Bell to Refund Property Taxes It Overcharged

The State of California is forcing the city government of Bell, a non-prosperous suburb of Los Angeles whose administrators were among the most highly paid in the country, to refund $3 million in property taxes the municipality overcharged. About 4,000 property owners will be reimbursed under the plan.

Bell is not the only California city with such problems, only the latest. It joins its neighbors Vernon, Maywood and at least four other communities in the region that have come under investigation by county and state authorities. Continue reading Bell to Refund Property Taxes It Overcharged

Time to Look at Bell

Home to 37,000 people, Bell, California is one of the least prosperous suburbs of Los Angeles at a per capita income of about $24,000, yet its residents pay the second-highest property tax rate in Los Angeles County — even higher than that of Beverly Hills.

The taxes have gone to pay some of the highest public sector compensation in the nation, including $787,000 to its city manager and up to $100,000 each for city council members. In comparison, the salary of the CEO of Los Angeles County is $338,000. Bell officials have boasted of balanced budgets but records show compensation for its management employees has continued to rise even in the face of layoffs and other cuts to public safety and community services programs. Continue reading Time to Look at Bell

235 Quinn Staffers Get Pay Raises

According to NBC Chicago.com, 235 of Governor Quinn’s staff received pay raises averaging 11% this year.

Of the 235 who received a pay raise in 2010, 225 of them received more than a five percent pay hike. Those rewarded with a fatter check include a labor relations expert whose pay increase is more than $5,000, to the local tourism marketing manager who received more than a $10,000 pay hike.

“You have to pay people appropriately in order to get them and keep them,” Quinn said.

The pay raises range from $300 a year to $40,000 a year. The average raise for these non-union employees is 11 percent — that’s four times higher than private industry expectations.

NBC Chicago discovered the pay hikes through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Earlier this summer, AP uncovered pay raises given to 43 workers in the governor’s office.

Budget Fail

In a previous post, I listed perks that theoretically could be cut from the FY2011 budget. Car allowances, magazine subscriptions, dues to professional organizations, lunch reimbursements, and clothing allowances run into hundreds of thousands each year. (Sure, some of them are contractual — but did they even try to talk to the unions about them?)

At any rate, Third Ward Alderman Pam Verbic is against cuts to perks. Verbic says the city “can’t run a professional organization” without them.

That’s nonsense. Continue reading Budget Fail

Notes from the “Lunatic Fringe”

I love being called “lunatic fringe” by a City Council member. I really do. Let them show the world how far this body has fallen in matters of decorum and discipline. Let them demonstrate how much they despise the people they are supposed to be representing. Folks ought to know exactly who’s responsible for running this city into the ground through ignorance, arrogance and denial.

My lunacy at last night’s Council meeting comes after the jump. Continue reading Notes from the “Lunatic Fringe”

FOIA for Council Members’ Health Insurance Participation Denied

Last week I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the names of the Council members who are signed up for the City of DeKalb’s health insurance plan, and have since been denied under the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), specifically 45 C.F.R. 164.501 and 164.502. [Update 6/6: Link found to be broken, have substituted another.] This essentially means the City’s legal counsel maintains that the names are protected health information, which is defined as individually identifiable health information.

Legal counsel is incorrect. To understand the error, take a look at the definition of health information itself:

Health information means any information, whether oral or recorded in any form or medium, that:

(1) Is created or received by a health care provider, health plan, public health authority, employer, life insurer, school or university, or health care clearinghouse; and

(2) Relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual; the provision of health care to an individual; or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.

Did you spot it? They are mixing up the provision of health care with the provision of a health plan.

I’ll keep you posted on the appeal.

Eliminating Health Insurance a Good Move

Looks like DeKalb is on track to eliminating the life and health insurance benefits for City Council members.

This is an important move, and not just for the savings. When Council prepares to vote on health insurance plans and premiums for management employees and union workers, its own participation creates conflicts of interest. We’ve also systematically been prevented from knowing which Council members have signed up for the benefits.

If Council is concerned that compensation is too low to draw good candidates, then raise the pay.

Voluntary Separation

The agenda packet for Monday’s special City Council meeting to discuss the Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) is missing a few things:

1) An analysis of how much this program could cost us. Surely the city must know how many of its employees are eligible, since only those with 20 or more full years of continuous service qualify. There must be a memo or some other backup material to show why this is such a good plan. To withhold it is either careless or naughty.

2) Some mention of where the money for the VSP would come from.

3) A provision for how long a separated employee must remain separated from the city. Otherwise, we could end up with some pretty interesting scenarios, and I mean “interesting” in the sense that we wouldn’t care for them.

Franklin Park’s Budget Blues

Thanks to the person who sent a link to IAFF Local 1526 representing the Franklin Park firefighters. It’s always an education to find out how other communities are coping in these times. Franklin Park is a village of 19,500 situated near O’Hare. It is contemplating laying off 6 firefighters and 7 police officers as part of a strategy to balance its budget. A rally to protest such a move is planned for January 23 and Village Mayor Barrett Pedersen is a particular target because of campaign promises he made last year to protect union jobs and to resist the formation of a regional fire department.

Indeed: in a statement on the Mayor’s page of the Village website, Mayor Pedersen thanks the voters and lays out his priorities:

Public safety is our first priority. Our upcoming budget will include funding to improve our public safety departments and provide an increased police presence in our neighborhoods.

Whoa! What’s happening here? Well, for one thing, neither police nor fire departments have contracts right now so they’re on the table. Also, it’s possible the mayor’s been whacked with a reality stick since the election: Continue reading Franklin Park’s Budget Blues