Moore proposes slashing sewer rates in Jeffersonville

“The residents of Jeffersonville have been placed with a heavy burden for the last several years,” Moore said.

Sewer rate increases — which will have jumped 200 percent by the end of 2015 — were enacted to pay for an interceptor pipe built underground that will reduce the amount of sewage that overflows into the Ohio River.

The average monthly bill will go from about $24 at the time of the first increase to $73 next year, about a 200 percent jump. Rate increases have been a point of contention among residents.

The city signed a consent decree, or binding agreement, with the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 to mitigate sewer overflows by 2025. Failure to comply would result in a slew of fines. The highest fine would cost the city $12,000 per day after 10 days of noncompliance for every sewer discharge.

“Either fix the problem or cut the sewer rates,” Moore said. “I do not think it’s fair to impose sewer bill increases on people when the money that’s being collected is not going towards what it was meant to be going towards.

“In a nutshell, the residents deserve a break.”

Waste Water Department Utility Manager Len Ashack said that Moore would have the authority to draft an ordinance to lower sewer rates — but it may result in breaking the EPA consent decree.

“It would take away any ability to pay for the interceptor project,” Ashack said of cutting bills by 20 percent.

Moore accused the city council and sewer board — of which he is one of three members — of delays to review Jeffersonville’s financial situation for a project that was initially projected to be complete by 2017, he said.

“Sometimes government moves very slow. I understand that,” he said. “Financial analysis needs to be done. It’s been done. You don’t get to study things for a year.”

Moore also attributed delays to the council, citing its two-month process to finalize plans for development at 10th and Spring streets to wait for quotes on part of a pipe that would go underneath the property.

But sewer board member Dale Orem said that the city council is not at fault.

“It’s the sewer department that has slowed things down to make sure that we can pay for this thing and that we can get it bonded.”

The department also wants final construction estimates to come in before it seeks a $34 million bond that the state has reserved for the Jeffersonville.

Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz, Inc., is the engineering firm tasked with designing the entire interceptor project and is about 80 percent finished.

“I think everybody wants to see the 100 percent [designs], but this can be done in phases,” Moore said.

A DIFFERENCE IN FINANCIAL OPINIONS

The sewer board has hired two financial advising companies to determine whether the sewer department can afford to pay back bonds on the project, taking into account revenue from the sewer increases.

Umbaugh and Associates determined in June that the city would be able to pay off bonds over the next five years of a 20-year repayment plan.

“If Umbaugh and Associates, the foremost recognized state financial advisor says the city of Jeffersonville can move forward and complete this project, that’s all I need to hear,” Moore said. “The money is there. We can do it.”

Umbaugh calculated its report from earlier estimates of $37 million, but Moore said he still feels comfortable the difference in $7 million can be covered by “the fees that are already there.”

The sewer rate increase fees were calculated to cover $33 million in sewer work based on estimates in 2008. Orem said that it’s normal for cost estimates to fluctuate, especially now that market prices for materials have been driven up by demand from the Ohio River Bridges Project.

“You never know the cost of a project until it’s bid,” he said.

But Orem said the current estimates are higher than he thought they would be.

“Nobody ever dreamed at that time that this thing would cost $44 million,” Orem said. “It’s a shock to everybody.”

Moore said he is still confident that the city can pay for the project.

“Umbaugh is still very comfortable with that,” Moore said, mentioning he had reached back out to their advisers when estimates went up.

Umbaugh included annual drainage fees of $1.4 million in its determination but did not include drainage expenses of $1.3 million leaving the department with a net revenue of $100,000 a year, Orem said.

Orem said he trusts the reports of the second contracted company Sycamore Advisors that is considering Jeffersonville’s ability to pay bonds out to 2034. Sycamore is not including drainage funds or unknown numbers, such as revenue from predicted growth at River Ridge Commerce Center.

Orem said that Sycamore president Diana Hamilton headed the state revolving fund banking system in Indiana for 10 years — the same department that Jeffersonville is looking to bond from.

