Monthly Archives: March 2014
March 22, 2014 Monthly Open Board of Directors Meeting
by Buz Whelan
The meeting was called to order at 9:32 am and the minutes of the Feb. 22 meeting were approved.
President’s Message: President Al Leslie praised the fishing club for their comprehensive plan to control ice fishing, but said it would not be approved until after the association attorney and our insurance company’s representatives studied and commented on it. He said that the indoor pool temperature, which had fallen to 80 degrees was being raised to 82.
Treasurer’s Report: Treasurer Earl Frank reported that revenues currently exceed our budget by $41,000 primarily due to increases in various fees, resale certificates, permits, and code and public safety citations. Dues collected to date of $1,351,000 (rounded) are over last year’s at this point by $24,000. Over the last 5 months dues collections are $58,000 over the same period last year. In addition, our attorney has collected $156,000 in past due accounts as opposed to $88,000 at this time last year. Last year’s past due collections totaled $131,000 (for 12 months). At this current rate, we will collect approximately $185,000, or 40% better, this year.
Our total operating budget of $1,466,000, excluding depreciation, is under by $86,000, but Frank cautioned that this does include all expenses incurred due to the unusually cold and snowy weather we have recently experienced.
Frank gave some specific examples of budget performance:
1. Administration costs are under budget by $24,000 as salaries and benefits are under budget by some $17,000.
2. Public Safety is under budget by $2,000 as all accounts are close to budgeted amounts.
3. Maintenance is under budget by $25,000 due to favorable variances in salaries and related benefits of $21,000, lake weed control of $5,000 and vehicle supplies and maintenance of $14,000. This is offset by unfavorable variances of $5,000 in trash removal and $12,000 in snow removal.
4. The Community Center is under budget by $47,000 due to favorable variances in salaries and related benefits of $28,000; items related to pool maintenance of $10,000; and heating and supply costs of $8,000.
5. The Emerald Bar & Grill revenue (YTD) is $57,000, while total costs are $77,000 for a net cost of $20,000.
Frank closed by saying our total budget for snow removal is $50,000. We are now at $49,000. Also, our electric bills have almost doubled in the last month. Reserves are at $257,000.
Manager’s Report: Presentations for our audit contract are scheduled for March 25th. The Public Safety tracking system, originally installed in 2009 is being reactivated and the scanning system will be upgraded to give greater scope and definition. In the Bar & Grill, the smoke eater filter, which should be changed quarterly (and has been neglected) costs $600 each. We may have to ban smoking altogether in the bar. We also have to measure our food service to smoking ratio to ensure we meet state standards. An associated problem involving smoking revolves around as yet unsubstantiated reports that smokers often carry alcoholic beverages outside to the smoking shelter, which is forbidden by law, and there may be some consumption of alcohol by minors at that point. It was also reported that the maintenance vehicle damaged by the shed roof collapse is at the body shop and should be returned this coming week.
Committee Reports: Events Chair Stefania Johnson reminded all that May 3rd is Community Cleanup Day and volunteers are being sought. That is also the date of Comedy Night V, featuring host Buz Whelan, and comics Tommy Gooch and Johnny Watson. Both of these comedians appeared last year, killed, and are coming back with all new material. Tickets of $12 in advance will be on sale at the CC beginning Thursday, March 27th. They will cost $15 at the door if any are left. She is coordinating with staff to have all events posted on the official ELA website (www.elainc.org).
Bob Leon reported a revival of the walking club. They will meet in the Pine Tree Beach parking lot on Saturday, March 29th at 2pm.
Board Secretary Carmen Broadnax, liaison to the Real Estate Committee showed a poster the committee prepared and recommends to be posted prominently inside all rental units. It is made up of all Rules and Regulations most pertinent to renters, and especially to short term renters. Committee member Jake Bower, a home owner in Emerald Lakes and landlord in Towamensing Trails reported that Towamensing collects approximately $150,000 annually from rental fees and fines.
Reporting for the Finance and Planning Committee, Buz Whelan said that the committee’s earlier recommendation for a Special Assessment had been removed from the table until more specific cost information for the major projects (CC HVAC and boiler, Pine Tree Lake dam valve and evacuation pipe repair) could be obtained. This should be available by late spring. The committee is recommending to the board that they ask the membership for a $100 annual dues increase, to become effective November 1, 2014, the date of the third quarterly payment. This would increase quarterly payments by $25, with total dues for the 2014/2015 fiscal year of $1050 and $1,100 annually thereafter.
Old Business: Board Secretary Carmen Broadnax reported on the Clause 15 property investigation. These are properties within Emerald Lakes borders whose obligation to the association is unclear. Some are not listed as Emerald Lakes properties on the deeds, and most are not being billed for dues as a result. There has been some legal opinion that they may be obligated to pay some or all of the normal dues since they enjoy many or all of the benefits derived therefrom. A packet has been prepared of a sample of some 45 properties and legal opinion is being sought. There may be many more properties in the Lakes District, the Estates, Jack Frost and possibly Blueberry Estates. Others, including Pat Galderisi have assisted in gathering this information, which is a tedious task involving title searching.
