Saturday, February 8, 2014

Why Is Sierra Madre's Employee Benefits Report AWOL?

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On the Noah Green for City Council website there is the following rather foggy appeal for voting to continue Sierra Madre's Utility User Taxes at the current state leading rate. Having already voted in 2012 to return Sierra Madre's supposedly temporary double digit utility taxes back to their pre-2008 rate of 6%, and by over 60% of the vote, residents here do not seem to be in the mood for shelling out money at so high a clip. This can't be an easy thing to run for office on.

Here is how Noah Green attempts to make you feel all helpless and inadequate on the sky high utility tax issue. Unfortunately, much of Green's pitch appears to be based on a reworking of the discredited Josh Moran "latte' defense."

The UUT currently tacks an extra 10% to your electric, garbage, cable, and phone bills.  However, the UUT is currently due to decline to 8% on July 1, 2015.  As a taxpayer, that sounds like a little bit of good news.  For example, I will have to pay about $9 less in taxes every month for an annual savings of $108 if the UUT falls to 8%.

For the City has a whole however, this minor relief in my tax burden will translate into severe consequences in the form of a 20% reduction in 31% of the City’s revenue stream, or about 6% of the total City revenues.  Given that we are currently running only a 4% surplus, allowing the UUT to decline to 8% will cause the City to once again run a budget deficit, assuming our expenses and other revenues remain about the same.

That is of course unless we reduce our City budget by about 2%, or $395,403.  So what should we cut?  The following is a summary of each City department’s budget for 2012-2013:

Public Works  -           $7,375,744

General Services -       $5,669,058

Public Safety -            $5,070,642

Cultural & Leisure -    $1,654,695

            Total   -         $19,770,13

The alternative to carving $395,403 out of this budget is to allow the UUT to remain at 10%.  The choice is ours.

Please let me know how you feel about this issue.  Given that many people do not want to pay higher taxes, but no one can agree on what to cut, I believe the time is ripe for we as a City to have a discussion about what, if anything, we should cut. 

Certain aspects of this appeal are, for the lack of a better term, annoying. Noah lays out some numbers, coupled with nebulous terminology (Cultural & Leisure?), but in no way itemizes what expenses comprise these costs. I really would hate to think that Sierra Madre spends a big chunk of that $1,654,695 on leisure activities since I personally get so little of that. Outside of doing this blog, of course. And at no expense to the taxpayer.

But since there is no real information here, thereby making Noah's bold call for a City-wide debate on the issue seem somewhat self-serving, there has to be another agenda at work. I suspect that is to make you, the oh-so confused resident, feel that the issues here are just too large and confusing for you to deal with. And rather than risk causing harm to such important City of Sierra Madre initiatives as its $1.6 million dollar pursuit of both culture and leisure, you'll just throw your hands up in the air and put all of your trust in a lawyer that has only lived in town for two years.

Voting for politically ambitious young lawyers who haven't lived here much longer than the lifespan of a kitchen gnat has worked out so very well for us in the past.

Of course, there are many things that could stand a bit of a financial shave here in town, and properly itemized it would be quite easy to see exactly what these might be. However, that doesn't appear to be where Mr. Green really wants to take this discussion, and he supplies no such information on his website. He just wants you to continue taxing yourself at some of the highest rates in California because any attempts to think otherwise could hurt your pretty little head.

The most obvious place to start would be benefits and pensions for city employees. Somewhere along the line the notion that our little town of less than 11,000 souls should fund pensions and benefits like cities much larger than ours mysteriously took hold. The City of Los Angeles being the most obvious example of this misplaced urge, though Pasadena might also be a good place to look as well.

Since both of these mighty metropolises are now undergoing some extreme fiscal pain, with pension debt and its related ills nearly killing them financially, you'd assume that we might want to rethink this.

Of course, funding a Los Angeles style pension system in a town like ours would take some real financial wherewithal, which is where our state leading combined double digit utility taxes come in. The notion that if you go to work for the City of Sierra Madre all of your earthly needs will be taken care of at taxpayer expense for the rest of your life, while comforting for the beneficiaries, might not be what we can afford to do in a town as small as this one. At least without taxing ourselves half to death.

There is a website that just came on line in our once Golden State that tracks pension demands in just about every city around. The site received a glowing write up on the Fox & Hounds website, and I thought I'd share a little of that good news here (link).

New Transparency Website Reveals True Costs of Payroll and Pensions for California’s Public Employees - In light of the strong public policy supporting transparency in government, an individual’s expectation of privacy in a salary earned in public employment is significantly less than the privacy expectation regarding income earned in the private sector. – Excerpt from California Supreme Court Ruling, 8-27-2007, IFPTE v. Superior Court 

This week the California Public Policy Center launched what is the largest online payroll and pension database, searchable by name, downloadable via spreadsheet, ever compiled for active and retired employees of California’s state and local governments. Do you want to see just how much California’s public servants are costing taxpayers? Go to www.TransparentCalifornia.com and have a look. 