“She works in nine states and has done outstanding work,” he said.

LOOKING AHEAD

Hamilton told the sewer board and members of the city council last week that the city would have to increase sewer rates even further to pay out bonds.

City Councilwoman Connie Sellers said that she and at least four other members would not vote to increase rates again.

Instead, she supports looking at alternatives other than the interceptor pipe to comply to the consent decree.

“Let’s change it and make it work a different way if we can if it’s less expensive,” Sellers said.

She said the first round of sewer increases were an unfunded mandate because the EPA was forcing the city to come up with a way to fund the project. The mayor’s proposal to scale back isn’t feasible, she said.

“We can’t lower our rates anyway because it has to be fixed one way or another,” Sellers said.

Orem said that nobody wants another rate increase, and both he and Ashack support looking for other sources of revenue.

“How can we build this project within the sewer rate that we have set?” Orem said.

Powered By Make Money

IBM aims to profit from Jeopardy!-winning computer

About 10 months after creating an independent business unit for Watson, IBM is still figuring out how to derive significant revenue from the computing system into which it plans to invest at least $1 billion.

What gained fame in 2011 as a Jeopardy!-winning supercomputer is now analytic software that the company is aggressively marketing in a range of industries: health care, retail, financial advising and even cooking, among others. Last week, the company formally opened Watsons headquarters in New York Citys so-called Silicon Alley, the start-up dense neighborhood that will serve as a base for several hundred employees. Their mission is to refine a system that mines large volumes of information, processes natural speech and answers queries.

Powered By Make Money

Universal credit’s flaws exposed by tenants as system forces some to pay day …

A North West housing association has said a survey of its tenants has exposed flaws in the governments universal credit (UC) system, with some of those using it forced to turn to pay day lenders to get by.

One of four initial pilots in 2013s roll out of UC, First Choice Homes Oldham (FCHO) found that their tenants had suffered multiple frustrations and complications with the new system, with some saying it had forced them to face stark choices over heating or eating.

However, the Deparment for Work and Pensions has called the survey mis-leading and not reflective of the true situation.

Carried out via a telephone survey this summer, the data collected from 40% of FCHOs tenants currently on UC found that:

bull; 55% found the period between making their UC claim and receiving their first payment very difficult. 44% managed financially by borrowing and 18% had taken out a pay day loan.
bull; 74% had not been offered personal budgeting support by the Department for Work and Pensions. However, 57% of the tenants that were offered this service took up the offer.
bull; 48% did not know they could apply for an advance payment for UC.
bull; 43% who did know about this were informed too late to be able to claim advanced payment or said that their application took too long to process leading to them missing their deadline.
bull; 37% did not receive their payment on the same day each month, making budgeting even more difficult.
bull; 22% said the Job Centre had not informed them that their rent needed to be paid out of UC money.
bull; 59% of tenants had not found work since claiming UC.

When asked by FCHO to name the first three bills that would be paid once they were in receipt of UC, 19% of tenants did not name rent as a priority bill.

Many tenants said that they had to choose between which bills to pay and some said that they would have to choose between food and heating or water and electricity.

The survey also asked tenants for suggestions on how UC could be improved UC. Suggestions included:

bull; Rent being paid directly to the landlord.
bull; Improved contact with claimants tenants have struggled to pay to talk to UC teams due to the cost of phone calls and would like an email alternative or a freephone number. Tenants added that the call centre was disconnected from their problem as it wasnt in the local area.
bull; The Job Centre should loosen requirements as some tenants have had to apply for unrealistic jobs eg a job in Salford which started at 2am with claimants reliant on public transport.
bull; Credit payment should be made fortnightly rather than monthly. Despite the government aim of making payments monthly to replicate work many tenants got paid weekly or fortnightly in previous jobs and therefore it did not replicate the work that tenants were likely to get.

Reducing the time between making a claim for UC and the first payment. Many tenants were forced into debt by this wait. Some had to use food banks but found this lsquo;demeaning.

