Emerald Lakes Board of Director’s Open Meeting, September 30, 2017
by Kathy Leslie-Whelan
The meeting was called to order at 9:30 am, followed by the pledge of allegiance.
Opening comments were made by Diane Caldwell, President. Caldwell pretty much reiterated her message which was printed in the October newsletter. She commented on the weather and stated that her comments will be short and sweet. She stated that the season is changing and so is the board. She welcomed old and familiar faces and two new board members, Jake Bower and Dave Borsos. She stated that there will be major changes. Caldwell stated that as a board they “are not into titles; it is what we do. Some people will agree and some will not.” Caldwell further stated that Laura Jones is fine tuning the administration office and if someone wants to see the financials they can view them. They must first set up an appointment with Ms. Jones and sign a Right to Know Request form. Caldwell then proceeded to say that the administration building was designed for the safety of the employees with the new walls and locks. Caldwell stated that the redesign was due to a former employee entering the facility with a gun.
Caldwell stated that the board had a lot to do this year and it will be a struggle due to the financial issues of the association. As stated in her comments at the August open meeting, Caldwell advised the membership that the meeting would be held in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order and cautioned the membership that inappropriate language would not be tolerated. Gilda Spiotta was taking minutes and the membership was not allowed to comment on anything until the end of the meeting. Caldwell also stated that after meeting the new board would be going into a closed executive session.
Caldwell further stated that each board member would be a liaison to the committees and bring back recommendations to the board. The new liaisons are as follows:
Rules and Regulations – Dave Borsos
Real Estate – Jake Bower and Diane Caldwell as co-liaisons
Maintenance – Bob Leon
Appeals – Al Leslie
Finance and Planning – Stefania Johnson
Events – Stefania Johnson
Communications – Gilda Spiotta
The floor was handed over to Stefania Johnson for the Treasurer’s Report.
Cash on Hand $341,800 – Last Year $461,500
Reserves $405,500 – Last Year $294,600
New Capital $166,600 – Last Year $39,400
Dues $768,200 – Last Year $759,700
Attorney collections $101,100 – Last Year $127,000 (Reporter’s note: To clarify, a records check reveals that a total of $285K was collected last year. The $127K was for the first 4 months only)
Administration $5,666 over budget in August – Year to Date – $2,300 over budget
Public Safety (not sure)
Maintenance $5,900 under budget in August – Year to Date $21,400 over budget
Community Center over budget in August $3,479 – Year to Date $10,703
(Bar and Grill under budget $458 – Year to date $10,548 over budget)
Annual Budget 2 M
Public Safety – 8 1/2 %
Maintenance – 26.9%
Community Center – 11% (Bar and Grill 4%)
At this point in time Laura Jones interjected that the Compactor is an amenity and does not make money but costs $140,000/yr. The Community Center is here for the enjoyment of the membership and is not here to make money. Even if we close down Center we will still have costs. The Community Center costs $60,000/yr to run. Jones stated that we should not be calling any money that is a deficit in the bar and grill as a “loss” but as a “cost”. Jones stated that with the turnover rate in the Community Center (4 times this year) that they have a situation with the POS system. She is unsure of how to correct the situation at this time. At this point in time Buz Whelan asked about the resolution that was passed by the board over 90 days ago and both Caldwell and Johnson yelled out at the same time that public comments were at the end of the meeting.
Laura Jones went into her Manager’s Report with a statement that she lives 15 miles away and still cannot figure out the weather in the Poconos. She would still be home in her pajamas if she didn’t have to be here. She stated that the official Facebook page was operational and a link will be email blasted out. It is for information only and no comments will be allowed. Not only will the site advertise events in ELA but it will also contain events and happenings in the area. Jones further stated that Button Oil was served with a complaint for $48K but no court date has been scheduled. Chip and seal work has been completed on certain roadways. Membership were cautioned to slow down especially on a curve since you may not be able to stop on this surface when wet or you could damage the paint on your car. The new roads paved are not completed. The shoulders will be compacted down. Jones stated that the contractor had a vehicle stolen from their shop but will acquire a vehicle to remove some pieces of equipment that were still on ELA property. The 2017 dam inspections were completed and are being reviewed by maintenance. Jones stated that the contract with GOE is being cancelled and we are lucky that we don’t have a five year flood. She stated that the dams are in good condition. Jones stated that all residents must have their boats removed from the racks by November 15th. Any boats that are not removed will be picked up by staff and the member will be given a fine and charged a storage fee. After February 15th boats will no longer be available if they are not picked up. In addition, ELA will not pay to fix boats. Jones stated the maintenance vehicles are prepped for winter and currently she, Darrel Gamble and Ron in maintenance are reviewing the snow removal routes and that people that live on cul de sacs will be plowed last. Jones stated that everyone has an expectation to see black top but that is not going to happen because this is the Poconos. We have a contract for salt at $77/ton. November 1st will be our first delivery. Jones further stated that new winter hours will go into effect on October 16th. Jones stated that we are now set up to accept credit cards or debit cards for payments, with the exception of American Express and Discover. Anyone paying by this method will be charged a 3% fee. Jones stated that Sunrise Collection services will be handling delinquent accounts over $3,000 since they can collect out of state. Heather resigned as Community center manager and she wishes her well. There is a new condensed menu at the grill and a special football menu. The Community Center has the football package offered by Direct TV. New emails will be issued to all staff and board. The new addresses will be emailed blasted out.