The database, created in partnership with the Nevada Policy Research Institute, has been nearly a year in the making and provides information not available anywhere else. For example, the database includes CalPERS pension records, including not only the participant’s name, pension, and other retirement benefits, but also their year of retirement and years of service. 

Having this information is necessary to understand just how generous public sector pensions are, because the “average service life” of public servants in California is only around 20 years. And if you work a normal full-length career? Buried on page 169 of CalPERS FYE 6-30-2013 Annual Report is the answer – after 30+ years the average pension is $60,312 per year.  

Sounds interesting, right? Certainly some of the information we can use in our city-wide debate on how to cut costs and reduce our 10% utility taxes should be found on this site.

If you click here the link will take you to the relevant portion of the Transparent California.com website. You will note there that salaries and benefits have been dutifully reported for most California cities.

However, and sadly, if you scroll down to Sierra Madre you will be confronted with the following:

Sierra Madre ………………..………….…………………..... Refusing to produce

Hmm. That is not promising. If you do click on the Sierra Madre page anyway, this is what you will find:

Contact Sierra Madre - Please help us procure these records for Transparent California by respectfully requesting that government officials fully comply with California's Public Records Law and provide Transparent California with the requested records in an Excel-compatible format.

Every citizen has a right to know how government is spending his or her money, and you have a right to respectfully request that this government agency abide by the law and allow you to see how your money is being spent.

Feel free to use the following contact information for Sierra Madre. You can also click here to generate and send a request email directly.

Name: Elaine Aguilar
Email: eaguilar@cityofsierramadre.com
Title: City Manager

Should you wish to send the email to Elaine that is discussed above, here is the language the site provides:

As a concerned California resident, I am writing to let you know that you should obey California's public records law, California's Govt. Code §§ 6250–6270, and fulfill the public records request you have previously received from Transparent California. Please email the records to records@transparentcalifornia.com.

We all know how City Hall can be with PRAs.

Since cities such as Pasadena, Monrovia and Arcadia have filed their salary and benefit information with TransparentCalifornia, why is it that Sierra Madre is "refusing to produce" its numbers?

Could it have something to do with our upcoming vote this April on extending our state leading double digit utility tax rates? And some people downtown just don't want you to know what is really going on?

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

41 comments:

  1. I will gladly pay you Tuesday for your utility taxes today!

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  2. Replies
    1. Who is this clown? Moves into town and joins the "in" organizations, is another blowhard knoweverything lawyer and then decides that we should be enlightened by his wealth of knowledge and expertise as a Councilmember...after living in the city for a total of 5 minutes.

      What a dork.

      We fell for that scam with Mosca, not again. He's making Goss look like a viable candidate and that's pretty difficult.

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  3. "I Noah nothing."

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    1. he's a lawyer, he knows everything

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  4. Speaking of leisure, in the new Wistaria Vine our preeminent fishing derby is spelled "Huck Fin." Fish appropriate I suppose.

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    1. That goof was made by the supervisor....Adam Matsumoto. He is responsible for the Wistaria Vine.
      He walks the party line.

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    2. At City Hall loyalty to the city manager is most important. That includes not telling the public secrets. There are lots of those now.

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  5. That's a bit disturbing to hear that Sierra Madre is hiding their payroll and benefit information. There is always a reason to avoid transparency and usually its not very favorable to the people attempting to hide the information.
    Residents have to understand that City Employees are usually working at cross-purposes to what is in the best interest of the residents who pay their salaries. For example, the planning and building department always wants more development because otherwise there would be no need for such a department (or at least as many employees) and they would be out of a job. The overcrowding, pollution, and traffic that results from overdeveloment is ingnored because it only affects the residents and not the employees themselves who often don't even live in the city.
    All city employees generally will always be in favor of more monies coming into the city coffers from increased taxes because that can lead to higher salaries and pensions for themselves. It's almost like what someone said about General Motors: "It stopped being a car company and turned into an employee beneifts company that built cars on the side." Likewise, the main focus of City Government and the employees: is often to focus on creative ways to increase their salaries and pentions and provide services to residents on the side with the monies left over.
    Only a vigilent citizenry and a City Council can stop this built-in tendency of City Government. But then you have the public employee unions giving money to certain City Council candidates with the expectation that they will get something in return i.e. voting for higher salaries and benefits for unionized employees. Then the problems begin and it will always be at the expense of the residents and the community. That leaves only the citizenry to be the check on this whole corrupt process.

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  6. Gee, Noah Green's paid political ad in the MVN a few weeks ago stated that we should all vote for him because he's not afraid to "make the big decisions". Well, cutting the budget (maybe he could begin with the Culture and Leisure section) is "making big decisions". Sounds to me like he's not really as unafraid as he says he is and so his solution is to continue to give in to the pleas of the City Staff. I wonder if he realizes that a councilmember works for the citizens, not the city staff. Don't think Noah's ready for prime time.

