Emerald Lakes Board of Director’s Open Meeting, March 24, 2018
by Kathy Leslie-Whelan
The meeting was called to order at 9:33 am, followed by the pledge of allegiance. All board members were present.
Diane Caldwell read the standard board meeting procedures which stated the meeting would be held in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order and cautioned the membership that inappropriate language would not be tolerated. As Secretary, Gilda Spiotta was taking minutes and the membership was not allowed to comment on the meeting until public comments and that 2 minutes will be allotted to each member in good standing.
Caldwell immediately called for a motion to approve the February minutes. Al Leslie made the motion and Jake Bower seconded it. The minutes were accepted unanimously.
Caldwell began her president’s message with stating that she hopes everyone is ready for spring. She stated that it was enough already with the snow, nor’easter and school closings. Caldwell mentioned the package that was sent out to the membership. She did not want to repeat herself and sound like a broken record, but if we look around things are falling apart. She also said that we live in a beautiful community and beautiful people live here. She stated that we should think and look around and make a conscientious decision when we cast a vote on April 14th.
The floor was turned over to Stefania Johnson for the treasurer’s report. Johnson reported that with the death of our accountant we do not have accurate numbers for her to report on. The numbers that were submitted need to be revised so she did not want to have to correct her report at a future board meeting. There have been challenges with the passing of Mike Gruber, but our outside accountant, Preferred Management and our newly hired accountant are working to correct the numbers. In addition, they are automating the system and changing the way the numbers are reported. Laura Jones added that there is nothing wrong with our financials, it is just a matter of correcting allocation numbers.
Laura Jones started the manager’s report saying that it snowed the first 15 days of March. The maintenance crew was worn out as well as the trucks used to plow. A driver suffered a minor injury when he was hit by a pick-up truck and one vehicle broke down. She commended staff for getting in and mentioned that it took Officer Ramos from public safety 4 hours to get to work during the storm. The administration office was closed during these snow incidents and only essential personnel were required to come in. Essential personnel were identified as herself, public safety and maintenance. Jones explained that the mound of snow at the end of your driveway is called a rift and it is not done on purpose. The plow causes the rift pushing snow. Jones further stated that there is no list of people where ELA plows their driveways. She cannot plow one person’s driveway if she cannot plow everyone’s driveway. However, if there is a medical emergency or other type of emergency such as a fire, they will go in and assist to get that individual plowed out. Jones further stated that due to HIPA laws she was not allowed to ask people what their medical emergency was and therefore could not maintain a list. She did not want to discourage any member who had a legitimate issue to call for assistance. She said she was sorry for the comments on the unofficial Facebook page.
Jones stated that the board has approved the preliminary budget with the 6 month payment plan at the March 14th meeting. Jones stated that there was an error in the call-to meeting notice and that she takes full responsibility for it. The call to meeting will be amended at the April 14th meeting. The meeting will be for the membership to vote on a $200 dues increase. Doors will open at 9:00 am and any member that is here by 10:00 am will not be turned away.
Jones stated that we currently have a lawsuit with Button Oil and Button sent us a check for less than what is owed. The check will not be cashed and Jones reached out to Nick Haros, our current attorney. Our denial on the small game of chance license was also turned over to our counsel. First step is to have ELA on the township agenda to have us designated as a civil organization under a tavern license. A restaurant would be required to be open by the state if we receive this license.
The draft reserve study which includes a road assessment has been received from Kipcon. The board is reviewing the document for any possible changes for funding methods. Once this document is approved by the board it will be made available to the membership.
The phone prompts at the administration building have been corrected by Frontier. New mailbox clusters have been delivered and will hopefully be installed this week if weather permits. The postmaster will need an additional 7 to 10 business days to install locks. Boxes will be distributed by the Toby post office. Finally Jones stated that walk in Wednesday still exists and she is available between the hours of 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. If a member cannot make those times she will be available by appointment.
Dave Bursos opened up the director’s comments by explaining his abstaining from two votes at the last meeting. It was not that he was unprepared but the he wanted to show his displeasure/disapproval of those motions without being overly negative. He also stated that if homeowners plowed 10 feet off their driveways they would not get a rift.
Jake Bower stated that he is still a rookie on the board but that this board puts in thousands of hours as volunteers. Most people do not see all the time they spend to try to improve this association. They are looking for more people to volunteer.
Bob Leon had no comment.
Al Leslie said we need more people on committees. Committees are a big help to the board.
Stefania Johnson wanted to add to Bower’s point. She has been a resident for 9 years and although Facebook is interesting, we need a better way to communicate. Some people are playing a political game. Every year it is the same. The purpose of being on the board is a fiduciary responsibility to make this place better. They are trying their best and if we feel we can do better, we should step up to the plate and run for the board. The board will always get criticized but they need to fix things in the Association and they need the money to do it. Johnson is frustrated that the indoor pool is not open. She said that our infrastructure is falling apart and that she is trying to protect our investments. She said that the board is constantly attacked and people are not coming to them with solutions. Johnson received applause from Caldwell.
