Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Free Financial Wellness Workshop in Antioch, Jan. 30

Saturday, January 21st, 2017


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$1M of Measure C funds spent on administration, not more police

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Antioch Council to continue spending same amount, but not from police budget

By Dave Roberts

When 68% of Antioch voters approved the Measure C half-cent sales tax hike in 2013, the ballot measure said the money would be used to hire 22 more police, plus code enforcement officers as well as help economic development and job creation. The ballot wording didn’t mention that the money would also be used for city government administration, but that’s where more than $1 million of Measure C funds is being spent.

The sales tax had raised $13.3 million as of June 30, 2016. This has provided for the hiring of nine additional police officers and filling more than a half-dozen community service officer and code enforcement positions.

But not all of that money is devoted to public safety salaries and benefits. About 8% goes to what the city budget refers to as “internal services.” Nearly half of internal services revenue goes to the city finance department to provide payroll, accounting and purchasing services. The rest is divided among other city departments, including the city manager, attorney, clerk, human resources, city council and facilities maintenance.

The share of Measure C money going to administrative overhead for the police department has increased from 7.1% two years ago to 8.5% last year and 8% in the current fiscal year. Citywide the percentage budgeted for internal services has grown from 5.6% in 2012 to 6.3% from 2013-15 to 7.8% in 2016 and to 8.1% in 2017. The percentages are based on a formula in the city’s Cost Allocation Plan, which was adopted in 2005, and the growth in the internal services departments.

The increased cost of administration, particularly paid for with Measure C funds, created concerns at last week’s City Council meeting. Sal Sbranti, a former member of the Measure C Citizens Oversight Committee, acknowledged to the council that Measure C funds can be used for administration, but he questioned whether city administrators are taking advantage of the increased sales tax funding for public safety to beef up their own departments.

“The question deserves to be asked as to why this [administrative] allocation continues to rise at such a rate,” he said. “Every year the amount going to citywide administration goes up regardless of whether it meets Measure C guidelines or not. The committee formal report stated that due to the way the city budgets the police department for Measure C, the committee has some concerns as to whether all Measure C monies are being properly utilized to meet the objective of this measure.

“We the citizens of Antioch voted for Measure C to reduce crime, increase code enforcement, reduce 911 response times and to minimize blight. What do we get? More money spent on HR, city manager’s office, city council, city attorney – just amazing. In the last six years citywide administration has gone from $1.44 million to $3.152 million. That’s you guys approving a budget. You approved them to double their budget in six years. In the same period of time the police department only went up 52%. So who’s putting the control on citywide administration, HR, all those functions?

“Measure C is to take care of the crime in the city of Antioch. If we continue to spend money on HR, finance, the attorney and other citywide administration, at the end of the Measure C sunset [in 2021] we’ll not have the money to continue with the number of police that we have. They should not be taking Measure C money to do this. That was not what the City Council told us they were going to do. That is not what we voted on.”

Sbranti’s concerns were shared by several council members.

“I understand the Cost Allocation Plan, I understand the purpose of it,” said Mayor Sean Wright. “As somebody who worked on Measure C to help get it passed, I also understand the consternation of watching Measure C money get spent on other sources that are not helping to directly improve the safety of our community.”

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, who had asked that the issue be placed on the council agenda, shared the mayor’s understandings and suggested two budgeting options.

“I asked for Measure C just to go toward these officers,” she said, “and the other one was to just flat out remove the Measure C cost allocation of the citywide administration fee. Or to keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it. I do trust that [city administrators are] doing it correctly and that the percentage has not changed. I understand the math where if the funds go up, the amount is going to go up. It does make sense. I do understand what people are saying the [administration] funds should not come out of Measure C funds. I have agreed with that.”

Also concerned was Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe who questioned why administrative costs had risen so much when the police department only had a net increase of less than a dozen police officers.

City Finance Director Dawn Merchant responded, “The police department has the largest share of employees of any department in the city. So we spend more resources with police department payroll versus other departments. It’s not just payroll. We pay accounts payable invoices, any money they collect we do the billing. There are a wide variety of services that finance does.”

Thorpe was skeptical, asking “For 10 additional people?”

Merchant responded, “It’s not just 10 additional people. It’s in total for the entire police department.”

City Manager Steven Duran jumped in, saying, “It doesn’t matter if there’s 10 additional people or 10 less people. The pie that’s divided is the cost of internal services. And the formula is the Cost Allocation Plan. Whether Measure C ever existed or not, the formula stays the same. So it’s nothing that anybody does except apply the math that’s in the plan. It doesn’t matter how many hires we’ve had.

