Saturday, January 22, 2011

New City Fire Assessment - "Tax" or "Fee"?

Interesting/confusing story on Patch regarding the upcoming Fire Assessment. It looks like Council may try to avoid a vote by calling this new assessment a "fee", rather than a "tax" which requires a vote.

Blogmaster's note: Mayor Mary Ann says that property owners will be voting on this, although nothing's official yet. The Patch story was a bit misleading.

Posted by Steve Sinai


no new taxs fees charges said...

no more money for this city council. They have squandered every chance to bring this city back out of the rut and chose not too.

The 3 stooges have to go. Not larry curry and moe but Jim Pete and Sue.

At least Julie did the right thing and jumped ship when she saw the rocks.

Bankruptcy is the only way out

todd bray said...

Ask Steve Rhodes or Mayor Maryann. Leaving reporting items like this to AOL/Patch is silly.

Steve Sinai said...

OK Toddster, I sent the query to Mary Ann.

They deserve credit for writing about it, but I got the sense that the Patch reporters didn't really understand the controversial history behind these types of tax and fee proposals in Pacifica.

The Watcher said...

Ritzma shilled for this new tax/fee the last council meeting. She talked about a 200k reserve fund that council could "voluntarily" set up to build a fire station. Let's see, 2 million after 10 years to build a 7 million station, once again, relying on grants for the balance. IN TEN YEARS. Oh, almost forgot, the 200k per year comes out of the general fund that has no capacity to set up a reserve, and I would wager that there is no verbiage anywhere that makes this reserve mandatory or specifies anything about repair/replace a fire station. Furthermore, this is a tax for the general fund. Just because council says Fire Safety doesn't mean it. They could just as well call it, Police Department wage supplement, or Public Works pay augmentation. This money would go into the general fund and be used to pay wages to ALL city employees. You fooled us once. Call it what it is, a tax to maintain the status qou. Period!

todd bray said...

Steve, AOL/PATCH is staffed by kids right out of college. They don't understand basic stuff like libel, something moderately complicated like a voter approved tax assessment is way beyond AOL/PATCH's capacity to understand let alone report on.

I exchanged emails with SR and the city is moving forward to a public vote for the fire assessment. Personally I don't see how it's controversial. The last assessment passed by like 75% well above the 2/3 required. And please remember/acknowledge the reason there was a need of a fire assessment in the first place was because of abuses by fire department chiefs claiming overtime to the tune of nearly $400,000 in one year divided between 3 chiefs on top of their ample salaries. That was the controversy.

Steve Sinai said...

Toddster, this is the first time I've heard the previous fire tax was needed because of abuses by the fire department chiefs. I voted for it knowing it had nothing to do with the Fire Department per se, but was really a way for the city to replenish its General Fund. It increases the chances for passage if voters hear that an assessment is for public safety, rather than for pensions, trails, and climate change committees.

I did vote for the last fire tax, BTW. I was willing to help bail out the city in the hope it would spend the five years getting its financial house in order. It didn't, and polling showed a majority felt the same way. That's why the city didn't try to renew it when it expired, and instead unsuccessfully tried to pass a sales tax increase.

The controversies I was thinking about were -

1) Whether Council could be trusted to use these tax assessments wisely. Given the defeat of the city-wide sales tax, the answer was no.

2) The similar controversies over imposing sewer and garbage collection fees in such a manner that it's realistically impossible to oppose them. From the Patch article, it seemed like the city was going to try this with the new fire assessment. Mary Ann and Steve Rhodes have both said there will be a vote by parcel owners, so we can ignore this point.

3) The similar streetlight assessment in the early 90's which resulted in a council recall. I'd say that was controversial.

Todd, you really do throw the libel threat around far too carelessly. Our Texas buddy was always doing that, too. Some of us have been engaged in friendly sniping long enough to know not to take the threats seriously, but the Patch guys are too new to know that.

Anonymous said...

Build a new Firehouse ? What about the firehouse that was closed on Monterey? Has it been allowed to completely deterorate so that it can never be reopened?

todd bray said...

