Here are the names of the three candidate's who we feel would best represent the homeowners of our community:  Suzanne Mark, Joe Salerno, and Debra Wulff.  We asked tough questions, and below are two candidates responses, in question and answer format.  We understand everyone is busy, but we didn't want to wait for all candidates to answer.  Keep watching for more responses!

SPECIAL CONSIDERATION:   Based on our review of the bylaw changes that are part of this years voting process, we recommend voting "AGAINST" all of this years bylaw changes. 
TakeBackSawCreek:    At the meet the candidates' event we heard how long and arduous the budget process is and how so many internal hands are involved in development.  What we did not hear is how any highly skilled subject matter experts in community operations and finance were involved.  We believe that a more forward thinking strategic approach to managing the budget development should include, at least every two years, obtaining the assistance of outside expertise to audit the operation and budget.

Debra Wulff:   I do believe that a voluntary association such as at Saw Creek does lack the expertise needed to maintain and monitor it's financial records efficiently and effectively. For any of the voluntary organizations that I have been apart of over many years, the Treasurer maintained the books, paid the bills and reported on the status of the fiscal budget on a monthly basis to the board as well as the membership. They, in turn, worked hand in hand with an outside CPA. The CPA reviewed all items of the budget, filed the taxes as well as any other necessary forms and kept the association up to date on all legislation and what affect it would have on the Community. The CPA would also make investment suggestions, review dues for increases or reductions based on profit and loss. Here at Saw Creek the Finance Committee should oversee the Treasurer and the budget, check on the filings made by the CPA, review any suggested investment ideas. I believe it should be set up just like Washington. A triangle of CPA, Treasurer and Finance Committee. All communicating with each other and making suggestions to the Board.  

Suzanne Mark:  First, if there are experts within the Community, they should be attending and be involved in the Committee process. If because of job geography or time constraints they cannot participate on a regular basis, they can attend intermittently and be involved at all Committee and Board meetings or send written ideas and suggestions to the Board and/or Committees.  Shortly there will be a schedule of the Finance Committee’s budget work sessions (generally the second and fourth Thursdays June through August in the Mountain Room at 7 pm).  (At Board meetings comments by homeowners are generally limited to before and after the Board meeting, but generally at Committee meetings homeowners can raise their hands and be called upon.)  Second, we yearly have the financial records audited by Bill Owens. He is considered an expert in budget and finance for HOAs and teaches many of the classes on the subject within CAI. (Community Association Institute - trade association for the HOA industry. By the way, any homeowner can join and participate in CAI.)  As a homeowner, anyone can request a copy of these SCE audits at MSO. The most recent one is only a few months old. 

TakeBackSawCreek:   As we tour the community we see so many homes in disrepair, overgrown lawns and what amounts to nothing more than garbage spewed around the property. We know for certain this diminishes the first impression of our community and thus the marketability of our homes. We believe that management and the board could fix this problem through a more tactical approach in alignment with better enforcement of the community By-Laws and rules.

Debra Wulff:   I agree that there are too many lots with overgrown grasses that should be maintained to present a better picture of Saw Creek. Under the Quality of Life section of the Rules and Regulations, section 1, it is stated that “Each property owner of any improved lot shall maintain his or her property in a neat and reasonably safe manner. Failure to comply will result in Tier 2 citation and where applicable, cost incurred for removal of item(s). There is no breakdown of what is expected from the homeowner, i.e. mowing of lawns, clearing leaves, maintaining trees, etc. Therefore if no specific regs are in place then it is understandable as to why so many homes lots look disheveled. For instance, whether the homeowner is present or not, the expectation is that lawns will be mowed at least once a month. If not, then fines will be issued. Trees should be monitored for broken branches or limbs to prevent damage to home(s). The management has said that on occasion if made aware of such properties, has taken it upon themselves to clean the lots. Specifically, only one was mentioned at the meeting.  Under the Architectural and Aesthetic Standards, there is mention that “lawn areas may be left in their natural state or landscaped, but in either case they shall be maintained as such and kept free of trash, debris and excessive or substantial overgrowth of vegetation. Dead or dying trees and vegetation must be promptly removed and disposed of properly. As to who is monitoring these violations I do believe the Board should be more proactive. When and if a member is aware of such issues they should report it for possible citation. Then they should follow up to see what has been done and when. I do believe there has been a breakdown here where the Board tends to accept the General Managers monthly report with stats on it but don't really know the specifics. Another area is that all common areas should be maintained as well as the sides of the roads. If they do not have the manpower then hire kids to walk the roads with gas edgers. Don't just cut 6 inches cut all the way back.
Suzanne Mark:  We have 43 miles of roads and some 2600 homes. That’s a lot of territory to cover. Homeowners may not be aware that they can report such violations.  There is a form on our website called SERVICE REQUEST. Anyone can use this to notify management of problems they see in the Community.  If after a reasonable amount of time the violation has not been corrected either submit another SERVICE REQUEST or notify the Board and management through letter or email. Some violations clearly can take time to resolve. More than a year ago I was the subject of a violation- my house color.  What it looked like on the color chart and how it came out was not quite the same! (purple just wouldn’t do!) Because the project started in October, I couldn’t repaint until the Spring. Then there were test paint samples, weather delays and painter availability issues. Nick Hutta worked with me over a 9-month period to bring my house color to code.  I sincerely appreciated his patience. His goal was to get the violation corrected, not to collect fines and aggravate a homeowner. Furthermore, we still have foreclosed properties where they are owned by a bank or loan company who may have let the property degrade. We have taken legal action and in fact we use an outside debt collection agency to assist us. While this is a costly process, it has netted considerable otherwise lost income. Recently we did clean up a property and billed the owner. However, we also should weigh the cost to the Association against the probability of being able to collect further fees and fines to a property which may be literally years in arrears on dues and fines.