Defending UC, a DWP spokesman said: This is a mis-leading survey of only 27 people and does not reflect what we are seeing on the ground. Paying housing benefit directly to claimants is a major culture change designed to move people into the world of work. We know people are adjusting to this over time, with the vast majority of people saying they are coping well with direct payments.

The National Housing Federation has acknowledged that we have delivered real service improvements with increased support to help people adjust to budgeting, including our Jobcentre Plus work coaches discussing budgeting support with all claimants at their first interview.

Cath Green, FCHOs chief executive, said: We knew UC was going to hit customers hard which is why we have had a raft of initiatives and customer support in place since well before the pilot started.

However, this survey really shows the harsh realities of the new system, and the stark choices our customers have to make between heating, eating and paying their rent. We have been working with the Job Centre, and will continue to do so to ensure this feedback is taken on board. Supporting our customers and ensuring they have a roof over their heads remains our priority.

Powered By Make Money

County government to undergo evaluation

The fiscally challenged Luzerne County government is about to undergo an evaluation aimed at finding inefficiencies and improving operations for the next five years.

The county has hired Public Financial Management, a nationwide financial advising firm, to conduct the assessment using a $147,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development along with $20,000 in local match funding, county Manager Robert Lawton said during a public forum Tuesday evening.

The study is important now because the county is operating under a two-year-old home-rule charter and changes that might not have happened previously could be possible, he said.

Dean Kaplan, managing director at the firm, said “a lot has changed” since his firm completed previous studies in 2004 and 2009, and that by updating the county’s budget projections from 2015 through 2019, the firm hopes to make recommendations that could cut costs and improve efficiency.

Several members of the audience questioned the extent to which recommendations from the previous reports had been adopted and whether anything had changed.

“Clearly there were some very good suggestions that weren’t followed,” former Luzerne County controller Walter L. Griffith Jr. said.

Kaplan said one of the first things the firm intends to do is determine which previous recommendations were implemented. He also noted that the previous reports were completed under the commissioner form of government and that the county manager now has power over daily operations.

“You now have a manager with enhanced powers to do certain things,” Kaplan said.

The report will detail projected savings and costs, and that as a result it will be “self-enforcing,” Lawton said.

“If we don’t implement the recommendations, that’s where the accountability will be,” Lawton said. “I didn’t bring them in here to ignore them and put the report on the shelf.”

The report is expected to be finished early next year.

570-821-2058, @cvjimhalpin

Powered By Make Money

4 Tips for Navigating Open Enrollment for Insurance

When open enrollment season for insurance arrives, youll face a wider range of choices than ever before — especially with a second round of enrollment for the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges starting in November.

Heed this expert advice: Do your homework.

When shopping for a plan, start with the basics of what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to pay for, says Michael McMillan,Executive Director of Market and Network Services at Cleveland Clinic. Then make your selection carefully so you get what you’re paying for, he adds.

To help you navigate enrollment — either on health insurance exchanges or elsewhere — McMillan offers the following helpful tips:

1. Know what services are covered under a selected plan

Start by reviewing what each particular plan offers. For example, what does the network of care providers look like? What services are most important to you based on your particular health needs or conditions, and are they available within a plan’s coverage?

“This will be a period of great change, and consumers will have a lot of options they haven’t had before on the exchanges,” McMillan says. “It’s important to be clear on what’s available and what isn’t.”

2. Make sure your providers are part of the network

When choosing plans, this is a major factor. Look at any given plan to see if your doctors and hospitals you use regularly are listed as network providers.

One evolving trend has been for health plans to create narrow networks — smaller versions of their standard network that help them achieve a lower price. The bottom line: Not all providers are included in these limited networks, so it’s worth your effort to check first and make sure your new plan includes the doctors and other practitioners you see regularly, McMillan says.

Look at any given plan to see if your doctors and hospitals you use regularly are listed as network providers.

