FLORHAM PARK, NJ- Local protestors lined the front of Board of Directors President, Harrison Feather’s driveway this Wednesday evening to voice their displeasure about a plan that would add an approximated $100 to their monthly fee.
The hike in fees was dictated to the community as a necessity for the completion of works in the neighborhood. With a road that is over 20 years old and many homes and driveways beginning to show some wear, the board had been looking into reasonable assessment increases for some months.
When Feather was elected in March however, the project was kicked into high gear. His proposed plan was to fund the projects using the replacement reserve, a pool of funds that is set to total over $500,000 by the end of 2016, and replenish this fund over the course of 3 years by levying monthly assessment fees.
The original 2016 budget saw each resident pay a fee ranging from $328 for a 1 bedroom to $451 for a 2 bedroom. This assessment will push these fees up to $422 for a one bedroom and up to $580 for a 2 bedroom. This is over a 28% increase for residents of the community.
“It’s horrible,” Brandywyne resident and professional fraud investigator, Laura Herson, said. “One person has to give up their cable to pay for the increase and some residents that are on unemployment or social security don’t even know how they are going to pay it.”
The real controversy surrounding this assessment began at the May 19th board meeting. A letter was sent to the members of the community on May 3rd that advertised the meeting as a chance to clarify the plan and entertain questions. The meeting hall was full of residents anxious to discuss the matter at hand and make their opinions heard by their elected board.
“There was no discussion,” Herson said. “It was told to us, it is a done deal and this is what you’re going to pay. If you don’t pay it, you are going to have a lean put on your house.”
Feather managed to alienate and enrage a large portion of the community with his attitude and comments as he spoke to the community that night.
“I have little respect for 3 of the board members, especially Harrison, who demeaned everyone who spoke or questioned anything at the May 19th meeting." Local resident Ruth Herr said. "He has still not apologized for his rude, arrogant behavior and comments.”
One of his staunch allies and former board member, JoAnn Naklicki, sent around a letter to the community in support of him where she stated “The Harrison you met at the May 19th meeting is not the Harrison I know. That was a terrible meeting and Harrison’s attitude was awful. There is no disputing that. However, ask yourself two questions: First, are any of us without flaws? Harrison may not have the patience you may wish he had, but he has done a better job as our board president than anyone I've seen. He puts more time and effort into this community than any of the presidents I've know. He and Ted are always in the neighborhood checking the work that is being done. Isn't that what we want?”
Three of the five board members have voted in favor of the plan including Feather’s wife Carol, who was assigned to the board shortly after he was elected in March, and his friend Ted Ambrosiano.
One of the two board members who have not seen eye to eye with Feather on the plan, Scott Hibbard, was present at the protest. He spent his time talking with the community about their feelings on the whole issue.
“Everyone on the board is absolutely in agreement that roads have to get replaced.” Hibbard said. “We’re in this situation because we didn’t collect enough money over the past 30 years. We can’t undo the problems of 30 years inside of 3. Let’s undo the problems of 30 years over 5. Make the maintenance fee lower and at $50 a month people will see results and still be able to pay their other bills.”
While he does believe that the whole board approached this issue from an altruistic place, he can also see that it has been mismanaged. When asked about the May 19th meeting and how it was more dictating what would be done rather than discussing it, he replied “that was an understatement.”
“I would have liked to meet with the community, no decisions made, just an open forum,” Hibbard went on to say. “Where we would tell the people what the problem is, that our reserves are low, and give them a few options. At $40 dollars a month we can do A, B and C, at $60 dollars a month we can do A, B, C and D, and so on. After we get the input we go back and take that input and decide on what is the best thing to do for the community.”
The conflict rages on as a petition to hold a special meeting to vote out Feather and his wife is currently underway. Only time will tell how it will end.