Steve, I'm not throwing anything around carelessly. I asked AOL/PATCH to remove libel remarks from your buddy and some other guy. AOL/PATCH decided instead to play games. As corporate out of towners AOL/PATCH are just another company.

The other 3 things you mention I'l just consider to be your opinion.

It's a beautiful day BTW.

Howard Jarvis said...

Has anyone ever asked how the JPA was working out? Have we saved all the money that was touted?
You gotta remember that the firemen were convinced to shill for the first one, then as soon as it was in place, the illustrious Tanner announced a JPA with Daly City and Brisbane. Firemen never were aware of any move in that direction. Remember?

Kathy Meeh said...

"...this is a tax for the general fund. Just because council says Fire Safety doesn't mean it. They could just as well call it, Police Department wage supplement, or Public Works pay augmentation. This money would go into the general fund and be used to pay wages to ALL city employees. You fooled us once. Call it what it is, a tax to maintain the status quo. Period!"

Agreed with "the Watcher" 10:30AM until proven otherwise. Let us not forget who we are dealing with-- think they (city council 3) had a "come to Jesus" transformation? Where is the guarantee this tax or fee would be anything other than ANOTHER legal but slimy property owner tax or fee "take" dumped into the general fund "black hole".

Don't think so? Remember the Fire Tax (5 years), the proposed Sales Tax (failed), the partial Sewer Tax funneled into the general fund (6 years), the CASH-OUT in lieu of employment health benefits (4 years and continuing), the expense of several "pet projects" (6 years), working against redevelopment in the quarry (8+ years), working against Palmetto development (8 years).

Anon 2:54PM mentions the Monterey Road fire house. Is this fire house being used, empty, rented, what is that status? Then, which Fire House needs to be replaced-- why not remodel and retrofit? Anyhow "the Watcher" 10:30AM also points-out the City General Fund does not include separated funds. Haven't we been through "trust me" enough times prior? Show us some signed city contracts to build against financial deficiency and maybe some of us will be more inclined to take your "fooled you again" tax promises seriously.

Seriously, the alternative is service failure and city bankruptcy-- isn't that where we are being lead anyhow? How about selling-off some city properties for economic development and "green light" the regulatory process. Get this city back on track-- it once was.

Lionel Emde said...

"Ask Steve Rhodes or Mayor Maryann. Leaving reporting items like this to AOL/Patch is silly."

OK, Bro Todd, here's a few questions which the staff report couldn't quite spit out the answers to:
Why are the ballots being mailed in late February and the "property owner workshops" being conducted in March?
When is the actual election?
What is the majority required to pass this measure?
This is a Magical Mystery Tour of a tax measure, proferred by pranksters impersonating municipal finance personnel. The Tribune had no answers to these questions either.

tax man said...

Does anyone remember the recall of council members for a parcel tax once before??


Paul Gann said...

Can't agree with a recall. Won't happen and it's a waste of time and money.
I understand that the mail-out ballots are counted in an interesting way. If you are against a bail-out you HAVE to mail back your ballot otherwise that ballot is counted as a yes! Anyone have any insight into this process? If we can count on one thing, it's that we'll never get a definitive answer from Ritzma or the rest of "gang".

Kathy Meeh said...

You're right Paul, if the mail-out ballot is counted anything like the sewer fee "invitation to protest" the count will be skewed: Pacifica democracy at work.

I remember the recall effort 2002-03: terrible rainy Winter, condensed time, and (apparently) a bunch of the mail-out ballots disappeared from the north Pacifica post office mail dock (end result of which lots of Pacificans did not get their ballots).

So, with any City default luck maybe magic ballot disappearance will happen with the new Fire Tax too. Hypothetically, I'm already writing my check to: "they (city council majority 3) will never fix this city". For the future I have expectations of many more TAXES, FEES and SURPRISE CITY PROBLEMS to come.

Why citizens have not held long time city council 3 fiscally accountable is beyond my comprehension. After all we are a city with an in common, community infrastructure interest. And, these 1) basic city needs and 2) reasoning to elect competent city councilmembers should not be confused with the personal psychology of 3) "if you need a friend, get a dog".

