BUSHKILL — In September 2019, Pine Ridge Community Association had two developments on the financial front: residents were assessed a $300 fee, and community manager William White’s salary doubled from $50,000 to $100,000.
A notice dated Sept. 12, 2019, refers to the new fee as a “special assessment” and a “temporary increase.”
Resident Simon Peters calls it “the bailout.”
Residents of the private community in Pike County were told it was “to keep us out of bankruptcy,” according to Karena Lewis. She said they were told, “We would never make it to spring if we didn’t have the $300.”
But she questioned how urgent the need was, because residents were given the option of making $30 payments over 10 months.
Lewis was also doubtful because of what she sees as wasteful spending: “We got a backhoe. I don’t even know why we have a backhoe. We bought a log splitter. I don’t even know why we bought a log splitter.”
Meanwhile, she said, amenities like the pool and basketball court aren’t well-maintained. Multiple residents complained of poorly maintained roads.
The Pine Ridge board of directors gave White a raise “effective immediately” on Sept. 18, 2019, as well as a three-year contract extension, according to the board’s minutes.
“But we were broke just a month before that.” Peters said.
Lewis felt that the $300 wasn’t about the community’s financial health — “it’s actually really to go to pay him.”
Attempts to reach White for comment on the timing of these two developments, and about other concerns raised by residents, were unsuccessful.
Residents including Andrew and Anna Mospak have asked to see the community’s books, but have been denied. They do get monthly financial reports — December 2019’s shows expenses exceeding income by about $19,500 — but a detailed accounting of all spending is not available to the community.
White’s new salary, which works out to about $48 per hour, is cheaper than paying a lawyer $250 per hour, Pine Ridge Treasurer Michael Timmerman told residents in a Facebook group.
A voicemail left for a Pocono Record reporter by a woman who hid her phone number and did not give her name offered this praise of White: “Out of all the managers we’ve had in all the recent years, he has been very, very productive. Like I said, he’s trying to clean up a mess that’s been there, you know, and he’s doing the best that he can as a manager. Yeah, he has strict rules, but you know, that’s life. People have to get over it and try to work things out civil instead of being angry.”
“I hope you’ll be fair,” she said three separate times. She did not provide a way to contact her for more information about White’s work.
Some Pine Ridge residents say they’re receiving murky explanations for fees they find unfair, at the same time as they’re seeing a poorly maintained community and a well-paid manager.
Tania Middleton said she’s been told she needs to pay tickets for a visitor she’s not sure she had.
She’s doubtful that the fines are connected to anyone who actually visited her, because she has asked to see footage that would back them up, but hasn’t been shown any. Additionally, “they spelled the gentleman’s name wrong. I’m thinking it was somebody else and it’s not even the person who I thought it was.”
In the meantime, she says additional fees for not paying are stacking on top the original issue.
The only way to object to a fine involves paying it. According to the community’s rules and regulations, an appeal to the grievance committee “must include the full payment of the fine” within 15 days.
Peters said he hasn’t personally received poorly explained fees since White’s tenure began in May 2019, though he asked, “What’s their fun in putting me in bad standing when I’m already there?”
Peters said his old fines were issued after he tried to pass out relevant legal information at a board meeting and was told he couldn’t.
“Next thing you know, I took more tickets than the Titanic took water,” he said.
The Mospaks are especially concerned about fines issued to elderly residents. Those residents are less likely to be able to quickly remove leaves from their culverts, for example — potentially resulting in a $500 fee — for failing to complete a task maintenance used to do.
“Everything comes down to how to make money, and it’s just wrong,” Andrew Mospak said, adding that when he attended a recent grievance hearing, those facing fines were primarily “ultra-poor” or elderly residents.
One elderly man was “accused of threatening someone,” Mospak said, though the man had trouble standing from his chair and sitting back down, and could not reasonably be seen as capable of carrying out any threat.
A gate at the front entrance to Pine Ridge was in operation without a permit, some residents allege, until it was taken down. The gatehouse does not have a bathroom, they say, so what happens when the guard on duty has to leave?
“There was a permit taken out,” Lehman Township Zoning Officer Stan Whittaker clarified, but as of Wednesday, Feb. 19 there had been no final inspection and the gate was not in operation.
Because the gate was included in a budget passed in 2015 — the last year a budget was passed — some residents aren’t sure how the community is paying for it now.
“I’m baffled on how we even got that up and running,” Lewis said.
The multi-page application for gate cards includes a space for the Social Security numbers of the owners or tenants. State Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-189) intervened after residents complained about being asked for that information.
White told her it wasn’t required and he would change the form, Mospak and Lewis both said, but that hasn’t happened.
Here, too, Mospak is worried about older residents who may have provided their personal information, assuming they had no choice but to fully fill out the form.
As of December 2019, the Pine Ridge Community Association was owed almost $4.5 million for dues and additional fees and interest.
It’s unclear whether payment plans are available to residents in bad standing. (A question about this was among those the Pocono Record sought White’s comment on.)
Lewis said White “said that he was willing to talk to people, but now he won’t honor payment plans,” while the woman who left the anonymous voicemail said he is making plans.
That woman claimed complaints are coming from people who are behind on their dues: “I know those that reached out to you are the ones that owe a lot of money to the community.”
The Pocono Record spoke to residents in both good and bad standing, who had similar complaints regardless of their financial situations.
“I pay my dues. I do what I have to do. My property’s clean. It’s ridiculous,” Middleton said.