3. Know your out-of-pocket costs

These are costs associated with the care received. They include things such as deductibles — the amount you pay before coverage kicks in — as well as copays and coinsurance on services. Out-of-pocket costs vary by the “metal” level of plan you choose on a health insurance exchange. So, for example, you would pay 40 percent of costs of coinsurance in a bronze plan, and 30 percent for silver.

In some high-deductible health plans, the first several thousand dollars will be your responsibility, too. For your personal budgeting and planning, it’s critical to know how much money you’ll have to pull out of your pocket when you go to the doctor, to the hospital, to the medical lab or for any other health service, McMillan notes.

4. Understand how your monthly premium works

Premiums are the monthly payments you make for your insurance coverage. Because the benefits for most plans, both on and off the exchanges, have become standardized, it should be fairly easy to make apples-to-apples comparisons among plans.

“You should be able to compare premium amounts, how much you pay every month for the service,” McMillan advises. However, your personal premiums may vary depending on your own circumstances — including whether you’re single or married, a smoker or a nonsmoker, and other factors.

2015 open enrollment for health insurance exchanges starts Nov. 15, 2014 and lasts until Feb. 15, 2015. Open enrollment periods for insurance plans outside of exchanges vary. No matter which path you pursue, learn as much as possible about your plan options before you buy, and you’ll end up with coverage that suits your needs as a result. 

Powered By Make Money

Pam Gencarella: Context Is What’s Needed – Part I

This is the first in a two-part series OSTPA will present to provide context for two types of state-wide referenda that you will be voting on this November. Referendum questions are usually an after thought for many voters. It is our contention that the decision to further indebt our state or the decision to hold a Constitutional Convention should not be a vacuous check mark on the ballot, there must be a frame of reference when making these decisions. Make no mistake about it, they will affect your every day financial lives. Part I provides context for the bond referenda (questions #4 – #7). Part II will provide context for the Constitutional Convention referendum (question #3).

The Credit Card.

Have you received your Voter Information Handbook yet? It purports to be a guide to state referenda. The problem is, when it provides you with information regarding bond issues, there is no context. Virtually everyone knows that RIs economy is one of, if not, the worst in the country. But one might think that after reading the voter handbook, its okay because the government will issue more debt to make it better.

Did you realize that this will be the third election cycle where the state has asked you to approve over $300 million in additional debt (principal and interest)? In 2010, voters approved $309 million, in 2012 we approved another $308 million and this year, we are asked to approve another $370 million. That would be a total of $1 billion approved in just 5 short years! If you are game for more taxes or if you have no children or grandchildren living in the state, then you probably wont twitch at that number. But if you expect to be able to afford to live in this state or you want your children or grandchildren to have the opportunity to live here, you must recognize that, given the state of our economy, this additional debt would only ensure that our kids would either be saddled with significantly higher taxes or they will be forced to move out of this state.

So when you are standing there, all alone in your voting booth, trying to make a decision about whether you should approve the more than one-third of a billion dollars in debt that the state is asking from you this year, consider the following:

Our own government projects that RI does not have enough money to pay for things they have already approved. Its right there in black and white in our 5 year plan. Your elected officials have actually budgeted to be $1 billion in the red by the end of the next 5 years. Is that an indication that we should add more debt?

RIPEC (RI Public Expenditure Council) reports that as of 2014, RI ranked 10th highest in the country in per capita debt. But more telling is that, as a percent of personal income, RIs debt is nearly 70% higher than the US median.

You should also know that, according to RIPEC, RI ranks as the 3rd highest in spending on general debt interest (per $1,000 of income). No surprise there.

So What is the Government Asking of You?

Question #4 will ask you to approve $183 million more in debt to build an engineering school for URI. Now, who isnt proud of the wonderful flagship university in our state? But we need to decide if this debt issue is a lsquo;nice to have or a lsquo;necessity. You and I do that every day when we make our personal budgeting decisions. The Providence Business News talks about the inconvenience of students having to traipse across the campus to get from one building to another. Or that URI lost 2 faculty members to other universities because of better facilities. Sorry, but RI is kind of in a financial crisis right now and the cure to the inconvenience appears to be less important than our state remaining afloat.

