Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Well-Managed Escrow Account is A Beautiful Thing

A Well-Managed Escrow Account is A Beautiful Thing

I got an email from CitiMortgage this morning notifying me that "On 11/20/2006, tax activity occurred on your mortgage escrow account."

While we got our mortgage in 2003 from locally-owned Pulaski Bank, they sold it almost immediately to Principal Residential Mortgage. Then in 2004, Citigroup bought out PRMI. Ironically, that brought our loan servicing back to the metro St. Louis area, since of course CitiMortgage has a major processing facility in O'Fallon MO.

Some people say you should just pay your real estate taxes and homeowners insurance on your own, and invest the money rather than giving the money to your bank to hold and pay those bills for you. Sorry, I'm just not that disciplined. And realistically, how much return-on-investment can you possibly make on $1,500 per year? If you forget and pay the taxes late, the penalty fees will eat that up immediately.

Just as with payroll tax withholdiing, I think escrow accounts are a necessary inconvenience. But you also have to consider they can increase annually by a substantial amount. We have a 30-year fixed rate conventional loan (we paid 20% down), so our principal + interest will never increase and we don't pay PMI. But that escrow part is one that can increase substantially based on the projected costs of taxes and insurance.

Our taxes went up about 15% between 2004 and 2005 due to reassessment, which I thought was fair. The increase was less than 1% (not even $5) this year, since there was no reassessment this year.

Homeowners' insurance is another story. With no claims, it goes up 10% every year. I hate to think what would happen if we had a claim. And that payment is one that we sure couldn't handle on our own, since it's about double the tax payment, but also happens to be due about the same time as Federal and State income taxes. (We bought our house in April.)

While I have some minor quibbles, the CitiMortgage online payment system works beautifully. Although I didn't choose to use CitiMortgage, I'm generally satisfied so far.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Congratulations to OLGA Winners!

Congratulations to OLGA Winners!

Today was the annual luncheon and meeting of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. Mayor Slay is now chairman of the EWGCOG board, so he and Les Sterman (executive director) traded off the podium.

Events like this are often interesting and useful for observers of the governance process like me.

Just before the luncheon, the latest edition of EWGCOG's "Where We Stand" was unveiled and presented. I'll have to dig into that when I have some free time. ;-)

My reason for being there was to support my former boss and longtime friend, Charles Kindleberger, who was receiving a well-deserved lifetime public service award.

Anyway, here's the list of award recipients at this year's Outstanding Local Government Achievement (OLGA) Awards, an ever-popular program presided over by the awesome Julie Stone.

Successful Intergovernmental Collaboration

East Central Dispatch Center: (PDF) Cities of Clayton, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, Shrewsbury, Webster Groves and Olivette.

St. Louis Metropolitan Heavy Rescue Task Force: St. Louis City Fire Department, City of St. Charles Fire Department, Creve Coeur Fire Protection District, Maryland Heights Fire Protection District, Monarch Fire Protection District, Mehlville Fire Protection District, Metro West Fire Protection District.

Exemplary Accomplishment by a Local Government Individual or Agency

Mayor Robert Lowery (City of Florissant).

Alderman Jerry Daugherty (City of Portage des Sioux).

Wayne Oldroyd (Director of Community Development, City of Maryland Heights -- but also an active member of the American Planning Association Missouri chapter and its St. Louis section, as well as the volunteer planner for the City of Greendale master plan).

St. Clair County Health Department (Kevin Hutchison, director).

Gateway Lifetime Public Service Award

Charles Kindleberger (yay!).
Mayor Glenn Van Leer (City of Union -- also, he brought his mother Viola, who is 101 years old! He's been married to his wife 50 years, and his speech was pretty heartwarming).

Chairman's Award

Joe Ortwerth (outgoing St. Charles County Executive -- and yes, he did mention God quite a bit in his speech. He also offered the "convocation" for the luncheon. Yep.).

John Baricevic (IL 20th Circuit Court Judge -- formerly St. Clair County Board Chairman, absent because he was presiding over a trial).

Anyway, congratulations to all the winners for the work they do -- but especially CPK.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Birthday Birthday Meow!

Birthday Birthday Meow!

So, yeah, my life has been busy the past several weeks.

Highlights include:

1) Back on Oct. 29th, my wife Kelly arranged for a trip to the Museum of Transportation where I was surprised to see friends and family there for my (early) birthday party. That was the last weekend when rides were available on their miniature train (similar to the Zooline railroad) and on their very cool historic trolley car (once owned and operated by the St. Louis City Water Division).

To make it a truly multimodal experience, I rode MetroBus all the way out there (although not back home). I took the #30 Soulard to Sutton and Manchester, then walked one block down Manchester to Big Bend, catching the #56 Kirkwood Webster all the way to my destination, which is served on weekends only.

This was probably my first trip in 15 years to the Museum of Transportation, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

2) I got a Build-A-Bear for my birthday, on Sunday November 5th. I picked a cute little brown puppy, and adorned him with a WashU t-shirt and a cute little orange kitten. My wife Kelly arranged the excursion, and my brother Andrew was in town and came along. (He works for Kroger in Troy MO.)
3) On my birthday (Election Day November 7th), I worked at Monroe School as a technical specialist for the Election Board. But really, I did a lot of election specialist work as well, including finding voters' correct polling places in the book, looking up inactive voters, etc. We were short staffed with only one Republican judge most of the day, and that particular judge was unenthusiastic at best.

The highlight of my day was when alderman Craig Schmid played the trumpet and Democratic committeewoman Lorraine Ura along with some others sang Happy Birthday to me! Now THAT was fun! They kept their distance from the voters; although it happens that was their polling place anyway so both of them got in line at various times.

It was hilarious, because my wife Kelly saw Craig over at our regular polling place (Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer) and mentioned it was my birthday ... then only a half-hour later he showed up with trumpet in hand!

Many other important events have happened in the past few weeks, some fun and others not so fun. But this year at least, my birthday was indeed memorable -- even if I did spend the actual day waking up at 3:15 AM, arriving at the polling place at 5 AM, and not leaving until 7:45 PM, with much work to do in the intervening hours.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Just In Case You Were Wondering...

Just In Case You Were Wondering...

The honorable gentleman in this ad is not me!

Nor is he an immediate family member of mine.

Carry on.