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    1. If he wants to make the big decisions, why is he asking for a conversation?

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    2. I'm with you 7:52. Cut Culture and Leisure from the city budget altogether. Residents can handle their own culture and leisure.

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    3. but staff will no longer get paid for doing nothing.

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    4. Cities are not mandated to provide Culture and Leisure for the citizens. The city needs to provide safety, water, streets, and that's about it.

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    5. Streets are spotty at best, we're out of water and the houses here are a happy hunting ground. What do they do again?

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    6. Noah needs converstations with residents cause he's only lived in town a short while - he (ala Mosca) needs to hear from us so he'll know what to say

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    7. since Noah claims that he, rather self indulgently, will make the "big decisions"

      does this mean he has the cojones to seriously discuss bringing in the Sheriff's Dept?

      or is he just another lawyer lightweight?

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  7. What Noah Green fails to remember (or believe) is that the $108.00 in savings realized by the citizen, is the citizen's money, not Noah's money or the government's money.

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    1. Separated into its many different entities it is possible to claim that the burden of each individual tax is small. Add them all together though, and it is a huge hit. As anyone who has paid property taxes lately can tell you.

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    2. That is why its so hard to beat back these separate taxes as they come up. Each tax, in and of itself, is not usually going to bankrupt anyone - hence the apathy and lack of motivation on the people being taxed. However, the recipients of the accumulated tax revenue, whether it be some interest group, public employee union etc., while a much smaller group, are much more motivated because they have so much to gain. As 8:16 points out, you always have to look at the accumulated burden of all these taxes.

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    3. I agree. If you look back over the last couple of years there is hardly a fee, rate or tax that has not been raised. Add all that together and the amount is immense. City Staff is featherbedding, and most of the city council can't give them what they want fast enough. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

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    4. That $108.00 is an electric bill, gas bill, groceries, or back to school clothes for their kids.
      Cut the entire Community Services department. The City contracted out the pool, saved money, and the pool is now open year round.

      Noah that is my money. If you want to pay more each month, go for it.

      VOTE NO on the UUT and anyone that supports it.

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  8. City manager with help from other's have to wait for a contracted spin doctor top put the final touches on the Sierra Madre employees benefits report, like filling the weak spots and hiding or glossing over the strong spots.

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    1. There shouldn't be employee contracts. Everyone should be 'at will". No severance pay. If you can't do the job, you are gone. Should not be paid if you are fired for incompetence.

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  9. Remember when Josh Moran honked at Chris Koerber with "What would you cut?" This apparently is all the Tax Me Party has this election. How sad.

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    1. They want to scare everyone. They're real big on scaring.

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    2. I don't think I am half as afraid as they are.

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    3. Tax me, I'm frightened.

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    4. Tax me, I'm a bad person.

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  10. We should have a community services dept. if only to take care of our parks and recreation end of things, but we don't need a part time senior services person, or a part time events person, and how many hours does the film person work? It seems to me that those hours could be cut. Max 3.5 employees for that department.

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    1. The parks are maintained by contract services. Repairs can be made by Public Works. The film person only gets paid if there is a film. You are right we don't need a part time senior service person or any part-time special events people. The pool is contracted out. All staff does is plan the events that used to be planned and staffed by volunteers. (Oh Yeah they make spelling mistakes on the Wistaria Vine. and get paid for it.)

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    2. How can you go through the American education system and not know who Huckleberry Fin(n) is?

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  11. Well, not sure where anyone when to school, and/or when, but Huck Fin(n) was on a banned books list at one time. English teachers everywhere are at a loss to figure how to cope with the wide range of sensibilities of their students and their parents. One of my favorite books that I bought at an elementary school book sale was "Spel is a Four Letter Word." Don't get your (k)nickers in a twist on this. You have better arguments to make against the cities foibles, don'tcha?

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    1. Whose list of banned books may I ask?

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    2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, 1884
      The first ban of Mark Twain’s American classic in Concord, MA in 1885 called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Objections to the book have evolved, but only marginally. Twain’s book is one of the most-challenged of all time and is frequently challenged even today because of its frequent use of the word “n****r.” Otherwise it is alleged the book is “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”
      http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/censorship/bannedbooksthatshapedamerica

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    3. Sounds like 12:40's day at the park.

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  12. Why is staff involved at all in festivals? They don't have enough city business to attend to?

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    1. Jack up their numbers. Spend more get more.

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  13. Off topic, but it's the Tattler and we don't care. Check out the house going up on Lima below Grandview, east side of the street - looks huge. Lot line to lot line.

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  14. In the Nov 21, 2012 City Manager's Report regarding the formation of the UUT oversight committee as required by citizen's vote (and it was before it was disbanded) Noah Green was appointed as one of five by a CC member? Anyone remember who appointed him?

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