TakeBackSawCreek:   It's no secret that numerous homeowners are unhappy with the responses they get from the management and board of SCECA. We feel like the current management and board either does not recognize our issues or turns a blind eye to them. Maintaining status quo seems more important than dealing with the issues head on. We know this can and must change.

Debra Wulff:   I agree that there are many homeowners who feel this way. I have sat in on a couple of meetings and do feel that there is good communication amongst them. I feel however that there are some who have “been too long at the fair”. They are out of touch with the membership and seem to have their own agendas. This is not the boards problem it is the memberships. They have to take a more serious approach to elections, and seriously review the candidates and their stances. Also, term limits need to be instituted where only two terms period are enforced. In addition, more members need to get involved, run for positions, speak up at meetings. It is always the same people. I have said that more town meetings need to be held on a regular basis where members can come to a relaxed atmosphere and discuss pertinent issues without having to deal with time restraints for the Board.

Suzanne Mark:  I am 1 (one) vote, it takes 5 (five) to pass anything. I too am frequently frustrated with the length of time that it may take to accomplish change.  Sometimes I also feel overwhelmed by the totality of changes I’d like to see. I’m sure Katie was fully aware of some of that frustration I felt when we served on the Safety Committee together. I would challenge you and your readers to offer up specific suggestions. I believe in creative problem-solving. Ideas produce ideas and together we can find solutions.  I would like to see more opportunities for homeowner meetings to allow DISCUSSION not just questions and answers or a fixed agenda. For instance, I would welcome being able to meet face to face with your readers rather than one way written monolog.  I’d like to hear your reader reactions and their ideas. I also believe that Board meetings are not an appropriate format as their purpose is to accomplish Board business. 

TakeBackSawCreek:   An overabundance of Non-Member vacationer presence in the community, that could not have been foretold, is taxing our resources, running up our budget expenditures, jamming our gates, compromising our safety and right to peaceful enjoyment of our property. While the By-Laws and Rules do not prohibit short-term rentals, they do empower management and the board to take control of the situation when any home (residence or rental) is not in compliance with our By-Laws and Rules.

Debra Wulff:   I feel that homeowners who choose to become landlords need to be instructed on the rules and regulations of Saw Creek prior to giving permission for them to rent. Part of that discussion is to strongly urge the owners to be proactive regarding their tenants and the actual rental process. Meet with prospective tenants, review their references. Not only for the reason of possible destruction to their houses but also possible chaos that they might bring onto Saw Creek. That discussion should also encompass the fines to be instituted if violations do occur. In addition, my guess is that most rentals go thru real estate offices in the Poconos. This to me is the problem. Real Estate Offices don't care about the rules and regulations of Saw Creek only about the fees to be collected for renting homes. They are not going to check references efficiently nor instruct prospective renters on Saw Creek policies. A possible solution to this is that Saw Creek might want to investigate setting up their own management group for rentals. This way they can control who rents in Saw Creek. They can enforce the rules and bylaws, usage of amenities and terminate short term leases based on infraction. This option may cost money but some or most of the expenses can be defrayed by the landlords thru fees. Perhaps an agreement with one real estate firm that has an office in Saw Creek could be one way to save money. They would supply the agent to do the legwork and could receive commissions for renting the homes and Saw Creek manages them and oversees the rental agreements, reference verification and tenant orientation. This also may encourage more homeowners who have thought about investing in additional properties for rental income, to do just that because everything would be done by management. A win win situation. There are HOA's out there that do this so I would recommend researching the pros and cons of it.
Suzanne Mark:  First and foremost, I believe we are a homeowner association, not a real estate investment group. Think about that statement!  I totally agree with your concerns.  Two years ago, we increased the basic administrative fees for any rental property from $25 per year to $150 per year. I’d like to see it increased again. We also added a short-term rental fee of $25 per each short-term rental in addition to the yearly fee and a huge fine for anyone found renting a property and not registering for the yearly fee. Last year we increased the guest fee from $1 for a day pool pass to $5 for a day pass; weekly passes went from $5 per week to $20. The year before we had problems at some of the pools with 20 or more not only short-term renters but the renters were letting in multiple day-use visitors. With the increased pool pass fee problems at the pools were reduced and a huge jump in revenue ensued.  This fee needs to be raised again. Day use fees of pools outside our community are much higher than even if we doubled our current fees.  Our day use gets you 4 outdoor pools, 2 indoor pools, and 3 hot tubs. Keep in mind also that each homeowner in good standing whether a resident or a landlord has 6 yearly passes as well. As for other rule enforcement, I would like to see Public Safety issue a document whenever there are complaints from homeowners regarding renter violations. It would notify the renter that a complaint has been made and that if Public Safety must come out again, there may be fines issued to the homeowner and that the homeowner is going to be called and notified of a complaint. In addition, the homeowner would be called immediately to let them know there was a problem at their property even if it was 2 AM!  In fact, there was an incident last year that escalated over a holiday weekend resulting in massive physical damage to the property by the renters.  Had that landlord been notified early by phone, it might have saved them thousands of dollars alerting them of problems rather than the normal land mail notice arriving days or weeks later after the renters and any deposit fees were long gone.