Diane Caldwell gave a shout out to Don Atkiss for Project Elmway (butterfly garden). Don said that Linda Shuey helped and did a lot of weeding. Caldwell planted her milkweed plants on her dad’s grave.
During director’s comments, Director Dave Borsos stated that the butterfly garden did not cost a nickel and that volunteers were needed. He thanked everyone who voted for him and wants to work together to make this a better place to live. Director Jake Bower also thanked everyone for their votes and stated that he sees a lot of promise. We have financial hurdles but he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He further stated that ELA needs volunteers to help out. Director Bob Leon stated that the official Face Book page for ELA shows events that compete with our own events and he doesn’t think that that is a good idea. Vice President Al Leslie welcomed new board members and Laura Jones and congratulated Chief Gamble on his promotion. He also stated that the board was moving in the right direction. Treasurer Stefania Johnson stated that the Community Center needed more foot traffic and the grill was not a restaurant but an amenity. It is a good place to come out to meet your friends and neighbors. She encouraged people to join committees and help out where they can. She is happy to have two new board members and she respects opinions and looks forward to working with them. Johnson further thanked Daryl Gamble and Laura Jones and stated that they had to address the resolution on the grill. Secretary Gilda Spiotta also welcomed the new members to the board and stated that we are in for an exciting year. She stated something about being helpful and that changes are coming to our beautiful, thriving community. She extended kudos to Daryl Gamble, Laura Jones and Diane Caldwell. (Reporter’s note – I am not sure what specifically the kudos were for since no event or accomplishment was identified.) Spiotta reiterated that this was going to be an exciting year with challenges and they will meet hurdles [sic]. She stated the board needs patience and support from the membership. The board is part of the membership and she is not going to do anything to hurt herself. (Reporter’s note – Since the public is not allowed to speak or ask a speaker any follow-up questions, I can only report from my notes as to what the board members said.)
Laura Jones then began to speak of the bar and grill again. She looked at 1 week of activity from May to September. She didn’t think that people didn’t eat and that our customers were lushes. She believes that the POS system doesn’t accurately reflect where funds are being spent. The POS system may need a complete start over. She believes that the bar is being credited with receipts that should have been credited to the grill. She wanted the resolution to close the grill revoked. The grill is a service to the community and if in the future the numbers are not better she will ask to close grill. Stefania Johnson stated that if costs are allocated inaccurately that will still have to address the cost the association will bear. Johnson then presented the resolution to revoke the previous passed resolution to close the grill and Spiotta seconded it. The resolution passed unanimously. Discussions on resolution were from Jake Bower and Dave Bursos. Bower stated that since Jones and crew dug up this information he wanted to give it another chance. Bursos stated that there is a constant debate on this issue but it seems that the cost is going down and that management is getting a handle on it. In referencing this resolution Chief Gamble stated the Community Center operation was too detached from management. He further stated that there should be more oversight by administration and the Community Center should be treated like every other department, i.e. maintenance, public safety. Caldwell stated that she wants hands on training and not training over the phone on the POS system.
Only one committee report was given since no other committee met or was present to give report. Earl Frank, chair of Finance and Planning (F&P) thanked the board and everyone present for their cards and donation to Clymer Library in memory of his wife who just recently passed. He went on to say that there were only 5 members on F&P and encouraged more to join. Frank stated that the grand total was $130k over budget and they anticipate running out of money in March. Laura Jones thinks it is more like February that we will be running out of money. As to the new collection policy, no one from F&P agrees with the hiring of Sunrise. He stated that money for paving is coming out of the reserves. Frank stated that the Community Center cannot do any more improvements and that other projects such as the outdoor pool bath house is not feasible due to the lack of funds. He does not know where the money will come from. The F&P committee is trying to get a feel for what was spent and after the designated roads are paved there should be $60k left in reserves. Frank stated that it was reported that we have a 51% collection rate with $200 going into reserves. He believes it is more like 75% since we billed out $1.9M and collected $1.5M. At this time both Laura Jones and Diane Caldwell stated that they were against quarterly payments. Jones took over the conversation and stated that financial statements will be available to the membership for viewing. One must first speak to her and sign a Right to Know form. She further stated that an individual did not show up for a scheduled meeting with her for that right to view the documents. Jones stated that drastic cuts may be needed but closing the Community Center has costs associated with it. The building still needs to be maintained. She stated that 95% of membership uses the compactor and 10% use the Community Center.