New Business: The board passed three resolutions. Resolution 34 approved the budget submitted by the management team and previously by the Finance and Planning Committee. Members may request a copy for examination and comment by going to the Admin Office during normal business hours prior to its final adoption at the April Open Meeting. Passed unanimously.
Resolution 35 requires that any fire used as a set piece at an event be contained in an outdoor fireplace. Bonfires and fires set in open pits are forbidden. Passed unanimously.
Resolution 36 approved the funding to print the Clause 15 report and send to the attorney for his opinion. Passed unanimously.
Public Comments: Joe Olall asked the treasurer why the Emerald Bar & Grill was costing so much to operate ($20,000 YTD). Both Earl Frank and Brad Jones said that overbuying played a large part and that measures have been taken to correct the condition. Mr. Olall also asked about the doubling of the electric bill. Mr. Jones said we had been on a variable rate and pointed to the fact that statewide this rapid increase in charges was being investigated by the attorney general. He said that we are now on fixed charges, though it was unclear as to how soon they take effect. Olall also suggested that a second budget, one that would show what could be done had we sufficient funds, be prepared as an exemplar. Stefania Johnson suggested that some form of after school program be restored. Kathy Leach commented on severe pot holes on Clearview Drive and Sullivan Trail. She asked whether EL or the township is responsible. Since they are actually inside the boundaries of the community, they are EL’s responsibility.
Buz Whelan (the author of this article) pointed out that an article he wrote for the Emerald News at the request of the Finance and Planning Committee was refused by the Communications Committee. I will write of the details of this incident and discussion in an article to follow. It will be published in this space no later than Wednesday, March 26th.
Sex in the Poconos: Where to Find It
by Buz Whelan
Okay, now that I have your attention let me admit this is not about sex. It’s about the finances of the Emerald Lakes Association, and the news isn’t good. We need more money. Our infrastructure is aging, our amenities need major maintenance, and as of right now, the money just isn’t there.
Many of us, especially those who are long-time members, bought into this community because we wanted to vacation in, or be part of, an amenity-filled community that offered many types of on-site recreation and neighborhood events. We saw the Community Center and the heated indoor pool, we toured the beaches and were shown the outdoor heated pool. We saw tennis and basketball courts and green areas where we could picnic and play lawn sports like volleyball, badminton and others. There were beautiful lakes we could boat on, and fish and swim in. It appeared to be just what we had been looking for and we bought the house or we bought the property and built one. Life would be good. It would come at a cost, but we knew that and we were prepared to pay it.
But there were others who were not interested in the amenities. They found a house they liked at a price they could afford and they bought in. Their main motivation was affordable housing, not opportunities for recreation and partying. They have an entirely different attitude toward the issues facing the association and their main concern is to keep dues low. From that point of view, any attempt to raise dues and justify the request by pointing to needed amenity maintenance is just so much frivolous wasting of money. Is their position the right one?
One of the most common mistakes in evaluating association finances is to point to a balanced budget, such as we currently enjoy, as proof that more money is not needed. But a balanced budget, required by law, is not an indication of sufficient funds.
Over the last 5 fiscal years the boards of directors and the general managers have tried their best to economize. The overall economy has had its well-publicized problems, and Emerald Lakes was not immune to the effects. We tightened our belts. While we had 17 full-time employees in 2007/2008, we now have 9. The outdoor pool was open 7 days a week in season; it is now open 4. The beaches, Pine Tree and Main were both open 7 days a week. Now they alternate weekdays with one or the other being open. We had a youth activities program that cost $100,000 per year complete with a full-time director. That program and its director have been eliminated. In 2007/2008 the Community Center and its indoor pool were open 7 days a week. Now they are open 3½. The compactor was open 5 days a week; now it is open 4. And prior to 2007/2008 we were doing between a mile and a mile and a half of new paving every year. We haven’t done any since; we can only afford to do repair now. The Administration Office was open 6½ days a week while now it is open 5½.
In the area of maintenance we have also economized. We have known for at least 6 years that there is a problem with the Pine Tree Lake dam valve. We have put off fixing it. We know the evacuation pipe is leaking, and DEP will order us to fix it sometime soon, in two to four years, depending on the deterioration rate. Divers will tell us the extent of the problem in the Spring, but we estimate the cost of repair at around $300,000. It could be more, but the estimated cost has been rising over the years. We are wasting energy in the Community Center because we haven’t replaced the aging HVAC system as we should have 8 to 10 years ago. Then, it probably would have cost around $150,000. It will be considerably more when we finally get to it. Meanwhile we will continue paying much more to heat and cool the building than a new system would cost.
Are you still reading this? A certain fatigue would be understandable. But there is even more. The Community Center boiler needs replacing. Much of our maintenance equipment, including vehicles, is past its shelf life. The roof on both the Community Center and the Administration Building are in need of replacement. And so on.