“I think one of the things that some of the detractors have been emphasizing is how much it went up since 2012. That’s because when there were layoffs and furloughs prior to that, it went down. So, for instance, the city attorney has been sharing half of an administrative person and gone without a legal secretary for several years. In this year we budgeted for a legal secretary, therefore the city attorney’s budget is going up. Therefore every other department that pays internal services, they are going to pay a little more for the city attorney – police department, water, sewer, everyone. The formula doesn’t change, and it doesn’t matter what the other departments are doing or how many they have added.”

Thorpe seemed mollified, but he took exception to Duran’s characterization of the people concerned about Measure C money going to escalating administration.

“I hear you and I hear the point that if they hired no police officers and I guess if they had no additional invoices to process, it would still be the same,” said Thorpe. “I was trying to figure out how the formula [came to be] and who decided the percentage. And you’re telling me that it’s a formula that already exists, so I’m understanding that.

“I just have to point out that these are not detractors, Mr. City Manager. These are residents who have concerns, and they bring those concerns to us. So we have to take those concerns seriously. So if it frustrates you that we ask these questions, I’m sorry. But we are going to ask these questions. So I want to make clear that there are people who have concerns out there. I ask these questions to be open and transparent so that folks understand what the process is.

“So now I understand that there’s a formula. Whether it should be applied to Measure C is a starting point that I would like to discuss. Because that seems to be a concern that residents have.”

To address that concern, Wright made a motion that was unanimously passed by the council to direct Merchant to not include the administrative cost charges in the Measure C budget.

Merchant told the council that the administrative overhead would instead be shown to come out of the general fund budget, but the money being spent on administration in the overall budget would remain the same. “The expenditure is going to be there,” she said. “It’s just whether we say it’s a part of the equation for Measure C.”

Councilman Tony Tiscareno echoed Merchant, saying, “I want to make it clear that the public needs to know that there isn’t going to be a difference in cost allocation. It’s going to be the same. It’s coming from one column to another column. The reason I didn’t question the Measure C cost allocation at the time is because it was transparent to me, I saw firsthand where the money was going, knowing the money was being spent like it was supposed to be spent. We wanted to use it for hiring police and code enforcement. And I think we’ve done so.

“But we need to be transparent about all our expenditures where the money goes. This just makes it a little simpler for me to view it. But for folks that believe that this may help extend Measure C, I’ll play. But it’s still money being spent that has to be spent.”

The council is scheduled to begin reviewing the 2017-19 budget in April and to adopt it by July.

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Running Your Money – Bank account opening bonuses: for real?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Running Your Money column logoAre bank account opening bonuses for real?

Yes, but you will pass many dark dank alleys in a dicey neighborhood, so take care. Banks often have a third party do the pitch, such as Hustler Money, Money Crashers, and Nerd Wallet. They are very up- front about being paid by the banks. In many of them Chase is mentioned first. Being paid by the banks doesn’t make the offer phony. Often there is promotional code you must use. You can open the account online.

Two bits of advice: Always, always, print a copy of the offer and keep it at least until you have collected the money. And, always, RTFP (definition available in the Suburban Dictionary). I ignored my good advice in a recent deal with Wings Financial Credit Union; I read the fine print but didn’t print out a copy. When it came time to collect the puny $50 gift card, customer “service” said, “Ah, ah, ah, you have to agree to accepting paperless statements to earn the gift card.” I didn’t remember that but I was stuck.

Chase often puts pitches in that envelope of coupons including sewer repair and ridding your abode of rodents. I have taken several Chase offers. I like to open the account at a nearby branch. They always recognize me even though I enter the bank only to open an account; otherwise I go to the money wall.

I recently opened a Chase Business Account, depositing $1,500. The rep won’t be fussy about your business,  E just wants to close the deal and rack up brownie points. Chase will deposit $300 to the account about 70 days after opening, when  It will be available to withdraw. You must maintain a $1,000 minimum balance. To avoid a monthly fee keep at least $1,500 in the account That’s an annual percentage yield 40%. The fine print says if you close the account before 12 months, it will deduct the bonus. Well, nyah, nyah, nyah, what if I take the money and run before I close it? But they might not recognize me when I come in next year with the offer. It’s like guys on Hogs in black leather jackets with an eagle on the back; I don’t wish to incur their displeasure.

