(Mod: Ever wonder where to go to get the lowest sales tax rates in the area? If you are buying something large like a new car, that becomes an especially important consideration. And thanks to the California Board of Equalization you can now find out exactly how much sales tax you will be charged at any address in the state. Here is how the Sacramento Bee explains it.)

New California web tool allows sales tax rate searches (link): California levies a statewide 7.5 percent tax on retail sales but local governments and other agencies can add surtaxes for various purposes. The overall rate reaches as high as 10 percent in some localities.

That means that the tax on an identical transaction can vary considerably, depending on where the money changes hands, but knowing what tax rate applies at which retail location has been almost impossible.

If it matters, however, a new interactive, on-line tool (link) can tell the consumer what rate will apply.

The new Board of Equalization website allows the user to plug in an address and instantly learn the applicable rate. A purchase in downtown Sacramento, for example, would generate an 8.5 percent sales tax, but across the Sacramento River in West Sacramento it would be just 8 percent.

The highest rate of 10 percent is found in several small cities in Los Angeles County.

Board of Equalization member George Runner said he requested that the on-line tool be developed because even some retailers don't know what rates to charge because they change frequently.

(Mod: I did check Sierra Madre and the combined state and local sales tax rate in our little town is 9%.) 

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

43 comments:

  1. Thanks Jim. Great letter.

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    1. dear jim....

      please be advised that Elaine aguliar - Karin Snyder and city council has stated that sierra madre water enterprise and sewer enterprise are incorporated entities and each has its own checking accounts.

      by evidence of endorsement, my bank of America checks clearly state, that the city of sierra madre deposits my checks into the sierra madre master checking account. this money is commingled and deposited in the general fund is it not?

      furthermore, please be advised that Elaine aguliar, bruce inman, Karin Snyder are the officers of the water and sewer enterprise. by those documents provided me, these city employees receive salaries - monies - and are paid monies to oversee these enterprises.

      therefor, why have these people in the past overseen and instructed the counting of any water increase vote process and be allowed to determine which votes should be counted or not counted?

      it seems like the fox is guarding the hen house.

      earl richey

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  2. could have done without the "stupid" comment, that goes without saying

    but then again, when in the last 15 years or so has the city management been straightforward and honest with us, not very often

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    1. I believe it was a play on the old Bill Clinton meme "It's the economy, stupid."

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    2. I believe the word stupid as stated, is a kind word, regarding the mess these city employees have monetarily burdened the water paying customers with. what choice of word would you have used?

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  3. shouldn't we all remember that this is the same law firm and city manager who with the last go round the city attorney allowed and suggested that the city dabble in the "gray" areas of the law when communicating to citizens

    it's really a shame when we allow this type of law firm that is supposed to be representing us and instead has it's own agenda and is really a low life mentality of legal zip heads

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    1. C & L specialize in those grey areas - anything the state wants, they get for 'em.

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    2. Why doesn't City Council fire C & L?

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    3. Why would they want to? Colantuono and Levin functions as the exclusive law firm for city hall, paid for by the taxpayers. Their main finction is to defend the city against the demands of those whose taxes pay their fees. If you have a problem with the city and need to hire a lawyer, do the taxpayers pay for your atty? Of course not. You pay for their lawyer, and yours as well.

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  4. Stupid letter , If you can't understand what it is about after the last few years of talking about it , maybe you are not sharp enough to vote, and just looking for a wayout of the increase

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    1. Stupid comment. If you are such a slave to our badly compromised local authorities that you cannot comprehend the legitimacy of some of the points made here then you should probably just find employment as a foot washer. Just because the City talks endlessly does not make them right.

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    2. 7:31, you may disagree with Mr. Engle's position about the tax increase, but the letter itself is impeccable - and will give our city manager and our city attorney hours of work to respond to, though they may not say so publicly. Every point Mr. Engle raises is valid and needs to be taken seriously.

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    3. Some people just don't want to hear the truth. It might make them think about things they'd rather ignire. Better to believe that everything is just fine. Even though they are not.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. The city is employing the "old keep them talking' until they get tired and go away, the residents run out of time and energy and give up. Engage with their leaders and then give them a false sense of sympathy and console them and 'promise' we will look in to it and do the best for everybody concerned.

    But of course anyone who has been led down this path, nothing will change and the evil that was played out that so many tried to stop will continue. This of course changes only if you remove those responsible for this travesty that's being played out on you.

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    1. It is more of a confidence game than anything else.

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  7. Stop it you people. You'll wake the children.

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  8. did everyone sign the bogus water and sewer protest forms and return them to city hall?

    fyi....

    please be advised that I requested chris koeber in an email

    1) to provide proof from the post office that 3600+ protest forms were paid for and mailed by our federal government to all sierra madre water paying customers.

    2) I also asked chris in the email why the CITY HALL mailed 30+ protest forms to the city of sierra madre ? This is another costly expenses to prepare documents and pay for postage. It was agreed by the "City Council" that the city water meter YES or NO protest would not be counted.

    as we recall... by the city documents provided to me. the city is not a water paying customer and I look at this as a conflict of interest.

    3) Question... It appears that city hall has again failed to follow directions....

    4) chris was kind enough to forward my request to elaine aguliar.