TakeBackSawCreek:  In the case of abandoned or foreclosed homes that are not being maintained to community standards, what actions would you take when a Bank has taken possession of the property?

Debra Wulff:   A bank should be held to the same standards as a homeowner. They should be encouraged to keep the homes external condition as well as the surrounding property according to the standards of Saw Creek. Driving around you see that that is not done. The reason is that the banks want to dump the houses and make what ever they can on them without spending ay money. Perhaps banks and Saw Creek should get together to discuss a few things. One is that banks are holding on to their portfolio and only releasing a few at a time. This aids in controlling the pricing of the available houses usually driving them up. Supply and demand economics. The less foreclosures we have in Saw Creek the better it looks to a prospective customer visiting Saw Creek. Also stressing the external appearance of said homes will also create a more positive reaction from said buyers. Speaking from experience it was very disconcerting to see so many on Zillow and other websites. You were forced to ask the question, what was wrong with Saw Creek?

Suzanne Mark:  It should be noted that recent legislation in some states including Pennsylvania allows HOAs to file foreclose on bank owned properties. We are pursuing this new legal option. But legal options can be expensive.  It should also be noted that we have successfully billed banks for dues payments with the threat of foreclosure against the bank. From a preventative standpoint, nationwide also there is a growing trend for lenders to include HOA dues in mortgage payments just the way they require taxes and insurance be included. Additionally, recently Rosemary Brown suggested that rather than at closing that HOA documents be presented at the time of signing a contract. This gives the perspective buyer time to digest those documents.  How often have any of us totally ignored reading them during the excitement of closing?

TakeBackSawCreek:  Some By-Laws are being modified this year, where do you stand on these changes?

Debra Wulff:   This question is hard to answer since I am not aware of any major changes to the By-Laws only some minor rules and regulation changes that would not have any major affect on the community. Primarily these changes had to do with wording and citation values. If you can be more specific I would gladly answer this question in more detail.

Regarding the proposed maintenance building, I had suggested to some the possibility of using an air-filled structure like many maintenance yards use for towns and highways. They are much cheaper I believe and can be put in areas perhaps not as suitable as a regular building and could be removed at a later date. Certainly, this structure should be where the road salt and gravel is on Decker Rd. That is a large enough area for it. I don't agree with utilizing the ball field or where the old stables are. 

Suzanne Mark:  I will be voting against both. I am very cautious in the matter of bylaw changes. Sometimes bylaws need changing as the ones we did last year where we eliminated language regarding the Developer which was outdated by 15 years. Sometimes change is for the convenience of Board and management and may not be in the best interest of homeowners.  Some changes may also be favored by one Board but not another. I believe in keeping the bylaws (our foundation) consistent over time. Regarding the bylaw change 1, publication of preliminary budget. In the past getting the draft budget together and make the newsletter Fall issue deadline has been a problem. The problem could be solved by simply starting the process earlier and possibly going longer. Making the draft budget only available through stopping at MSO or through the website is an inconvenience to homeowners. Even though few homeowners probably read the budget, I believe it should be printed and in their hands. The newsletter provides that without the additional expense of printing and mailing just the budget. This bylaw change moves the budget further away from homeowner access. Bylaw change 2, Removal of ‘Approval of bills for payment; while we have several safeguards regarding spending approval and have not actually had this item on the agenda for some time, I’m not comfortable removing it from our basic bylaw requirements.

MISSING QUESTION- Maintenance Building.  I will be voting against this proposal. I am in full agreement with the Board of the need to have facility or facilities to protect the machinery and equipment as well as space for indoor maintenance and repair work. The current engineering site plan puts a 50 x 100 x 15+ foot building on the ski hill. The Bylaws require any new facility more than $175,000 to be approved by the homeowners. As a student of park planning and a recreation professional, I don’t want to see a warehouse on the ski hill. I believe we need more discussion and better preliminary planning work to find a better fit for our needs without irreparably scarring our beautiful landscape. In closing (which I am sure your readers may be glad of by now) I truly believe we are one if not the best Community in the Poconos. Yes, we have challenges, yes, we can improve on so many things we are doing, but I don’t want to live anywhere else. We are sorely in need of more homeowner involvement. Let me hear from you. 
Return home
Take Back Saw Creek, LLC 2017