Anonymous said...

Yet another sleazy slimey effort to replenish the general fund by council. No proof this money would ever go to fire services. They wave that ridiculous 3rd fire station like a bone to the public. Do we even need a 3rd station? Med calls are the bulk of business and they sure as hell don't need a whole damn firetruck and another station to handle those. Nothing will clean up this mess other than bankruptcy. Vallejo is going to come out of theirs just fine and be rid of decades of bad decisions, porky labor contracts and sundry other poor decisions. Easy? Definitely Not and there are serious consequences but we'll never get the truth from this council about that or any other option other than continuing the gravy train. never. The new economic reality for CA and particularly longtime badly led cities like Pacifica is brutal but it isn't fatal. Life will go on. Meanwhile council has its shills on staff and on puppet task forces. Totally screwed we are and these greedy idiots just keep taking. Has any of them given up their cash in lieu of benefit money? Not a chance. That alone tells you what they really are about. It keeps them the highest paid council in the county. These parasites are unbelievable. How much is lost on that alone and how many city employees take it? A million dollars a year? Half a million? You'll never see or hear how much but it's major money every year. Raises are still being given out. Yeah from a previous contract but other cities in the same boat found a way to stop theirs. Why not here. The only real good news from contracts is the two-tier deal for benefits for new hires. The rest of these bragged about changes are smoke and mirrors and too little too late. And now another tax oops assessment is snuck in. Watch them try to roll out the boys in blue to sell this latest fleecing of the public. Time for Bankruptcy and start over and then make public servants serve the public. Haven't we seen enough to know these parasites in office in Pacifica are incapable of solving these problems? Incapable and most likely unwilling to give up their spot at the public trough. We must not encourage them by giving them more of our money. Just don't do it.

Bernie Madoff said...

Vreeland misses eight meetings, numerous study sessions, and god knows what else, yet he collects almost $1000 per meeting. Not bad! First thing he sould do is return the $8000 in "sick" pay he's collected over the last year. Not a bad gig for a part time job.

todd bray said...

Okey Dokey Lionel my brother, hows this for answers?

Q: "Why are the ballots being mailed in late February and the "property owner workshops" being conducted in March?"

A: Feb 14 council will be presented with the ballot language during an regularly scheduled council meeting. Proposed property owner workshops are proposed for Feb 28 and March 11.

Q: "When is the actual election?"

A: The date the ballots are mailed out will be determined either at Feb 14 council meeting or later. As a mail in ballot it will have a mail in deadline not a specific date.

Q: "What is the majority required to pass this measure?"

A: A simple majority of all ballots returned.

I hope that answers you questions.

The revenues generated by this assessment will be restricted to FUND *, which provides funds for equipment replacement like fire rucks. The council is being asked by staff to set aside 50% of FUND 8 to pay for fire station replacement. All the revenues generated by this proposed assessment will be dedicated to fire service equipment and facilities.

The annual cost per single family parcel last time was $75.24 a year and staff is asking council to increase the assessment to $85 a year per single family parcel.

BTW most of the answers you asked for were provided in the staff report to council from January 10. I guess reading staff reports is beyond AOL/PATCH's ability when reporting on council/city items. Just goes to show.

todd bray said...

CORRECTION FUND* should read FUND 8 ( i forgot to taKe my finGer off the cap buttoN so 8 came out *... SORRy

fire tax said...

Do multi-family and commercial properties pay more someone told me the parcel tax for their property will be $500.00

Joe "BK" Tanner said...

I believe that dear Todd may be mistaken. I believe the all knowing Ritzma told council that all the money would be restricted to salaries. She "suggested" that at council discretion, 200k could be put in a "fund" towards a new fire station 10 years down the line. If you believe that, well, I don't know what to tell you. Hire me back.

todd bray said...

A correction I received from the city, "...funds going into fund 8 are $1.2 million and those will be used for the operation of fire suppression services. The reserve for fire station replacement will be in the General Fund out of GF money that is available when some of the fire costs are being moved out of the GF to Fund 8."

The Watcher said...


