Greetings, Neighborhood Council Treasurers, Board Members, and stakeholders. I hope this week’s newsletter finds you all well.
New ideas, new issues, critical deadlines are happening every week. I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay informed as we roll out the new checking account system.
Neighborhood Council Funding Program Director
IMPORTANT DATES / DEADLINES
· 10 days after your August NC Board Meeting – July Monthly Expenditure Reports due
· September 1, 2014 – Submit your NC Budget Package online
Upcoming Funding Trainings
· September 4, Funding and Ethics Training, Westside 6:00 pm
· September 10, Treasurer’s Roundtable CD 12, Chatsworth – 4:00 pm
· September 20, Congress of Neighborhoods
2014-15 Budget Package – Deadline is September 1!
If I could put this segment in bright flashing letters, I would. This is a critical reminder to PLEASE make sure your Neighborhood Council submits their Board approved budget package by the deadline of September 1, 2014. Remember that this year the submission should be made online, through our website at Empowerla.org (https://empowerla.org/nc-budget-package/).
Any NC that has not submitted a budget package by this deadline will have their funds frozen. Please don’t allow this to happen and contact us right away with any questions, comments, or concerns!
New Email Address
We are not DONE, we are just getting started! To that effect, the Department is updating their primary contact email addresses as follows:
Please update your contact lists accordingly. All email links on our website will also be updated. If you accidentally use the old email accounts, your message will be auto-forwarded to the new inbox for a period of time.
Pre-Approvals for NC Events
Sometimes faster isn’t better. With the NC Checking Account system in place many of you have jumped right on this new process and taken it for a test-drive in ways that presented new challenges to the Funding Program. First off, I would like to say “Thank You!” for your enthusiasm, energy, and commentary on the new processes. We are listening, as I’ve said before. The pre-approval process and funding of NC events have posed a significant challenge. At the same time the Department is rolling out the checking account system, we are also taking a closer look at the procedures and support we give an NC when they host, participate in, sponsor, or co-sponsor an event. As some of you may know through experience, outreach events can potentially pose liability risks to the NC as well as the City if the necessary permits and insurance policies are not procured prior to the event. Kids can hurt themselves in jumpers, dunk tanks can leak and damage floors or gardens, wires and cables can trip people, these things happen!
As such, and as we develop a solid set of procedures to properly address these concerns, we are requesting your assistance by providing us with a minimum of 30 days, advanced notice of your NC’s intent to participate in an event. For the reasons stated above, we need this much time to review the level of involvement your NC will have in an event and what permits, insurance, and other liability concerns need to be addressed. To notify us of your intent to participate in an event, please complete the Funding Request Form, and submit a Board Vote Count Form as well as a detailed budget outlining how the NC will use their funds for the event (e.g. refreshments, entertainment, promotional items, etc.)
We Go Where We’re Needed
The great thing about our Department’s staff is that they have a wide variety of skillsets, and are always at the ready to answer the next call for help. That being said, I’d like to let everyone know that Tom Harvey, the Funding Team’s Management Analyst II, Supervisor, Forms designer, and all around great guy, will be reassigned to the NC Field Operations Division effective Monday, August 22. I’d like to thank him for the hard work, dedication, and positive energy he brought to the Funding team.
Monthly Expenditure Reports
The single most important tool to keep everyone informed about the NC’s financial status, including the Neighborhood Council Board Members, the Stakeholders, and the Department, is the Monthly Expenditure Report (MER). The MER is an accounting log of expenditures for the prior month, as well as a statement to identify funding commitments and budget and cash balances. The Board appointed Treasurer and 2nd Signer complete this report on a monthly basis, for the prior month’s expenditures. This report is presented to the full Board at a regularly scheduled meeting, discussed and approved for submission to the Department no later than 10 days after approval. It is the responsibility of the entire Board to review and ensure that the approved report accurately presents the financial status of the Neighborhood Council.
In-Person Funding Training
The Funding Team will be scheduling additional Checking Account Trainings. The next training is a combined Funding and Ethics Training on September 4, 2014, at 6 pm. It will be held at the Westchester Municipal Building Community Room at 7166 Manchester Ave, Westchester, CA 90045. We will be scheduling additional trainings throughout different areas of Los Angeles to help Treasurers, Signers, and any other interested Board Members navigate the new NC Checking Account System. Please keep an eye out on our EmpowerLA Events calendar, as well as in these newsletters for specific date and location information as it becomes available.
We all know it happens. Sometimes a Treasurer or Signer resigns their position. It could be for personal reasons, workload, responsibilities, moving to another location, we’ve heard it all and understand completely that you can’t always plan for these things. Please rest assured that if your Neighborhood Council finds themselves without a Treasurer, or Signer, or both, the Department is ready to step in and assist you in paying your monthly operational expenses to keep you afloat until you can get new funding officers appointed. Please notify us immediately of any changes to your Treasurers and Signers and we will work with you through the transition period.
Let’s be honest here. We all know people who work really hard, dedicate themselves to helping others, fight for a just cause, or are simply inspiring people in the community to do great things. These people deserve to be recognized publicly. The Neighborhood Council Board meetings are just such an arena for this sort of recognition, however, when it comes to the use of public funds, Neighborhood Councils must be careful. As harmless as a small plaque or trophy may seem, the purchase of those items using NC funds (i.e. public funds) is prohibited and considered a gift of public funds. As an alternative to a trophy or a plaque, the NC would be permitted to print out certificates with their NC logo, publicly commending the individuals, without being in violation of any rules or regulations on public funds. Not sure if what you’re considering would be problematic? Call us. We’ll help you.