To put this bond issue in context, is it right that there is no money to maintain our primary and secondary public schools where 142,000 children attend? Many schools are so dilapidated as to pose a health risk to the students and teachers. Yet, the state would pay a total of $183 million for improvements in efficiency for a handful of students, where potentially half of whom are from out of state and some number of those in-state students will leave to find jobs outside the state. A lsquo;nice to have or a lsquo;necessity?

Question #5 will ask you to approve $52 million for creative and cultural spending. Against a backdrop of $1 billion in deficits, a lsquo;nice to have or a lsquo;necessity?

Question # 6 will ask you to approve $52 million for mass transit hub infrastructure. Which would be great, if there were an economy to speak of and the demand to move people around in order to get back and forth to work were high. How about we consider that once unemployment reaches the middle of the pack in the country?

Question # 7 will ask you to approve clean water, open spaces and healthy community spending to the tune of $78 million. Juxtapose that against crumbling RI highways and bridges, unfunded expenses to maintain the new Sakonnet Bridge, and the debt the state has already racked up in past years to fund current expenses. Yet our elected officials are asking for local recreation grants and renovations at Roger Williams Zoo. Again, lsquo;nice to have or lsquo;necessity?

As RIPEC stated in its review of the states Budget Outlook, Debt Position, and 2014 Ballot Initiatives , unless the states structural deficit is resolved, the state will continue to have to choose between making investments in its future and relying on short-term financial fixes and one-time solutions. Nothing has changed. It is still the case today. The General Assembly continues to spend with impunity and burden its taxpayers with more debt.

Whats a Voter to do?

A Narragansett resident recently wrote an editorial in The Providence Journalon the issue of adding more debt. She summed it up perfectly. lsquo;Every year they spend more than they can collect in taxes requiring a continuous increase in taxes and fees. We have become accustomed to hearing that they need more money every year – something reminiscent of my kids in their teenage years. No one is even talking about stopping the financial madness. A no vote on the bonds is the only way we can show our displeasure at their financial mess; conversely, a yes vote condones their misbehavior.

Perhaps a 30,000 foot view would be that the money would be better spent investing in an economic plan, one that restructures our tax system to incentivize the creation of new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses. Consider whether generating new, permanent, good-paying jobs is a better approach to investing in RIs future over creating more debt for what might very well be considered luxuries in the current economic climate.

Powered By Make Money

Home Depot offers customers free credit monitoring in wake of data breach

PROVIDENCE, RI – Home Depot has offered to provide free identity protection services to customers who used a payment card at one of its US stores since April.

The company sent out an e-mail message to customers following a break-in to their computer network.

“On September 8, 2014, we confirmed that our payment data systems have been breached, which could potentially impact customers using payment cards at our US and Canadian stores,” the company said.

“On September 18, 2014, we confirmed that the malware used in the breach has been eliminated from our US and Canadian stores and that we have completed a major payment security project that provides enhanced encryption of payment data at point of sale throughout our US stores, offering significant new protection for customers. “

“There is no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised or that checks were impacted. Additionally, there is no evidence that the breach has impacted stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at HomeDepot.com. “

The company said its offer of free identity protection services includes credit monitoring for up to one year. Customers can sign up here: https://homedepot.allclearid.com/

On Twitter:
@TimothyBarmann

Powered By Make Money

Why we all stand to benefit from the SEC lifting its gag order on financial …

While you might view this news only as a harbinger of increased volume in financial advisor ads and emails, the move actually has the potential to overhaul a traditionally treacherous consumer service for the better. By allowing financial advisors to engage with reviews, the SEC has essentially enabled reviews to gain traction in the industry.

There are a number of reasons why we stand to benefit from this new, more transparent landscape:

1. We aren’t too financially savvy

About 41 percent of us spend more than we make, 56 percent don’t have an emergency fund, and 30 percent borrow from non-bank lenders. The average household also has roughly $7,000 in credit card debt and one in 12 American households are unbanked. In short, we could all use some sound financial advice.