Gilda Spiotta stated that she agrees with Johnson, Bower and Leslie. Although this is her second year on the board, this is the first year she gets it. There are real clear numbers but it is not a pretty picture. She stated that we all understand what is needed. She moved in to ELA in 2004 and things need to be maintained. We cannot continue to go on, we must maintain the Association in a healthy manner. She further stated that the board is not working in a vacuum. The board is responsible and diligent. Spiotta stated the budget was a structure and must be adjusted. The board has a huge responsibility to the Association and that we are all in this together. Spiotta stated that it breaks her heart that the pool is closed. She further said that when we air dirty laundry we insult the board, the staff and our neighbors. We should not be airing this laundry on social media and that the unofficial Facebook page is irresponsible. She stated that she just lost a neighbor and that life was short. We should enjoy life and make it beautiful. We should wake up with a smile on our faces and if not we should chop wood.
Diane Caldwell thanked everyone she sits with on the board and all the time they put in. Caldwell stated that our greatest assets, besides our children, is our home values. Caldwell also stated that she didn’t want anyone to misconstrue what they are doing. They are not threatening just stating the facts. The numbers are there and have been mapped out for the membership and all negativity flies. She stated that this board has shown transparency and that she has been called everything from the c word down. She is just trying to do her job.
Earl Frank, chair of Finance and Planning (F&) started the committee chair reports stating that the minutes with 5 recommendations from F&P was sent to the board. He requested a confidentiality form so that this writer can continue to attend these meeting and take notes. Franks requested that the dues collected be reported on separately from what is deposited into our checking account. Franks asked if more money was collected by Sunrise and was told yes by Jones. Neither Jones or Johnson had a copy of these figures. F&P is recommending that if a $200 dollar increase is approved by the membership that $100 should go into reserves and that the board should commit to that number. In addition, since the budget only lists $150K in delinquent dues collections, that any money collected over that amount also should go towards reserves. At this time Frank turned the floor over to Buz Whelan to discuss an F&P concern. The concern was that according to our bylaws the membership does not vote on the budget but on the requested dues increase. Whelan said he is happy at least some of the board and management read Facebook, though they will never admit it, because they are making the exact changes he wrote about on social media regarding the actual subject of the vote (dues increase). Frank went on to say that the notice of call to meeting was deceiving but Jones stated it was not. F&P made a recommendation that if the board was not committed to their recommendations, he wants it on record that F&P will not approve the budget. Spiotta asked if that was a threat.
Jake Bower spoke for the Real Estate committee. The purpose of this committee is to make it easier for landlords to rent their properties. If someone has a bad experience with a renter, that information is disbursed to the other landlords. If someone double booked their rental, they can reach out to other landlords that have rentals available. In additional, landlords are informed of any township rules such as how many people can rent a home, i.e., 2 people per bedroom.
Stefania Johnson spoke for the Events committee. The Easter egg hunt and breakfast with the bunny will be held next Saturday. Over the past months this committee has gotten small and they are in dire need of volunteers. They need people to help execute the events. Hands on work needs to be done. Their next meeting will be after the dues increase meeting to see where they stand. There will be an email blast going out to the membership to look for volunteers.
Ten new members were welcomed to the neighborhood. Al Leslie made the motion to accept the new members, which was seconded by Bob Leon. Passed unanimously.
Under new business Resolution # 1-32418 – Approval of PNC Bank Treasury Management Services passed unanimously. Stefania Johnson made the motion while Bob Leon seconded it. Under discussions Bursos stated that it would save the Association an average of $300 monthly. Bowers stated that the resolution bring us up to current banking methods vs. what was done in 1950. All checks now can be scanned at the administration office and deposited into our account on the same day. The account will be viewable online and also has fraud alerts. Jones stated that for bounced checks, which are very few, the fee of $35 is given to the party that issued the check.
John Palmisano asked the question that if a member owned multiple properties was a discount given on their dues. Jones stated no, they were charged the full amount, however unimproved lots are billed at a lower rate. Also, landlords pay $250 per property annually on top of their dues.
Bill Henry stated that we were 5 weeks from the new fiscal year and he has not received an invoice. Jones stated that the bill will go out after the April 14th meeting and the homeowner will have 30 days to pay. However, everyone is welcomed to pay now. Henry stated the website is out of date when it comes to dues and that it appears that ELA owes him $1,000. Jones stated that Preferred Management hosts our website so our office staff cannot update it.
Linda Shuey had an issue with the call to meeting notice where it asked the membership to approve the budget. She was concerned that the membership was not properly notified that the meeting was for a dues increase. Jones stated that the notice did state that there was a dues increase being voted on. Johnson stated “duly noted”. Shuey stated that an email blast should go out for the landlords meeting. Shuey agreed with Spiotta the board had a huge fiscal responsibility and that we do need a dues increase but the budget costs for the bar and grill are at $74K. In her opinion the board members are not good stewards of her money. Shuey stated that it isn’t enough for the board to say “we spent all your money, now give us more.” The board is not showing fiscal responsibility. Johnson stated that what is on budget is what it is costing at the grill. Looking at the salaries, although it is high it is what it takes. The budget for the grill includes one full time cook with benefits, one server and one dish washer. Johnson warned the membership not to get caught up on the grill. Money is needed for our infrastructure and we should have $1.5 M in reserves.