For an HSBC Bank: bonus of $350, initially deposit at least $25 dollars, pay two bills a month through them for three months and collect $350. No minimum payment is stated; I deposited $25 and for two months made two payments of $4. Account opening was arduous, I danced to their tune online and it took three weeks to open. They asked questions indicating they were seeking affluent depositors, but I have the account.

BMO Harris offered a $200 bonus and Tech CU a $150 bonus for opening an account and making a direct deposit of a paycheck or government check, such as Social Security. Residents of Northern California are eligible for membership in both institutions.

These offers appear and poof, all gone, but new offers will appear.

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Save money by slaying the “energy vampires” in your home, this Halloween

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Ghouls and goblins aren’t the only thing California residents have to worry about this Halloween. There’s another threat lurking in nearly every household: you can’t see or feel it, but it drains your hard-earned cash without you even realizing. This threat is the “energy vampire” – and it accounts for nearly 10% of all energy use in California homes.

“Energy vampires” (or standby power) is a term used for any electronic we leave plugged in that slowly sucks energy from our homes. These can be video game consoles, phone chargers, guitar amps, laptops, printers and more. What’s worse, the average U.S. household spends about $130 per year to power devices while they appear to be off.

So how can households reclaim some of these costs? Here are a few tricks and tips:

  • Unplug your devices. Perhaps the most obvious thing you can do to battle energy vampires is to unplug devices when they are not in use. Make it a habit to unplug your charger when your phone is fully charged, or your video game console, when you’ve finished playing. These small, simple behavior changes add up in energy savings – and in dollars and cents.
  • Enable ENERGY STAR power management settings. ENERGY STAR qualified computers and monitors offer a variety of power settings to help you monitor your energy use. By enabling these settings, you can have your devices go into power save mode when they are not actively in use.
  • Use Advanced Power Strips (APS). Replacing your conventional power strips with advanced power strips can help reduce electricity waste when devices are idle – without your having to change the way you normally use your electronics.  Advanced Power Strips work by preventing electronics from drawing power when they are off or not being used.



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myRA – a safe startup retirement account

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Running Your Money column logoBy Harry Stoll

“myRA” is a retirement account established by the U.S. Treasury in January 2015; it’s for workers without an employer-sponsored retirement account. (If you have any other retirement plan, such as 401k or another Roth IRA, it doesn’t matter.) myRA is a form of a  Roth IRA, but with one important distinction: It is not stock market based as other IRA’s are, but on U.S. Treasury bonds. So it won’t grow dramatically, but you cannot lose money. The Treasury bonds backing it averaged 2.9% for the 10 years ending December 31, 2015.

You can open a myRA with as little as $25 and make contributions as low as $5 (provided your income is less that $131,000 or 193,000 for married couples filing jointly). You can arrange for you employer to make regular contributions, have regular contributions from a checking account or make periodic contributions from a checking account. The amount you can contribute in a year is $5,500, or $6,500 for those over 50.

The money you put in has been taxed so there’s no tax on it when withdrawn. The dividends are also tax free when taken out, which is a huge plus. There are hoops to jump through when withdrawing. In general you can withdraw after age 59 and ½ without being taxed or paying a penalty.

An important point: when the balance reaches $15,000 or you have it for 30 years, whichever is first, it must be transferred to regular Roth account. And before that amount is reached funds in the myRA can be transferred to another Roth IRA. Here’s a method to then get cash from the Roth IRA to which you transferred funds: I have a self-managed Roth in which I select the investments. I could transfer funds to from myRA to the regular Roth where it goes into an “available for investment” category. I could then have the broker send me a check.

This is an ideal retirement investment for those entering the labor market, whether it’s flipping burgers, bagging groceries, steaming lattes, or being a corporate lawyer. You can make contributions when you are able. It might be a strain sometimes, but it’s a start. End of lecture

MyRA can also be used by anybody as a safe place to stash some money and get some interest.

The U.S. Treasury has arranged for Comerica Bank to be the custodian for myRA’s. It accepts contributions from checking accounts. But you can’t delete an account once established. The web site states you can have up to five external accounts, but customer service said it’s up to three. Not a deal breaker, but annoying. And because your contributions temporarily go into a Comerica Bank account they can share certain of your information. No charge appears against the account; obviously the U.S. Treasury is paying Comerica a fee. I had no luck in getting Comerica to tell me the fee. I’ll try the Treasury and report back.