2. Not all financial advisors are trustworthy

Fraud is one of the most common types of consumer complaints levied with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and there are innumerable examples of shady financial advisors swindling customers. Without an active review community, it was difficult to distinguish trustworthy financial advisors from those with a checkered past.

3. We love reviews

About 64 percent of consumers search for reviews when shopping for a product or service, according to the e-commerce company Fortune3, and that number is even higher — 84 percent — among millennials. The ability to use tried-and-true comparison shopping techniques when searching for financial advisors will certainly lead to better outcomes.

Reviews also stand to benefit the best financial advisors a great deal. Not only will consumer feedback help distinguish the bad apples from the good, it will also boost the bottom lines of those who are well regarded by the people with whom they’ve worked.

For example, one study from Cornell University found that a hotel can increase prices by 11 percent and still retain all of its business if its average customer rating increases by one star. Another study from Harvard Business School discovered that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating increased its revenue by between 5 percent and 9 percent.

So at the end of the day we all benefit. Let us then raise a glass to the SEC for bringing transparency to the financial advising field and, hopefully, future prosperity to us all.

Powered By Make Money

Caliber Home Loans Set to Acquire Cobalt Mortgage

Powered By Make Money

FHA home loans play important role for buyers in local housing markets

An FHA home loan is a great option for buyers who need financing to purchase a home. In fact 1 in 5 buyers use FHA financing to purchase a home today. With its minimum down payment requirement of only 3.5%, easier qualifying rules, and flexible loan programs which also allow co-signers, FHA is helping many buyers finance a home who may have not been able to otherwise. Regular Union Tribune contributor and local mortgage specialist Michael Deery with Citywide Financial, explains the benefits of using FHA financing and answers some frequently asked questions.

What is the FHA?

FHA stands for Federal Housing Administration. The FHA is the largest insurer of mortgages in the world, insuring over 34 million properties since its inception in 1934. The FHA does not “make” the loan – it insures the loan for the lender.

What is FHA mortgage insurance?

FHA mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) are premiums you’ll pay at closing, and in the monthly mortgage payment, to insure your lender’s loan against default. The amount of FHA MIP paid is linked to the size of your down payment, and the length of your loan.

Homeowners making a down payment of 10% or more and financing with a 15-year mortgage pay the least amount of FHA MIP. Homeowners making the minimum down payment of 3.5% and using a 30-year loan, will pay the most FHA MIP. Under new FHA rules, if you put down less than 10%, you will pay FHA MIP for the life of the loan.

How do I cancel FHA mortgage insurance?

If you put down less than 10%, you will pay FHA MIP for the life of the loan, so the only way to cancel it would be to refinance out of the FHA and into a conventional loan. If you put down more than 10%, FHA MIP will cancel after 11 years.

What credit score is required for FHA?

Most lenders only require a credit score of 580 to qualify for a FHA loan. The FHA is not as credit score driven as conventional financing, so for example, a buyer with a credit score of 640 will usually qualify for the same mortgage rate as a buyer with a 700 credit score.

What down payment is required for an FHA loan?

Most FHA loans only require a 3.5% down payment. The 3.5% is calculated against your home’s purchase price. For example, if you purchase a home for $400,000, $14,000 is the minimum down payment due. TIP: We can also give a FHA buyer a 3% lender credit to cover ALL their closing costs. Make sure to ask me how you can qualify for this lender credit to help pay all your closing costs too.

Is there a maximum loan amount I can qualify for?

FHA offers financing based on county loan limits. For example, in San Diego, FHA buyers can get 3.5% down payment financing up to a loan of $546,250, or $625,000 in Los Angeles and Orange County, and $355,350 in Riverside and San Bernardino. Please note that interest rates are better for loans under $417k which are known as conforming loans, and rates are higher for loans >$417k, as these are considered FHA jumbo loans.

Powered By Make Money