NC Checking Account Replenishment
With the birth of the NC Checking Account System, the Funding Team has been looking at ways to make the process as simple and seamless as possible. We have had about a month now to look at Cash Request Form submissions from various NC’s and have seen the pros and the cons of this process. In order to eliminate what may sometimes feel like an additional, routine and unnecessary step in the funding of the NC accounts, at the beginning of each month, Funding Staff will be replenishing each NC’s account to the $4,000 seed money balance. This is, of course contingent on many things. If the NC has a current balance of over $4,000, no additional funds will be added. If the NC is not current on their Monthly Expenditure Reports we will not automatically add more funds into the account. If the NC’s funds have been frozen for other reasons (exhaustive efforts, etc.), we will not automatically add more funds into the account. The Department will notify the Treasurer and Signer of any NC Checking Account whose funds are replenished automatically.
The Cash Request Form will still be available to the Treasurer and Signer if they need to add additional funds to the account. These will be processed and funds will be made available in the 3-4 day turnaround time mentioned in previous articles.
Split Charges Defined
Split charges are transactions that are intentionally split into multiple charges in order to circumvent transaction limits set by the Department. This practice is disallowed by the Funding Guidelines as explained in the Funding Training. The NC Checking Account bank card has a combined maximum daily limit of $500 (provided funds are available in the account). The cardholder cannot use the bank card to charge more than this amount without requesting an exception from the Department. The Bank Card Request for Exemption can be accessed from our Funding page.
Office Depot Discounts
Some of our more experienced and savvy Treasurers and Cardholder already know this drill. When they receive a new card, they call Office Depot to request that the City of Los Angeles’ discount rates be linked to their new cards. As a courtesy, and to ensure that every cardholder with the NC Checking Account is taking advantage of this discount, the Funding Team has coordinated with Office Depot to link all new cards to the discount. Cardholders, please ensure that when using your card at Office Depot, you ask the cashier to run it as a charge, not a debit, or else the discount will not be applied. If you have any problems with your card or the discount, as always, please contact the Funding Team.
Union Bank Support – It All Starts Here
We’ve had the opportunity already to troubleshoot a couple of accounts that had some technical errors and glitches. Although we appreciate the initiative taken by some Treasurers and cardholders to seek out assistance directly with Union Bank (either at a physical bank, or by calling their customer support line), this may not always get them the right answer. The reason is that the NC Checking Account System has a dedicated contact with Union Bank that is now very familiar with these checking accounts and the particular rules and framework under which we operate. For any troubleshooting, please start with the Funding Team. We will contact the dedicated Union Bank rep for any issue we can’t handle and get you a resolution that will work for you. Of course, in an emergency, or when Department staff is not available (weekends, etc.) you are encouraged to call the Union Bank customer service reps to report lost or stolen cards, place stop payments on checks, or request other such critical actions. Please follow up with the Department as soon thereafter as possible so we can assist you.
Funding Request Form – Pre Approval Checklist
Possibly one of the hottest topics with the new NC Checking Account System is how to use the Funding Request Form (FRF). When is it needed? When should the NC submit the form to the Department for Pre-Approval before issuing a payment? The answer to the first question is, always. Every expense issued from the NC Checking Account should have a Funding Request Form that has been completed for review and approval by your Board. Now the second question is trickier, since not every FRF requires pre-approval. In order to assist you with figuring out which requests need pre-approval, we have developed a checklist that will show you those categories of expenses, along with the documentation that should be submitted with the FRF. Remember, our new processing and turnaround time is 3-5 business days, before you are notified of the approval to pay out a vendor. For the checklist, please click here.
What About those Auto-Deducts?
As of July 1st, the Funding team has been working on contacting both the vendors as well as the Neighborhood Councils who regularly had their monthly operational costs sent to, and paid by the Department directly out of their appropriation accounts. The vendors have been notified to redirect all future invoices to the NC’s mailing address, and in turn, any invoices we received have been forwarded to the Treasurer/2nd Signers for them to pay out of the NC account. If for whatever reason the NC does not yet have access to their checking account (eg. Newly appointed Treasurer, etc.) the Department will pay your invoices on your behalf out of the NC account and provide that information on our Check Tracker worksheet.
NC Checking Account Core User’s Guide
As part of our commitment to making the new checking account system easier to manage and navigate, the Funding team has released a new, quick hits guide. This 3 page document gives you the bare bones, need-to-know information on how to get access to your account, how to pay your bills, how to report expenses to the board, and a list of acceptable and disallowed expenditures. We hope this will give you the confidence to get up and running as soon as possible, but as always, when in doubt, please contact us for additional guidance.
Cash Request Form
Let’s talk about the Cash Request form. This is the simplest form of the new checking account system and it is used by the NC Treasurer or Signer when additional funds need to be added to your checking account. The Department deposited $4,000 seed money into each NC account in early July to get you going with funds to cover your operational expenses. If you need additional funds deposited into the account, you use the Cash Request Form to make that happen. All the Department needs is the form, completely filled out and signed by the Treasurer and 2nd Signer, and that’s it. No supporting documents, no invoices, flyers, permits, W-9’s, etc. are required for approval. So long as the form is complete, the NC is current on their MER’s, and their funds aren’t frozen, the Department will process your request and your funds will be deposited in 2-3 business days.
Union Bank Account Documents
In order for your NC to have a bank account opened, you must ensure that your Treasurer and 2nd Signer have completed all the necessary Union Bank documents. If you’ve had a change in Treasurer or 2nd Signer, you must complete new bank account documents by contacting the Funding Team right away.