Under old business, Jones stated that we are in litigation with Button Oil as a civil complaint. Button was served with the complaint on 9/2 and a response was due back on 9/22. At this point we have not heard back from attorney. Caldwell interjected that the attorney did not respond to an email that she sent. She further stated that we have more to litigate than the $38K that they owe us. It was reported that Brad Jones stated that the attorney said that we owe Button $10K and they are willing to give us $38K which is the balance of our deposit.
Under new business
Resolution – Community hours of operation. There seemed to be confusion as to the hours that were in front of the board. There was so much debate so I was not able to record the hours. This resolution passed unanimously.
Resolution – Swim at your own risk/no lifeguards. This resolution was for all pools and lakes. No discussion was held. The resolution passed unanimously.
Resolution – Financial Policy was on the agenda but not discussed or acted on.
Resolution – Collection Agreement – Sunrise Collection will receive all delinquent accounts over $3,000. Gilda Spiotta bought up resolution and Al Leslie seconded it. It was passed unanimously before discussions.
Jones explained that office staff will be handling all delinquent accounts under $3,000. Office staff will talk directly to membership and try to get them on the track of a payment plan. She further stated that our staff will finally be doing work that we are paying them for. Uncollected dues between $3,000 and $10,000 which amounts to $2.7M will be turned over to Sunrise Collections. Sunrise will add 35% to amount due and that will be their fee. Jones stated that they have call centers all over the country. Jones stated that we will not settle for less than 70% on accounts that delinquent over $10, 000. If no agreement, ELA will sue. She stated that we should not bear the weight of delinquents that still owe money. We will go after them with a hammer and make an example out of them. We will have a more aggressive collection plan. Jones stated you are not a neighbor or friend and this plan is purely business. At this point in time the Directors finally started their discussions, however, the resolution was passed. Jake Bower stated that he works at a bank and Sunrise is a reputable company. Stefania Johnson stated we can’t put all our eggs in one basket and we need to spread our wings. Johnson stated that this is more diligent and this is the strategy they need to go to [sic]. Diane Caldwell stated that in six months they anticipate collecting $706K. She stated that we currently have no process to go out of state. Jones than thanked Caldwell and the board for being forward thinking and shed ended the discussion with “Cha Ching”.
Resolution – Ice Fishing/Ice Skating. Gilda Spiotta read the resolution and Al Leslie seconded it. Ice fishing and ice skating will be at your own risk. Warning signs will be posted. Resolution passed by 4-3. Discussions were as follows. Bob Leon is opposed to ice fishing since many people that partake in this activity do not live here. He also felt that ice skating should be limited to the small pond. Stefania Johnson stated that we have lakes and the membership must follow the rules and regulations. It is up to the individual to make the right decision. Johnson stated that we have rules today which prohibit individuals that do not live here from using the lakes. Gilda Spiotta stated she was uncomfortable with resolution. Holes and fire can make the ice less safe. Public Safety will have a hard time checking IDs and we should not put them at risk. In addition, Spiotta stated that this resolution would add $5,000 to our insurance policy. Spoitta stated that she loves the plan for Sunrise (see resolution above), but wanted to postpone resolution since money is not in bank yet. Dave Bursos stated frozen or unfrozen, membership should be able to use lakes. He is against taking rights away from membership. Jake Bower stated that he is not in favor. He lives on Pine Tree Lake and saw that a deer fell through ice and he and his wife were unable to help the animal. Votes were as follows:
Spiotta – No
Johnson – Yes
Leslie – Yes
Leon – No
Bower – No
Bursos – Yes
Caldwell – Yes (President breaks tie vote)
Public Comments – Please note members were given two minutes to speak and time was kept by Laura Jones.
John Palmisano disagreed on last resolution since catch and release is not followed. Nobody is going to stand out in cold weather to check on ice fishermen. He also stated that permits were given out in past and that we should consider this again.
Joe Olall stated that the new collection effort seems good and that he will follow up with Treasurer Johnson on the Community Center. Olall stated that the Community Center was only utilized by a small percentage but is 4% of budget. He stated that the compactor was a service and not an amenity. He finally asked how the quarterly payments of dues affected payments and are payments falling behind. Laura Jones responded that we do not recover enough money to pay for the notification that are sent to the membership that opted for quarterly payments and that we may do away with this program. Caldwell further stated that there may be an incentive for people who pay upfront. They will be presenting this issue at the next open meeting.