I'm sure there will be a lot of "corrections" along the way.

Pay attention to the details.

Lionel Emde said...

I shall pay attention, as it seems there is a lot of uncertainty. Not surprising given the really amateurish financial shenanigans of our dear city.

todd bray said...

It will be a hard sell Lionel.

At this time we don't support it. As you well know to tax ourselves more to ensure city staff quality of life is financially beyond our means even if it is only $85 a year. $85 is a lot more money today than it was back in 2003.

I know the funds will be targeted, but our property tax bill currently has approx. $1500 of add ons. we've supported everything the city and school districts and county have asked for but until we see substantial wage concessions from senior staff and benefit reforms from current/future retiree's we will not be supporting any further assessments. It's a little reminiscent of Feudalism.

It will be a hard sell, and that the ballot will be decided by a majority of ballots received will require a good campaign for either position to get those ballots returned. Not returning a ballot is not a no vote, it's just not counted as part of the majority. That message will have to be conveyed loud and clear.

I should hope the city makes that point as part of it's pitch. If I'm still not convinced by the cities argument that is the message I'll be sending out, namely to send in your NO ballot or be dinged by a handful of YES votes.

But I'm still very much open to being convinced.

Steve Sinai said...

As I've said before, the only way I'll vote yes on this is if I start seeing tangible results from efforts to improve Pacifica's economy. Talk, committees, and plans don't cut it. So far I've seen nothing, and it's difficult to imagine that changing in the next two months.

Yet while the city is in financial straits and needs economic development to help bail it out, all the city does is create new impediments to economic development. Monster house ordinances, green building ordinances, a new hotel tax, a styrofoam ban, a ban on payday loan places,

Until I see Council start running Pacifica like a city rather than a big park, I'm not inclined to offer the city new tax money simply so it can continue to please a small group of "we-are-at-one-with-the-earth"-types, while neglecting the economic development needed to keep this city functioning.

Lionel Emde said...

Ya know it seems like rearranging deck chairs on the you-know-what, but how about a FINANCE DIRECTOR! ya know, someone who's, like, qualified to help the city council in their aimless wanderings through the wilderness.
I'm almost convinced it's too late, but maybe there's hope. Maybe.

todd bray said...

Got to work with what we have Lionel. If city staff/employee's and retiree's don't feel compelled to reduce their costs but rather ask to be further subsidized or else we will suffer the consequences... well then they sound more like Tony Soprano and his buddies to me rather than public employee's.

As far as we go here there is no more blood available from this stone. The stone isn't even available anymore because it's been pounded to dust!

As far as choices go public works employees are far more important to our city than senior staff, fire or police. If senior staff feel balancing the budget requires laying off DPW folks instead of themselves ...

todd bray said...

According to John Chiang's local reports our City manager's compensation was $197,722 in 2009 for a city of 40,000. The average cost of a fireman in Pacifica before benefits is north of $120,000 a year. Same for Police. The current county stat for fire calls says over 95% are medical related not fire related. The same Chiang report says the average wage for EMT's is below $80,000 a year.

Before I vote to maintain the quality of life for these folks at the expense of my own I would like to see some major realization on the part of the public employees that regardless of what they feel they are owed pinching us for more isn't the answer.

We are all hurting, losing jobs, losing wages, everything. These public folk need to understand that we are all in this boat together and need to take some serious meetings concerning wage/benefit cuts. Token wage freezes mean nothing.

And yes, believe me, we all know how hard it is to do with less. Fire, Police and Senior Staff need to step way the hell up and take some very real meaningful cuts. No one needs to lose their jobs working for the city, but these princess packages for fire, police and senior staff need to be rolled back.

Kathy Meeh said...

"These public folk need to understand that we are all in this boat together and need to take some serious meetings concerning wage/benefit cuts. Token wage freezes mean nothing."

Todd, assume you are referring to John Chiang, Controller, State of CA, I'm not quite sure where, maybe you will advise. Another thought, as I recall last year some city employee pay was increased up to the county "average".