So the budget is balanced. How? We have been living on reduced services and deferred maintenance for the better part of the last decade. Our dues are artificially low. And the membership shows no sign that it wants to pay a fair price to get a first class community. A tipping point either has been reached or is near at hand. That will come, or already has, when those who do not care to live in our type of community outnumber those who do. We may eventually slide into receivership where our bylaws are invalidated and court-appointed administrators decide the dues, just as your property taxes are decided. And property values will plunge.
We have tried initiatives that might have saved us. Approval of a CPI escalator would have provided at least a constant value income. As an example, had such an escalator been approved in 2011, next year’s dues would have been $1,067. Not a huge leap, but enough to keep up. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 the CPI was 2.8%, 2.0% and 1.7%. The only way to keep up with increasing prices, as any shopper knows, is to spend appropriately or buy less. We have been buying less for years. And we’ve been getting less. The time for a dues increase is now. We cannot continue to pretend otherwise.
If all this is depressing, let me say that as dire as our position is, it is not hopeless. The Finance & Planning Committee has considered two alternatives to strengthen our financial position. One is a Special Assessment. As envisioned by committee members, this would require each property to pay $16.67 per month for two years. That would total $400 per property and at our current rate of compliance raise approximately $580,000. This would not solve all our problems, but it would be enough to repair the Pine Tree Dam valve and evacuation pipe. It would also give us the money to replace the aging HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) system in the Community Center. As stated previously, we don’t know the exact cost of either of these projects, but estimates center around a price point of $550,000 (for both). That would leave around $30,000 for equipment replacement or for a new boiler. This initiative has been taken off the table until a more precise estimate of the projects becomes available. By late June we should have a clearer picture.
Alternatively, the F&P Committee is recommending a dues increase of $100. This would raise about $145,000 per year, or half of what the Special Assessment would raise, but it would continue beyond the second year. It would mean that quarterly payments would rise from $250 to $275. We would not be flush with funds, but we would have a much more realistic chance of making needed repairs and replacing aging equipment. It may also help with operational costs, since newer equipment does not need the constant repairs and associated costs that our current physical plant and vehicles require. The recommendation, as passed at the committee’s March 15, 2014 meeting, would – if approved by the membership – become effective on November 1, 2014 when the 3rd quarterly installment of the dues assessment is due. That payment would rise from $250 to $275. The same would be true of the February 1st 2015 quarterly installment. Those who pay their dues in full at the beginning of the fiscal year would have the option of paying $50 on or before November 1st or make quarterly payments of $25 on Nov. 1 and Feb 1. Before the membership can vote on this, however, the board of directors must decide to recommend that vote.
The Best Corned Beef Dinner. Ever.
By Buz Whelan
St. Patrick’s Day is approaching and many people will celebrate with the traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. But there’s another good reason, beyond tradition, for having that fare: smart shopping. All the supermarkets have advertised sales on corned beef this week, so there’s the economical reason for the dinner as well. My wife and I are both Irish-Americans, and though we have corned beef more than once a year, we always have one around St. Patty’s Day. I first started making corned beef this way about 30 years ago, and I haven’t made it any other way since the first time I tasted the result. If you have your own favorite way, fine. But if you’re looking for a foolproof way of preparing the most moist, tender and flavorful corned beef you’ve ever had, try this.
I like to buy a larger brisket. You might have to search a little, because most cuts are about 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds and that’s not big enough for me. I like the piece of meat to be over 4 ½ pounds, 5 or more if I can find one.
First remove all wrapping and place the brisket in a crockpot. Add 4 cans of Bud. Don’t get too cute here. Stronger brews and designer malts can impart undesired flavor. Bud works perfectly, and it’s one of the cheaper beers. To this add ½ of a 1.5 ounce jar of McCormick Pickling Spice. Cover, set the temperature to auto/shift and let it cook about 6 hours. At 6 hours stab the meat with a fork. If it is not tender enough raise the temperature to high and continue to cook for 1 more hour. I generally have my meat on by around 10 in the morning. Once it is finished you can let it rest for 20 minutes on a cutting board, or an hour or more on buffet setting in the crockpot. Slice against the grain to desired thickness. Make sure to use a very sharp knife or the super tender meat will shred.
In a separate pot bring 6 cups of salted water to a boil. Cut a head of cabbage into eighths (simply halve, halve again into quarters and halve the quarters into eighths) and place in the boiling pot. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle generously with fresh cracked black pepper.
Here’s where I veer from the traditional. I find that plain boiled white potatoes are boring. I need a contrast and I get that with a baked sweet potato. The sweetness of the potato contrasts wonderfully with the saltiness of the meat and cabbage. I microwave the sweets for about 5 minutes, then finish in the oven to crisp the skin. Serve whole allowing guests to mash individually and add butter or your favorite butter substitute.
Lagniappe: Corning meat began in the middle ages when there was no refrigeration. It was a means to preserve the meat in barrels over long periods of time. If you buy two or three briskets while they are on sale (for as little as $1.99/lb), you can store them in your refrigerator a long time provided you leave them in their unopened packaging. I’ve kept them as long as 6 months with no noticeable difference.