To get started:

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Estate Planning: A long list will save me, right?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Matthew Hart column logoFor the last few months I have been talking about the Advance Health Care Directive (AHD).  I covered who will make a good agent and why co-agents can be a bad idea.  Once the agents are specified in the AHD the next piece of information in the directive is a list of things that the agent should do and can’t do.  Some people try and get really exhaustive with their list thinking the doctor will be following it to the letter.

What most people don’t realize is that the list of do’s and don’ts is only for your agent.  The doctor will not be reading the list.  The doctor will be looking at the AHD to find out who is in charge and then will ask your agent what course of action to take.  Therefore, what is most important is whom you put in charge.  Moreover, as medical technology changes, a list of do’s and don’ts may become outdated before you know it.  In addition, as we age the list of do’s and don’ts might radically change.

The point I try and make to my clients is; it is more important to choose a good agent who you communicate with often so that they can execute your wishes around health decisions even in an environment of change.  Next month I will talk about probate.

Matthew Hart is a California Licensed Attorney who is an Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California.  He can be reached at 925-754-2000 or and he has offices in Antioch and Walnut Creek.


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Planning for Your Future: It’s always the spouse…isn’t it?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Matthew Hart column logoBy Matthew M. Hart, Esq.

Last month I introduced readers to the Advance Health Care Directive (AHD), the document attorneys use to specify who will make your medical decisions when you cannot.  When I sit with my clients to discuss the AHD the big decision is who will make the decisions.  If my clients are married they usually choose their spouse.  Are you surprised I didn’t say, “they always choose their spouse?”

Part of my job is to gently help my clients face reality.  Although the spouse seems like the logical choice, what if my clients are in their 80’s and have only been married six months?  What if they have adult children in their 50’s and 60’s?  Sometimes, it will make more sense for that client to let the adult children make those final decisions instead of a new spouse.  What about the spouse who just can’t live without their mate?

When the critical time comes to make that tough decision, will the grieving spouse be able to set aside their emotions to make the decision?  Would it be more practical for an adult child to make that decision?  Although both of these situations are not too common, I have seen circumstances where the spouse wasn’t the best choice. When creating an AHD clients should take an honest look at who can make the final decision.

Next month I will talk about the issues around children and AHD’s.

Matthew Hart is a California Licensed Attorney who is an Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California.  He can be reached at 925-754-2000 or and he has offices in Antioch and Walnut Creek.


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Running Your Money: How to buy toilet paper

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Running Your Money column logoBy Harry Stoll

Ancient Chinese civilizations invented gunpowder, the plow, the printing press, steel making, horse harnesses, porcelain, and much more. Put toilet paper on that list also. This essential item is among the 100 or so non-perishable items in most homes. Here is a troika of buying principles:

Buy the products you like.

Buy them on sale.

Buy them in large quantities.

Of course you don’t want to do anything that wouldn’t be prudent, but you should buy your favorite products. How you decide that is strictly subjective, but you know what products you like, so buy them. Many shoppers decide the house brands are their favorites. Stores are able to buy huge amounts of products from established manufacturers because that lets the manufacturer sell them to the retailer at a lower cost.

One deal—one price. But don’t be fooled into thinking the products are the same; corners could be cut. The only way to find out is to test fly them yourself. I’ve had very good luck with paper house brands from Raley’s and CVS. But it remains that you have to buy the products you like. If the cost is astronomical you might have to lower your standards.

The next thing to do is find what you like on sale. Paper products and personal care products seem to be on sale every week. (I use one of the many Gillette razors and never find their blades on sale. Not fair.) And the markdowns are often huge. Maybe they are just turning a smaller profit and the profit on the usual price is obscene. There is nothing you can do about that. Find what you like and buy it when it’s on sale.

Now, what you do is buy as many of these products on sale as they will let you buy. Sometimes there is a limit, but often it’s within what you can reasonably tote out to the trunk and find storage for in your house. You might have to creative to find space; maybe one of those under-the-bed covered trays would help.

Now a word about Sam’s Club and Costco: Other than the pallet loads you have to buy, I have two problems with them. I can never find out ahead of time what the prices will be, and their regular prices, while admittedly low, are often higher than the same product on sale at CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreen’s, or whatever grocer you shop at.

Coupons drive me crazy. I do snip them out of the Sunday paper but because they only let you buy one or two items I’m not too excited about them. As to those couponing TV shows: if you believe them you’ll believe in Smackdown is a competitive sport.

Shopping for fresh food is another task. Grocery stores usually come out with them on Thursdays. If you have a dedicated cook in your house, E can make use of those ads, but that’s a heavy-duty undertaking and fresh food must be bought about three times weekly.

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