November 1, 2014 Monthly Open Meeting
Our board has been very busy in the last month, working on all the issues and concerns that come with running our community. These include, but are not limited to, the membership review, the condition of the roads, the excessive legal fees we have incurred this year, rental restrictions within the community, the replacement of the maintenance building, and the expenses of the Emerald Bar and Grill. Much information was given throughout this month’s meeting about each of these topics. Rather than skip back and forth to each topic, I will present each separately and then list the other issues that were brought up.
Upon the disclaiming of the audit at our Annual Meeting, the general membership has become aware of the discrepancy between who we have listed as our members and what the county records show. The Board is working with the attorney to reconcile these. Brad Jones reported that the Attorney Hoffman could not meet the October 31st deadline for his opinion on the membership review, and was requesting an additional two weeks to complete his research. Hoffman would be willing to attend the November 14th meeting in person (at no additional charge) to answer questions and clarify concerns. Diane Caldwell clarified that the delay was due to information that is not available online but only at the courthouse. Jones felt that having the lawyer present would be a good idea since he could answer their questions and concerns directly at the meeting. The Board voted 5-2 to accept the attorney’s request.
Before approving the audit, Buz Whelan wanted to clarify for the membership the meaning of the “disclaimed” audit. He explained that although the auditors chose to disclaim this year’s audit, they did so because of the discrepancy between the county records and our records, and that they found no irregularities or difficulties in obtaining the information needed to perform the audit. When describing certain “misstatements” in our records, they were referring to their preferences in the way we record certain information. Each auditor has preferences for the way information is recorded, but these are not necessarily right or wrong. Whelan wanted to stress that this disclaimer was not an indication of any wrongdoing on anyone’s part. Brad Jones noted that all 7 recommendations of the auditors were resolved. The treasurer’s report by Buz Whelan included an example of one of the changes and how it effects our budget. He reported that the Administration department has exceeded its YTD budget by $61k, but explained that part of the difference may be attributed to changes in the way we record our collections accounts. Previously, we would not count the attorney’s collection fees as income since we never actually see this money (he is paid by the delinquent account holder as part of the collection fees). Our new auditor would like to see that money recorded as income and then the fees portion as an expense to the lawyer. The resolution to approve the audit passed.
Road Repair and Maintenance
Brad Jones, Robert Lauri and Bob Leon completed a road survey and developed a plan for road maintenance. Robert Lauri addressed two main issues at the meeting; grading and plowing. He supplied the audience with pictures from the road survey showing alligator cracks, seams and potholes. Mr. Lauri said that the water that collects in the roadways causes the cracks and then our current plowing procedures rip up the uneven asphalt. He warned that the weather here ensures that we will always have road issues and that the goal is to preserve the safety of our members and the integrity of our roads for as long as possible. Their plan is to complete “scalping” of the edges of all the roads to direct the water away from the roads. “It’s going to be ugly,” he said, “but it has to be done. Without proper drainage, our roads are doomed.” He assured everyone that the grass and weeds would grow back quickly, and that our roads would be better for it. He also stressed that they must work to communicate to the membership what is being done and why. Lauri would also like to seal the seams in the roads (but not the alligator cracks; he believes those are beyond saving).
The plowing portion of the plan includes marking unpaved roads and adding and using shoes on the plows set above the ground to avoid tearing up the roads. He said that training the plow operators in proper “pushback” procedures will also help ensure that the snowmelt drains off of the roads.
Lauri turned the subject over to Brad Jones who recommended that the Board approve the community-wide grading project. He had one bid for $2,340 per day (using our staff to supplement the work by cleaning up and carrying out the materials removed by the scalping), with a worst-case estimate of 3 miles per day completed. He stated this would cost at most $28k, which would come from funds already budgeted for the roads. After some discussion about other companies to solicit for bids, Lauri made a motion to accept up to $30k in expenses for this project. The motion passed 6-0 (June Solla left the meeting early for an emergency). Since the roads were being addressed, Diane Caldwell interjected a plea on behalf of the Blueberry Estates residents for management to contact Pocono township regarding the roads in that area. She said there are potholes the size of the conference room tables there and no one will work on the roads. George Haab added that Powderhorn Drive also has enormous potholes that should be addressed.
In his treasurer’s report, Buz Whelan expressed his concern with our mounting legal fees. Whelan pointed out that our other attorney’s fees (not the collections attorney) are a large part of the increased expenses in the Administration department. The Association has spent $29k on legal opinions from our attorney in just the past 5 months. Compare that to the previous year when we spent only $6,500 for the whole year. He presented examples of advice solicited on issues that he felt could have been handled in-house by the Board and Management. They include:
$1,771 for advice on creating an absentee balloting policy for which we still have no amendment.