Louise Leon reminded the room that she was on the board in 2010 and she stated the board was on track. She was insulted by two separate families after she was off the board. One accused her of stealing funds and another asked her in the parking lot as to why they did not get their roads paved. She feels the board is doing a fabulous job. Leon bought her home for the pools and the lakes and she sits quietly when people say they want to close the pool.
Ange Noonan advised the board to ignore social media. She noticed that no one from the board commented on social media. Spiotta stated that they were not allowed to and that there were not “educated comments” on social media. Jones stated that the ELA website runs out of room unless something is deleted and that it was cheaper to have Preferred Management host our site. Noonan said that see has also seen an increase in members using the grill every week. She feels if we give it a chance it will succeed. Finally she stated she was away during the snow but was happy when she returned that her road was plowed.
Darren Johnson stated that he was frustrated, and a dues increase was needed. The problem in ELA happened over the last 40 years. Members in the room, who have been on past boards are abject failures. Their boards were not fiscally responsible and will be held accountable. Social media is ignorant. Mr. Johnson told a story of a boom that he and his wife heard in their home. Their heating system went out and had to be replaced for $6K. They changed insurance companies and it wasn’t covered. The lessons he learned was never to buy into an HOA and have a reserve fund. He further stated there is a political agenda on social media. He cannot sell his home at this time and he did not want his wife to run for the board again. We are all losers if the dues increase doesn’t pass.
Tony Arcy asked why the preliminary budget had $58K for lifeguards. Jones stated that was for pool attendants. Mr. Arcy also questioned the $66K salary for the cook and was told that the cook does not make that much. If she did Jones would want the job since it is more than she makes. Arcy also asked what would open first, the indoor or the outdoor pool. He felt that the indoor pool being closed affected the traffic at the bar and grill.
Margaret Fitzgerald was disappointed that there was no treasurer’s report. Last week she has dinner at the grill and enjoyed herself. Nicole and staff did an outstanding job. Fitzgerald would like to see projects completed. Fitzgerald commented that the renovations on the community center under Buz, were completed and look wonderful. She is frustrated and finds it mind numbing that there was no treasurer’s report. Fitzgerald stated that speech after speech beat up the membership sitting on this side of the table.
Buz Whelan asked about the hourly fees for the attorney that we are paying as of December 9th. Jones stated that that was a right to know request so Caldwell stated $260/hour which is all inclusive and includes litigation. Whelan further stated that he has not missed a meeting since June of 2005 and that he appreciates how hard the board works but never once during the 6 years he was on the board did he tell the membership how hard he worked or lectured them on how they should behave. He said that we (members) are adults. We come to these meetings to be informed, not to listen to the directors demonstrate their keen grasp of the obvious by telling us we are all in this together, our property values are affected and so on. We don’t need to sit through 15 minutes of directors patting themselves and each other on the back during every meeting. Whelan agreed with Fitzgerald that Johnson should have reported on how much did we collect in dues, delinquencies. A modified treasurer’s report should have been given. He recommended that at the dues increase meeting on April 14th, brief remarks should be given so that people are not voting in the dark.
Earl Frank stated that according to the Pocono Journal the township attorney fees are $160 to $165 an hour. Jones told him that there is a difference in a township attorney and an HOA attorney. Frank further stated that in previous budgets the bar and grill was budgeted at $30 to $35K. In the current budget it is up to $70K. He cannot see why the cost doubled since we always had a cook. Jones stated that the grill will never make money. The question is how much money are we willing to spend to keep it open.
Margaret Fitzgerald also stated that the new POS system was right on target. Jones said she will congratulate staff since they usually do not receive them from the public. Fitzgerald stated that she did let staff know of her good experience. Caldwell added that she wished Fitzgerald was there for the numerous events such as Valentine’s day, Christmas and New Year. The events would have knocked her socks off.
Stefania, as treasurer spoke that she agreed with Fitzgerald and Whelan regarding the treasurer’s report. She just did not want to give out numbers that were potentially wrong. Overall the numbers were right, but the allocations were wrong. As treasurer she is responsible for those numbers and does not want to be held responsible if they are incorrect. Johnson anticipated revised financials for December, January and February within the next two weeks.
Linda Shuey requested that an email blast go out letting the membership know that the vote on April 14th is for a $200 dues increase. Jones said they would discuss it in executive session.
Buz Whelan suggested that whatever programs we have for ensuring emergency access to our disabled during snow events be made public.
Spiotta stated that people abuse that privilege.
Our new accountant is Tom Mugan who worked for the City of New York. Jones stated that Mugan had a super analytical mind and that he was tightening things up.
Reporters Note: I write these reports based on notes taken during the meeting. I get no special consideration or cooperation from the board. I try my best to report accurately, but occasionally mistakes will be made. I invite correction and have no desire to intentionally mischaracterize any comments or actions.