Pat Galderisi asked if there were GPS on vehicles and was told no. Next question was how do you communicate with vehicles and the response was by radio. She made a statement that she has been living here for 32 years and that 51% compliance with paying dues makes 49% non compliant. Total delinquent money is at $4.7M and did we write off doubtful accounts. She stated that this must be public. Galderisi stated that moving forward financial plan should have a write off, financial plan should identify reductions and certain items are required by law. At this point Galderisi time was up, but since she stated she had positive things to say she was given additional time. She stated that Laura Jones should have been hired three years ago and that we would be in a better spot. She also stated that our attorney’s advice which was done as a freebie was never on letterhead or signed.
Bill Henry stated that we used a collection agency 13 years ago, it did not go well, and that the service we have is unique.
George Hesser stated that by law we cannot stop people from selling their property. He is seeing more and more trash cans at the end of driveways and he feels that these are people that are not paying dues. Caldwell responded that she doesn’t use compactor and pays to dispose of her trash since she lives out of the main area.
Flo Mauri stated that she appreciates everything being done and feels a lot is being done. She feels the board has a different take and she likes the way the board is focusing on priorities. She stated that research was needed on the trash compactor and Community Center.
Betty Goodline reminded the membership that Saturday, October 7th was cancer awareness day. Door will open at 12:30 where people can buy tickets to bid on the various baskets. Bingo will start at 1:30 PM which means there will be no bingo at 7:30 as stated in the October newsletter. Between 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM, Long Time Coming will be performing in the Community Center. Cost for tickets is $15.00 in advance or $20.00 at the door. There will also be a bake sale and they are currently accepting donations for baked goods, baskets and money. So far the Events committee has collected $1,550 and will be donated to the American Cancer Society. Anyone wanting to donate money can make their checks payable to the American Cancer Society.
Earl Frank stated the Financial policy on the agenda is a board set policy and are requirements of the auditor. Bad debts were reduced and the plan should reflect these deductions. Frank stated that if we get a $200 dues increase it would bring in $300k/yr.
Buz Whelan stated that the collection process is shifting the burden of record keeping to ELA and there could be substantial cost to the association. He asked what is the criteria for success. Laura Jones stated that billing is an in-house function and it is our responsibility. She further stated that staff will be earning their keep. Jones stated that the collection agency has over 500 people working for them. 22 accounts will remain with our attorney who has law suits pending on delinquent accounts. $2.7M in delinquent accounts will be turned over to collection agency. Treasurer Johnson further added that over the past 4 months our attorney has collected $127K (Reporter’s note: That is last year’s figure for first 4 months. This year it is $101K so far). Johnson stated that she anticipates the collection agency will collect double or even more in 6 months. Johnson further stated that she will not banter back and forth with Whelan. Jones stated that we work for the Association and not George and he will only keep 22 accounts that are in litigation. Jones stated that they will get figures every month from Sunrise. Whelan spoke about the POS system and simple fixes but he was cut off by Jones since his two minutes were up. She stated she was interested in his comments but did not allow him additional time as she did another member who was complimenting her services.
Don Atkiss thanked all for helping with the butterfly garden and thanked ELA for the signage. Next Sunday there will be a drum circle at the site and he encouraged all to come out. He stated that he anticipates that the garden will be better next year since more of the plants will be in full bloom. Atkiss also handed out milkweed seeds to the membership to plant now. Seeds need to be frozen over for best results.
Linda Shuey thanked Don Atkiss for the garden and welcomed the two new board members. She found it disturbing that the board was okay with a $60K loss at the grill but didn’t have $1,000 for the fishing club to restock. She stated that the club would fund the restocking from their own pockets.
Carmen Broadnax had two issues. Issue one dealt with the school buses that are speeding in the community and there should be no need for them in the community. Chief Gamble stated that there are special needs children and they have to be allowed in to pick up these students. Broadnax was instructed to contact the school with the bus number if she sees them speeding. Issue two dealt with the yellow lines in the road. She was informed that only new roads were scheduled for striping.
Darren Johnson welcomed new board members and had a question if the board checked our liability with the restriction on notice of swimming at own risk and what if someone drowns. Laura Jones stated that she checked.
Heidi Castro had three issues. Issue one was that everyone’s life situations are different and she feels it is disgraceful that the board makes her relive her mother’s death. Castro has dual degrees and stated “don’t ever push me away”. There are people in ELA that are grandfathered in and don’t have to pay dues. Jones will address at a later time with Castro. Issue two was that Castro doesn’t agree with the resolution to have no life guards at the pools. She stated that we could have a legal issue if someone drowned or had a heart attack. Issue three was that ELA should give back to the kids. She allowed them at her home over the summer since they did not feel welcomed at our facilities.
Kathy Leslie Whelan (this Reporter) informed the membership that this article should be out at the end of the week and gave the site address where it would be available. Mr. Whelan stated that he knows how hard I work on this story. Secretary Spiotta made the statement that yes it is just a “story”. Reader may take that comment for what it is worth. In addition, Laura Jones stated that she will not respond to the unofficial web page.