$1,475 for an opinion on handling social media (i.e. the unofficial Facebook page) which determined that they were unlikely to prevail in any attempts to stop the use of this page.
$1,628 for advice on member’s requests for Association documents and records.
$2,624 for an opinion on rental restrictions for the community for which the lawyer said were all unlikely to withstand any legal challenge.
Whelan said that the directors need to commit to a willingness to make many of these decisions to stem the rising legal costs. He said that abdication of a director’s responsibility by sending all these decisions to the lawyer is too expensive for us all. His suggestion is to move forward on these kinds of decisions and, if a legal challenge is presented, those would be covered by our insurance. Joseph Olall questioned Whelan’s argument by reminding him that board members are not lawyers and in fact, one of the first actions of Mr. Whelan’s former presidency on the Board was to fire an employee who then sued the association. Olall suggested that, with legal counsel, the cost of that challenge could have been avoided. Whelan stated that the only cost was to meet that employee’s contracted requirement of 30 days notice, which a lawyer’s advice would have warned us about, but the opinion itself would have cost us additional money.
In his Director’s comments, Whelan used the last example above to express his desire to make ELA an rental friendly community. He and Director Diane Caldwell are working on developing ways to increase the community’s income from rentals. Rather than creating restrictions to members’ ability to rent their properties, Whelan and Caldwell believe that we need to develop policies that encourage short-term rentals and bring speculators to our community who would be willing to invest in homes where they can make money through rentals. Caldwell has experience in this area and says that given the Kalahari and Aquatopia projects in our area, the time to jump on this opportunity is now. Lake Naomi has a model that allows them to split a 26% commission on rentals with the brokers. Whelan described a vision of a rental office that advertises and manages rentals for the landlords of the community and collects the commissions for the community. He states that landlords pay dues at a higher percentage than other members because their livelihood depends on being able to offer their renters the amenities that our community provides. Both admit that there is a need to protect other members from the problems that short-term renters sometimes bring, but do not see that as an impossible challenge to surmount considering the potential return for the Association.
Construction of Maintenance Building
Construction on the new maintenance building and storage shed has been delayed because of permit issues (the township requires a handicapped accessible bathroom and parking space). Delivery should happen on November 4th, and they will build the cinder bins first, while they work on the permit for the main building. Dan Glasgow explained that the original building was built without a permit and thus could not be grandfathered in for an exception to these requirements. They are trying to get the township to approve a plan to bring the bathroom in the existing building up to the standard since it is close enough to the other building to qualify.
Manager Judy Kennedy has been working along with Robert Lauri to train the bartenders and to address problems with the POS. Sales for Friday night party were $847, a significantly higher than average, and he was confident that expenses would continue to dwindle and service will improve.
Whelan broke out the Bar and Grill in the treasurer’s report and described the income verses expenses of its operation. He pointed out that although the B&G is $17k over budget, the month of September showed a smaller loss ($2,200 versus an average of $3,700) than the first 4 months of the year. He is confident that the work being done by Preferred Management and the assistance provided by Robert Lauri will continue to bring these costs down. When asked what he would consider an acceptable cost for this amenity, Whelan said he believes that between $1k and $1.5k per month would be a reasonable expectation. For comparison, he noted that the outdoor pool costs approximately $4k/month to operate and he believes that it serves fewer members.
Changes in Scheduled Meetings
President Dan Glasgow talked about the schedule changes for upcoming meetings of the board. November 14th will be a workshop, dedicated to the issue of the membership review. December 5th will be a regular workshop meeting, and December 13th will be a combination open meeting.
In addition to those items discussed above, Treasurer Buz Whelan presented the financials as of 9/30/14. He compared current numbers to last year’s and described several negative trends. We have collected $96,500 less in dues than the same period from last year, spent $169k more in expenses, have a cash balance of $110k less, and a reserve balance of $36.5k less than last year. He also mentioned that our New Capital balance is $29k lower than last year, but mentioned that the money went to needed repairs and as such is not a concern.
Maintenance is under budget, due mainly to work that has yet to be done, and Public Safety is on budget. The Community Center is under budget by almost $12k due to a decrease in salaries.
Manager Judy Kennedy stated that, once approved, the completed audit will be available at the office and on the website. They have begun work on an Emergency Management plan and, as part of that effort, some of the staff has received first aid training and others are scheduled for that training in the future. Digital time clocks have been installed for tracking staff hours. The fire extinguishers in the Community Center have been repaired and charged. She noted that the HVAC was not cooling during the Cancer Awareness event and she thanked everyone for their patience and their participation in the event. Kennedy also noted that the new digital system in the pool says that the water is at 83 degrees, even though some members insist it is not. The broken pool table has been replaced with a pay-for-play model installed and maintained by an outside vendor. The community will split evenly the $1 per game revenue with the vendor. The sauna and septic repairs at the Community Center will be completed next week. In response to a request from a member at last month’s meeting, each management report will be available to members both at the office and on the website after its approval by the board.