What you are saying is meaningful, because all these benefits (public sector and private sector) are uneven. Here's a recent article (2/7/11) from US News on "7 reasons you don't have a pension." In reflection, given the socio-capitalist gap in benefits between the public sector and ALL levels of the private sector, this inequality looks like another "make all our lives better" job for government, but get it right.

todd bray said...

Yes Kathy, the state controllers office. The Pacifica page shows the wages and overtime (before benefits) for every position in town. Luckily it does not give names, just the position. BUT... two battalion chiefs earned $240,000 in overtime alone in 2009, a fire captain earned over $40,000 in overtime. I can see why city staff is recommending a parcel tax to pay for firemen if just three of them took home almost $300,000 in overtime between them. Combined their total pay out for 2009 was north of $666,793, for just 3 firemen. Thankfully the police department showed greater restraint in billing us for overtime. Kudo's to the police departament for that.

Anonymous said...

what do the fireman need overtime for? How many fires do we have?

todd bray said...

From what I can find over 95% of the calls are medical in nature (strokes, heart attacks, auto crashes) not fires.

Sharon said...

@ Paul Gann said...
"I understand that the mail-out ballots are counted in an interesting way. If you are against a bail-out you HAVE to mail back your ballot otherwise that ballot is counted as a yes!" Unbelievable if this is true, how many folks throw this stuff away with no idea their ballots are being counted as a YES. I really do have a hard time believeing this is legal.

Kathy Meeh said...

Todd, since the government has done such a good job with government employee benefits, particularly pensions, I think the government should also do the same for the rest of us.

True, we have social security and other social benefits, but pension funding is a major unfunded or underfunded private industry liability for individual citizens. FAIR across-the-board would require government involvement, (with consideration of what other civilized industrial countries do, and our own unique hybrid version of course).

And, you also mentioned "from what I can find over 95% of the calls are medical in nature (strokes, heart attacks, auto crashes) not fires." I recently completed some continuing education insurance classes which indicate 1 in 7 (14.25%) of us under age 65 live with a chronic disease or injury, and from age 65 that statistic increases to 1 of 2 (50%) of us. Thankfully our Firemen (along with paramedics) are quick responders, and available to save our lives during a medical emergency.

todd bray said...

Kathy I mentioned the 95% thing because perhaps more $75000 a year EMT's are needed locally rather than $257,000 a year firemen.

The publicly funded pensions it turns out are not funded hence the budget killing GASB 44/45.

It's not the economy of 5 years ago. We all, public sector especially need to own that and adjust salaries and benefits. I'd rather staff and crews get less than have to let people go. There is enough unemployment already.

A modest 10% pay cut for all city employee's and senior staff is preferable to laying off employee's, in my opinion

Lionel Emde said...

I submitted a letter to the council for last night's meeting regarding the proposed assessment. I'm against it for various reasons which I'll go into another time.

But I wrote that if the council absolutely feels it must go ahead with the assessment mail-in election, they need to address an injustice in the way in which "non-residential" parcels will bee assessed.

The $678 assessed for each of these parcels doesn't take into consideration the SIZE of the parcel. So, for example, Eureka Square Shopping Center is one parcel and will pay $678 for the whole shopping center. All the shops in Pacifica Manor Shopping Center are one parcel each, small individual parcels. They will pay $678 each.

So large landowners will be subsidized by small businesses.
Sound fair?

Anonymous said...

no. thank you for all you do Lionel.

SlapHappy said...

@Kathy, Stay out of our private 401ks. Just because the government has mismanaged public employees pensions and has overpaid these employees does not give you the right to take mine. Sounds like communism to me. BACK OFF!

Anonymous said...

Kathy Meeh said...

There it is, city employee wages by job description-- that's a keeper. Thanks Anon, 12:28pm! Same information, here's a direct repeat of your link (I hope) Pacifica employee wages, 2009. In a few days I'll plan to post a "how to make direct links" article, so we can all benefit.

"SlapHappy", 10:56am, why would anyone want to take away YOUR optional government tax deferred 401(k) plan you have paid into? Not me.

