All candidates running for the board of directors at last night’s Meet the Candidates forum agreed that the coop should have a reserve fund for unforeseen expenses and that the community room should be made more available to cooperators. Consensus on these issues marks a stark departure from current policy, setting up a battle for change after shareholders elect four directors in two weeks.
Building an appropriate reserve fund has been suggested by shareholders at successive annual meetings and championed by past board members, including Lee Berman, who is running again this year to rejoin the board. Typically in coops, reserve funds are used to pay for emergency repairs and large capital improvements in order to save shareholders from disruptive assessments. Despite having aging pipes, roofs, and elevators, East River Coop has no money set aside to help pay for needed upgrades. (When $4.3 million was spent on a new boiler two years ago, the expense was controversially covered by extending the coop’s mortgage.)
Peter Herb, an 8-year board president at his former cooperative home in the West Village, said, “Not having a reserve fund seems to be a foolish way of running things.” He said that an appropriate reserve fund is generally considered to be 10% of operating expenses, or approximately $2.3 million for East River. Tom Skibicki pointed out that “funding the fund is the challenge,” and current director Dov Goldman — the only incumbent among this year’s candidates — seconded that concern, saying, “the money does need to come from something.” Dov suggested setting aside some money from the 20% flip tax on first-time sales, even though that money is currently needed to fund operating expenses.
Lee Berman told the audience that a reserve fund would need to be built up slowly over time in order to not impact shareholders’ personal budgets. He said that when he previously served on the board he suggested a $2 per room fee that would accrue to create a sufficient safety net, but that creating a reserve fund was not a priority for other directors.
Since at least four of eleven directors will soon have a commitment to building a reserve fund, the board’s priorities may be shifting.
Another surprising area of unanimity was the issue of community room usage. When asked if the room should be made available to cooperators during times when it is not rented for private functions, all the candidates agreed. “If it’s a community room, it should be used by the community,” said Peter Herb. Don Mathisen said not only should the room be used but it “should be encouraged to be used.”
Use of the community room has also long been a bone of contention for certain shareholders who see it’s large price tag — it can be rented for $350 for any part of a single day — and shabby conditions as a waste of precious real estate.
Other topics did not encourage the same universal agreement. On the question of whether our lobbies should be redesigned, Don Mathisen said, “The lobbies are the entrance to our home, and when I walk into our lobbies now I feel we could make them more warm, more friendly, more homey.” Malkie Malchlis disagreed: “I think our lobbies are beautiful. I would save our money and use our money for things that are more important.” Peter Herb suggested that cooperators would need to be surveyed before knowing whether the expense would be worthwhile. Alan Rick said that improving the aesthetics of the buildings is one of the three biggest challenges he’d like to address. Michele Amar, Dov Goldman, and Tom Skibicki all qualified their support for a redesign with concerns about the cost.
Other questions addressed the role of the house committee, possible security improvements, term limits, and composting. The impending federal lawsuit (the U.S. Attorney is suing East River Coop for discrimination) was raised only by Don Mathisen, who expressed more than once his concern with the ongoing legal costs and potentially devastating penalties if the government prevails. “Personally I’m not in favor of animals or against animals … I’m against wasting money,” he said.
Election will be held at the coop’s annual meeting on Monday, December 8. If you cannot attend the meeting in person, directed proxies (absentee ballots) can be mailed to the coop’s attorney but must be received by 5:00 pm on December 8. General proxies can be signed over to any neighbor, friend, or family member to vote in your place at the annual meeting.