At the workshop, the Board discussed the beavers and decided that no action would be taken at this time. Robert Lauri, who was absent from the workshop due to a death in the family, stated that while he does not wish to undermine a decision made by the Board, he would like to consider the long-range negative effects that the beavers may cause to our waterways and common property before dismissing this as simply a responsibility of the members themselves. Glasgow read an article written last year by Director Millie Bishop for the Emerald News. Bishop said that beavers can have positive effects on the environment as well, noting that when the beavers were eliminated Lower Deer Lake began to dry up and so the board at the time decided to repopulate the area.
Next, the board voted to approve four officers as signatories for the ELA accounts. These are Dan Glasgow, Robert Lauri, Buz Whelan and Millie Bishop. Earl Frank asked if the general manager should also be a signatory, but the Board decided not to include them at this time.
Address the Board Policy
Brad Jones had a first draft of the policy for handling the letters sent to the “Address the Board” section of the website. He expressed concern about the timeline for replies and suggested that management be given the discretion to respond to simple procedural requests and save the Board from dealing with the more trivial questions. Diane Caldwell expressed concern that a registered letter was sent to the office that contained seven separate sealed letters for each member of the board. She said she believes this is a federal offense, and should not be accepted. The Board agreed to discuss these changes at the workshop in December.
Reporting for the maintenance committee, Bob Leon reported that they have concerns about the performance of compliance officer Ralph Musto, who apparently issued a permit for a resident to build on Association property. He believes this is the equivalent of giving away property and it opens us up to legal concerns.
Louise Leon thanked the Board and Management company on behalf of the Adult Water Aerobics club.
Earl Frank submitted a list of 9 recommendations from the F&P committee (he did not read them), and noted that the collections attorney has done a good job with collections on past due accounts so far this year.
Stefania Johnson reported that the Events committee is waiting on a response from the board regarding their recommendation for an electronic sign. They are also changing the ELA Dancing with the Stars event to ELA’s Got Talent, to allow for a broader range of acts. The tentative date for this event is January 17th. She thanked everyone involved in the Halloween Haunted House and the other Halloween events in the community. The committee is looking to bring back a monthly Dance Party and a monthly kids movie event at the CC. They are finalizing plans for a Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas tree decoration party. They are in discussions with Buz Whelan regarding an event in February and they would like to declare the entire month to be Heart Disease Awareness month.
For Crimewatch, Connie Simpson wanted to thank all who were involved in managing the Halloween Trunk or Treat.
Joseph Olall expressed his concern with the delay in holding a Communications Committee meeting. Judy Kennedy explained that since she had gotten no response to her emails to Mr. Olall, she went ahead and set a meeting date for October 25th but, upon getting no confirmation from Olall himself, and having received several cancellations and then finding out that some people who had wanted to participate were never informed of the meeting in the first place, she and Liaison Buz Whelan decided to postpone the meeting until November 8th.
Diane Caldwell said that she would contact Mark Davis and work to set up the first meeting of the Real Estate Committee.
Carmen Brodnax asked if the Board had approved outside advertising of the Haunted House in the Community Center. The Board was unaware of any outside advertising.
Cathy Leach was concerned that adding shoes to the plows would increase costs for cinders. Brad Jones said he did not know if that would happen, but that they were prepared to modify the plan if it did not work to their expectations.
Darren Johnson said that with the resignation of Chris Tarvin as CC manager, we had an opportunity to mold and develop a leader in a new employee. Jones agreed.
Stefania Johnson suggested a celebration for Mr. Tarvin was in order.
Mary Cavanaugh asked if the delivery of the maintenance building would interfere with compactor hours. Jones said it would not.
Gilda Spiotta re-stated her concern regarding the beavers on her property and suggested that the Game Commission would remove them for free.
Bob Leon complained that the newsletter is still not up on the webpage and that some of the kiosks are empty. He also suggested that the community should do more to advertise the rental availability of the CC.
Louise Leon was concerned that leaving snow on the roads (because of the plow shoes) would result in more accidents.
Kathy Whelan complimented everyone involved in the Cancer Awareness Day event and asked how much money was raised in total. Robert Lauri expressed his concern that a misunderstanding of some sort led to an additional cost to the Bar and Grill of $187. Buz Whelan said that it was a misunderstanding by Chris Tarvin and that it is illegal to have employees volunteering to do their own jobs.
George Haab told the Board that he would be placing a collection bin for Boy Scout Troop 94’s “Scouting for Food” campaign.
The meeting concluded with the welcoming of new members. There were 5 properties sold, 6 foreclosures sold, and one new foreclosure and one sheriff’s sale.