The issue. Such optional and elective tax deferred 401(k), 403(b) and after tax Roth savings plan variations may NOT be sponsored by an employer (hence no plan). The relevance of such consistent savings and life planning may not be fully understood by either the employee or the employer sponsor, because the reward is not in the near future, and its another expense. For the employer its another human resources and reporting hassle. For the employee "life happens", money may be withdrawn from these plans for various reasons to support near-term goals.

Social security is the successful long-term core (and evolving) government plan which is funded through shared employer and employee payroll taxes over many years. Social security provides future pension guarantees based upon a paid-in formula (people who do not pay in as much receive less). Upon qualified retirement, social security provides a guaranteed stream-of-income for one's life.

The problem. Currently social security is designed to supplement retirement income by 40%. That leaves a 60% gap. People are living longer (sicker of course), and even so financial inflation reduces the cash value over time.

To fill the 60% gap, individual pension planning may not be adequate, or may collapse all together. Considering the model for collecting payroll taxes and assuring guarantees-- either social security could advance benefits (by collecting more revenue) and/or a new guarantee benefit plan could form).

As a civilized (human and humane) society we pay-- either though "smart planning" or by default. Some current low income defaults include welfare, Medicaid, MediCal, government long-term care, low income supplemented discounts through utilities, city section 8 housing, gaps in care and homelessness.

As an evolved, affluent society (although most of us exist in the bottom 15% of US wealth accumulation)-- wouldn't it be better to improve life planning for not just a few, but ALL employees and ALL workers during employment years? The advantages of TIME accumulation of these continued payroll deductions which cannot be invaded is clear. Further, this is "smart planning" of social benefits for our future.

SlapHappy, here's the simple Merriam-Webster definition of communism. That's not what these needed societal social benefits are.

You Bore Me said...


Kathy Meeh said...

Zs, stay bored. The comment was directed to "SlapHappy" (aka: Anonymous).

There was irony in both Todd and Lionel's recent comments. Maybe re-read those.

todd bray said...

If every city employee took a %5 pay cut right now today the savings would more than equal the terms of the fire tax and hopefully no one would need to be laid off.

Instead we're hearing Tony Soprano like threats that if we don't pay the fire tax services will be cut.

This direction that has been taken is not only cynical it lacks empathy for the public at large by our elected officials and public sector employee's.

If city staff/employee's took an immediate %5 pay cut I would gladly vote for this tax. That is the cost of my vote. Until then I'm a NO vote.

Anonymous said...

Whoa there sparky. Voting yes? Every cut this city announces with full and glorious fanfare is the old winkwink kind. We'll be paying for them somewhere down the road. They have yet to face the fact that we all have been living beyond our municipal means for some time. You can make that national or even global. How are we going to pay for all this? The pain hasn't even started yet. Giving more money to these shameless parasites/politicians is not going to keep anyone right side up on their mortgage or create one lousy job. But hey it will keep our council well paid. What a joke. And it's on us if we cave in to scare tactics and half-truths. Enough. Don't vote for it.

Anonymous said...

DONT VOTE FOR ANY BENEFITS THAT WILL BENEFIT THE FOLLOWING: Teachers, Fireperson, Police Officers, anyone who gets paid through the U.S. tax payers. And, especially do not vote for any tax increases. Politicians continue to rob peter to pay paul.

Remember, Government Employee jobs have been saved by the U.S. tax payers, through the $800 Billion Stimilus Fund that Democrat Pelosi forced through congress. Since Pelosi was elected in 2007, right away millions of Americans in private sector started to lose their jobs. Pres Obama promised if we support this 800 Billion Stimilus Fund Act, unemployment will drop below 8%. As of today Unemployment is reported as 10%. More job losses in private sector to come.

Since the signing of the Health Care Reform Act, People in the private sector have lost their right to Health Care. They are paying more for less. More job losses to come.

Meanwhile, Teachers, Fireperson, Police, all other government employees are crying about having to pay a little more of their health care. Please, allow me to slap that stupid off of their faces.

40 Million (creeping higher) Americans are on foods stamps. How much are the unions and these corrupt politicians going to tax us just so they can have a cushy pension and health care? When will you say ENOUGH?