    As of this morning.....I am still awaiting an answer.

    earl richey

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  9. Great letter Jim. I wish the City had more residents like you.

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  10. Thank you Mr. Engle for that excellent analysis.

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  11. Take a gander at this: http://www.publicceo.com/2013/12/thou-shall-not-lie-the-meaning-of-the-courts-rejection-of-the-hollywood-community-plan/

    And you will understand the depth of evil.

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  12. You need to pay for Bart's old junk bonds. So then he can sell some new junk bonds. What is so wrong with that? Parasites have to eat too, you know.

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  13. fyi...

    did everyone get their water & sewer protest documents?

    my brother and I are joint owners of several properties in sierra madre.

    my brother and I are sierra madre water paying customers.

    every 60 days, the city of sierra madre mails water and sewer bills to my brothers ranch in paso robles for payment of water and sewer.

    please be advised, as of date, the city of sierra madre water and sewer protest documents have failed to reach my brothers post office box.

    when received, these will be ( 3 ) more NO PROTEST VOTES WHICH WILL BE RETURNED TO THE SIERRA MADRE CITY HALL!

    question...
    does the city hall mail out of towners PROTEST documents? if not, we will discontinue paying for services which we fail to receive...

    chris koeber was provided an email which was forwarded to Elaine aguliar. as of date, Elaine has not responded to my concerns!

    I have friends living in sierra madre canyon who have not received their protest documents and have contact city hall also.

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  14. these statements concern me.

    if City Hall has failed to print, mail and provide Protest Documents to "all" Sierra Madre water and sewer paying customers, then the out come will be - that those water and sewer paying customers are unwilling to consent to a YES VOTE and they appear to be agreeing to pay higher water and sewer fees.

    This Appears - that the City Hall has No Conscience and is again trying to stuff its pockets with property owners monies - is this a fraudulent act?

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  15. Looks like The Tattler will go over the 2 million hits mark sometime today. Good thing nobody reads it!

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  16. remember......never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

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    1. True. But when you do call the incompetent out they get cranky sometimes.

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    2. "We have too much work!"

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  17. BTW - we will be setting up a separate post around 6 this evening for the Planning Commission meeting. I have had some requests, so we'll be live blogging. The homeless housing situation is of concern to quite a few people in town.

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  18. I would like to thank you for the efforts youve got produced in writing this article. I am hoping the same finest operate from you inside the potential also. Actually your creative writing skills has inspired me to start my personal BlogEngine weblog now. San Ramon school bus walnut creek school transportation.

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    1. Paul, glad we could be of some inspiration to you. That said, I am not sure how deep the passion for school buses is out there in the big world. At least the one I'm familiar with. Then again, I'm far away from Walnut Creek. Best of luck!

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  19. This the letter I've sent to the Monastery. I'm sorry but this is the only way I can reach you at this point. I do not want to open a Google account.
    Dear Monastery Members,
    Below is a letter I have started to share with other friends in Sierra Madre and it is suggested that we share our thoughts with you. I have been a preservationist in Sierra Madre for most the years that I have lived here. I recognize that this is your land to do with as you please; but is it? Using land as a profitable investment is the capitalistic trend in this country but does that warrant doing it with only the need to cover some expenses? As I say, what if there were no land to sell? Isn't the land sacred and aren't you blessed with the opportunity to cherish, even worship it? Does it mean so little to you that it can be degraded to a monetary asset? What we do to the land is what we do to our hearts. My love for Creation is in my heart where I live each day. We must ask ourselves where and how do we live each day.
    Sincerely, Anne Chesterman

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  20. Another point that sticks out for me is that these "ballots" when turned in/mailed in as NO votes are signed by the water customer user. They are not, in the best sense of the democratic process private ballots protected by the privacy of the voting booth. So, this process is flawed in that regard as well.

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    1. Good point. I wonder what kind of databank the city will put that information into. Or if they plan to bundle and sell it.

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  21. Just found a $183.00 credit card fraudulent charge when I was checking up on another on-line purchase. Cancelled payment and the credit card. I did not recognize the amount or the company and went to their website, got their 800#, called and verified that it was not a purchase by me or my husband.

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    1. Did you shop at Target? Massive credit/debit fraud theft was just discovered.

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    2. Here is the Target story:
      Target says 40 million credit, debit card accounts may be affected by data breach
      http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/12/19/target-says-40m-accounts-may-be-affected-by-data-breach/

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    3. Yes, I did use my credit card at Target Dec 13. The fraudulent charge was Dec 17 pending for a on-line purchase of a bread making machine, posted in Pomona to a company whose name and 800# came up on my on-line banking. When they took my info over the phone as I was processing the correction blurted out a name (which I noted) as if I was the recent (and most likely the fraudulent buyer). Be aware!

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    4. Shop at Wal*Mart and use cash.

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  22. Thank you Mr.Engle and Mr. Richey.
    I believe that the process to track the owners of water meters was brought before the council, but that most of the members had a difficult time understanding how to match up the property assesment numbers with the property owners name. Or something like that.

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  23. 10:54 am. Remember recently that was tried. Only one member (maybe two) of the council members asked that the city check around for other firms. It was decided that Colantuono and Levin was the cheapest, so they got to stay. Los Alamitos and La Habra Heights it's their loss and the City of Sierra Madre's gain !

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