Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dellums' taxes, my taxes and all small business taxes

Other than the fact that his contested taxes add up to more than my little company’s gross income, I do not know anything about Ron Dellums’ tax problems.

What I have heard are some criticisms of Dellums that do not match our experience. Most of these nasty comments about Dellums run along the lines of “how could he not know?” and “after so many years they should have found this out”.

My own little company also owes back taxes. Why? The quick answer is that not everyone does their job as they should. You can separate from the person who did not do their work correctly, but the company still holds the responsibility to fix things.

So, a phone call to the IRS and corrected returns, a payment plan and you are fixed, right?

NO, not right. As any small business owner in Oakland will tell you, not only are taxes high, it is hard to get information and it is a lot of work to deal with it all. That is why I hired someone to do it for me in the first place.

As it stands, my little company pays taxes to 4 levels of government with at least 12 different ways or reporting it and a few different ways and schedules to pay it. That is after I dropped my resellers permit because there were 3 ways to report the fact that we did not sell anything about 6 times a year. (We are a service business and only had the resellers permit to help the clients out on the odd large job)

It does not help that the tax agencies have no requirement to be accurate and informative in what they request from us. We got letters that “estimated” our income at several times the real amount and demanded taxes. One level of government will tell you that you never filed for a certain year and you owe then $27,000 by Thursday and another will just tack on $30,000 to your estimated value of your office equipment. Then when you talk with them about it all you get is “OK, just ignore that” but not any written receipt saying that they were wrong. Sometimes you get TOO LATE so PAY UP. That is what Alameda County told us about the extra value they tacked onto our office equipment (60 times what it really is.

Could it take 3 years for the tax authorities to let Ron know that his taxes are not paid in an ACCURATE manner. I think it could.

Does it mean anything that Dellums has a tax lien? Yeah, it means he got treated the same way everyone else does. It does not matter if you agree with them. It does not matter that you start to pay them; the lien just comes as standard operating procedure. What that lien gets you is a lot of phone calls from scam artists offering to “help” you.

I do not know enough to fault Ron Dellums on his back taxes. Given my experience, I do not see any reason not to believe him. Given my income level, I wish I had enough money to owe that much tax.

On the other hand we hear nothing but silence from the official mayoral candidates on how hard it is for a business, especially a small business, to navigate the system stay in compliance and to pay taxes.

That I do fault them for.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

a request for public information on parking and traffic enforcement income

The following request is for public data, in all cases the request for a total is yearly, based on 2009 or most recent available year.

What is the net income from parking meters?

* How many meters do we have?
* How many kiosques are deployed?
* What do they cost to purchase, install and maintain?
* Do we have a per meter/kiosque hardware, install labor breakdown?
* What does attrition replacement cost?
* What does it cost total to empty them and collect the coins and the credit card funds?

What is the net income from parking violation ticking?

* What is the number of citations given in a year?
* Is there a breakdown on what they are issued for?
* What is the cost of processing the ticket payments?
* What does it cost to issue those tickets in labor and equipment, including vehicles?

What is the net income from moving violations?

* What is the number of citations given in a year?
* Is there a breakdown on what they are issued for?
* What is the cost of processing the ticket payments? Same as for parking tickets?
* What is the percentage of police costs used in moving violations?

What is the net income from towing and confiscating cars?

* What is the gross number of cars towed?
* What is the number of cars towed for outstanding parking citations?
* What percentages of those towed cars are returned to the owners?
* How many cars are seized during sobriety checks for unlicensed drivers?
* What percentage of those seized cars are claimed back and returned to the owners?
* What are the total fees on cars returned to owners?
* What is the total gross income from the auction of unreturned cars?
* What is the split between the tow yard(s) and the city on fees and auction income.

What is the net income from the boot method of collecting outstanding tickets?

* What does the equipment cost to purchase and maintain?
* What is the life cycle?
* What does it cost to deploy?
* What are the gross receipts?

To this entire list, it would be very helpful to know the number and names of the vendors who sell us the parking meters, the ticket kiosks, vehicles, hand held ticket printers, IT services, tow and impound, service and collect funds and provide maintenance services to our equipment.

Don Macleay

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why such anger over Bus Rapid Transit?

Recently comments about BRT have been all over our little Oakland list servers, in the press and the subject of a lot of public meetings. A lot of the writers moved quickly to attacking the people proposing or opposing BRT and I got a lot of flack just for asking questions and expressing doubts and wondering why we are doing this at all instead of just beefing up our bus routes.

I went on to V. Smooth’s and asked 5 questions.

1. How does it work together with BART and the rest of regional transit?
2. How do we get people out of their cars and ridership up?
3. What is the effect on the route residents and businesses?
4. How do we keep it funded when transit is facing serious cutbacks?
5. Why are some people so strongly opposed to it?

In response I got all kinds of flame mail telling me that I was in favor or “autotopia”, that I know nothing about transit and planning, that I need to answer their multi point argument when they ignored my 5 questions, that I should consider not owning a car, that BART is really like (and I got different answers here ranging from white flight to something in New Jersey) so I do not understand how BART fits in and basically got blasted every which way. Looking over the other posts I saw that the overt decided critics of BRT were accused of a lot of things, mostly of being liars.

Among other things I am a bike riding Green and I made the mistake to take offence and the bigger mistake to answer them. A friend reminded me of how intolerant many of the young posters on that site are and I quickly found better things to do.

So was there any surprise when we saw that OP-Ed from the Berkeley Daily Planet comparing BRT supporters to Stalinists? Bad choice of words since most of us Americans have never lived either in a Stalinist State or worked with a large Stalinist political party in a multi party state. I have done both and think I know what the writer meant. The main thing I took away from that OP-Ed is that AC Transit has had this idea for years and years and after all the public “consultations” there have been few, if any, modifications of the plan despite some very active opposition.

There are other BRD opponents who are very angry themselves and have responded with much of the same personal attacks on the BRD supporters. Most of what we hear in the way of BRT support is coming from folk who stand something to gain, but there is also much popular support for the idea coming from residents and some business owners.

So I asked a good friend and political comrade what the fuss was about and got the same kind of answers with much more respect and some willingness to address my 5 questions. Transit is one of those areas where we do not always listen to the NIMBY arguments. But don’t people have a right to oppose changes to their neighborhood they do not want? Her and I agreed that people have a right to be left alone sometimes.

So why all the anger in the public discussion other than the fact that disdain and harsh fundamentalism has become part of how we talk in public in our country? We sure give ourselves to judge others harshly. Do we have some kind of political road rage?

I think the anger comes from a lack of trust and not feeling like part of the process.

I would have to say that we do have some kind of political road rage and I blame it on the disconnect between the community and the elected officials. We ARE supposed to have elected people to look into and argue these issues for us. Shouldn’t our council members read this stuff over and make their recommendations to us?

The disconnect comes from not feeling like they are our representatives. Where are the BART, AC Transit and City Council members of 3 cities when the local community feels that they do not want a project on their street?

With districts drawn all over the place lumping different communities together and cutting others into parts we have some people who need much cash to get elected but do not feel like “my” member of council. This is Gerrymandering, it gets them elected, but it does not make anyone feel like they have a member of council on their side.

With AC Transit and BART boards having districts that no-one knows and the different transit agencies have so much overlap and lack of coordination who knows who is on these boards? Who knows who is good and who wants what? No wonder so many seats are unopposed at election time. Our right to be represented is there except for getting lost in the confusion and endless little turf wars.

We do not have elected neighborhood committees either.

When these elected officials go out and make bad decisions that do not connect to the communities they serve you get hard feelings and lack of trust.

You will find hard feelings like this all across our political discussions. Today I was looking at harsh words being exchanged over teacher’s salaries. Last week I was listening to it over parking.

I am not for BRT that does not address my 5 original questions, but those may not be so hard to address. Frankly I am not sure it is a good or bad idea yet. I suggest we cool it over Bus Rapid Transit and look at the way transit works, and is paid for, in our region and state. Whatever plans we do, we do not need any more plans that fail.

On the other hand, I do have my mind up about democracy and civil public discourse.
The public needs channel for their voice that they can trust.