Why Is My Con Ed Bill So High?

At Bryant Gardens, Con Edison is our friend. The first Con Ed bills for gas for our boilers show substantial savings — nearly 50% — over the cost of oil. Wow!

But the glow turned to glower when we opened our personal Con Ed bill for January. The bill jumped 40% from December to January, although we used the same amount of gas and less electricity. A Con Ed conundrum!Conundrum

The cause of the increase? Electricity rates. Our EL1 residential rate jumped from 8.11 cents/kilowatt-hour to 19.10 c/kwh in January. Con Edison offered to enroll us in their level billing plan to ease the pain, but had nothing to say about the record high rates.

A quick Google search revealed a spike in electricity rates due to higher costs for natural gas. Sound like a Con Ed con? Yes, but here’s how it happens. Electrical energy is manufactured by giant turbines powered by a natural source of energy such a water, wind, coal, oil, nuclear fission or — you guessed it — gas. Con Ed gets most of its electricity from suppliers whose plants are fired by natural gas.

Large users of natural gas, like factories and utilities, have long term contracts to buy gas at low rates year round — a level buying plan. But when demand spikes — as it has during this year’s arctic freeze, Con Ed’s suppliers are forced to buy the extra gas they need on the spot market and pay the “going rate.”

But wait you say, why should the going rate be high when we’ve got all that natural gas next door in the Marcellus shale formation of Pennsylvania and New York. Ah yes. All that gas in the ground. But almost no pipelines to Con Ed’s suppliers and other Northeast users — yet. Coming soon, but “under construction” now.

So when demand spikes, natural gas users ask the Texans who have it to supply more gas. But there’s a limit to how much gas you can push through a pipe, and prices skyrocket.

So don’t bother calling Con Ed to complain. Blame it on the cowboys.

To read more about this problem, head over to Bloomberg Businessweek for “Northeast’s Record Natural Gas Prices Due to Pipeline Dearth.”

Weather Alert

Weather AlertManagement advises Bryant Gardens residents to stay indoors if they can, and to exercise extreme caution if they must go out.

Due to the extremely cold weather, sidewalks, steps and parking lots may become very icy. Although main roads are clear, local roads may also be icy.

Temperatures today and tomorrow will hover around 10 degrees, with wind chills in the negative teens. If you go out, please dress in layers and be sure to protect your hands, feet and head against frostbite.

Our Maintenance Department, reinforced with personnel from local contractors, continues to clear the paths, roadways and parking lots by hand and by plow, and to spread sand and salt.

Please report hazardous conditions to Maintenance: 914-946-3313.

Ticket, Tow or Boot?

I just got a Bryant Gardens parking ticket.  Now what?

Vehicle displaying Bryant Gardens parking ticket.Unless you are a repeat offender, consider the ticket a friendly reminder. The ticket was issued for a violation of NY State, White Plains, or Bryant Gardens regulations. The reminders work. Most vehicles never get a second ticket.

However, repeat offenders may find their vehicle booted or towed. Most repeaters get 3 reminder tickets. A fourth violation within 18 months gets special treatment. The vehicle is ticketed and booted or towed.

Parking enforcement is carried out by our Security team of six former police officers and detectives. They are the only personnel issuing tickets, and the only ones with access to our parking violations data bank. If you have evidence that a ticket was written in error, leave a note for Security in the Maintenance Office.

The Security Officers who conduct parking enforcement for Bryant Gardens are all current White Plains Police Department Officers or retired Officers. They do not carry firearms while on duty at Bryant Gardens, but they monitor and will respond to 911 calls.


What’s with the Ice Melt?

What’s up with the box of commercial ice-melt sitting on the stone bench under my building’s entrance canopy?
Commercial ice-melt
It’s not just your building, and it wasn’t left behind by mistake. Ice-melt has been distributed to every building, a box near each entrance door.

The idea — proposed by several residents — is to make ice-melt, and soon sand too, available to deal with unexpected icing before Maintenance personnel can be mobilized. It is NOT a substitute for reporting icy conditions to Maintenance by calling 914-946-3313.

The first few feet just outside the entrance door can be particularly challenging in winter, especially at night. Ice melt there can make it safer for everyone. But use caution if you decide to spread the ice-melt yourself.  And don’t use it on the stairs, which should be left to the porters.

10 Green Ways

All Gain: No Pain
10 Easy, Cheap Ways to Save Energy, Save Money & Save the Planet

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Do your part to reduce waste by choosing reusable products instead of disposables. Buying products with minimal packaging (including the economy size when that makes sense for you) will help to reduce waste. And whenever you can, recycle paper, plastic, newspaper, glass and aluminum cans.

2. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioningthinkgreen
Turn down the heat while you’re sleeping at night or away during the day, and keep temperatures moderate at all times. Remove or cover window air conditioners in the winter. Weatherize your home or apartment, using caulk and weather stripping to plug air leaks around doors and windows.

3. Change a Light Bulb
Wherever practical, replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.

4. Drive Less and Drive Smart
Less driving means fewer emissions. Besides saving gasoline, walking and biking are great forms of exercise. Use mass transit system, and check out options for carpooling to work or school.

5. Clean green.
Use non-toxic cleaning products or make your own using baking soda, club soda, vinegar and salt.

6. Use Less Hot Water
Set your water heater at 120 degrees to save energy, and wrap it in an insulating blanket if it is more than 5 years old. Buy low-flow shower heads to save hot water. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water. Use the energy-saving settings on your dishwasher, don’t pre-rinse, and let the dishes air-dry.

7. Use the "Off" Switch
Save electricity and reduce global warming by turning off lights when you leave a room, and using only as much light as you need. And remember to turn off your television, video player, stereo and computer when you’re not using them.

8. Do the Maintenance
When you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently (check tire pressure, fluids, hoses, belts; change fluids) Change air conditioner, air cleaner filters.  Clean radiators. Fix leaky valves and faucets.

9. Eat smart
If you eat meat, add one meatless meal a week. Meat costs a lot at the store-and it’s even more expensive when you consider the related environmental and health costs. Buy locally raised, humane, and organic meat, eggs, and dairy whenever you can. Purchasing from local farmers keeps money in the local economy.

10. Encourage Others to Conserve
Share information about recycling and energy conservation with your friends, neighbors and co-workers, and take opportunities to encourage public officials to establish programs and policies that are good for the environment.

Bryant Gardens Gets Beautification Award

The White Plains Beautification Foundation presented the Bryant Gardens Cooperative with its 2009 Neighborhood Beautification Award at its November meeting.

White Plains Beautification Foundation President Mary R. Merenda presented the Award on Monday, November 16, 2009 at a meeting at 12:30 pm in the White Plains Public Library, Room B, 2nd Floor. She said the “lovely gardens this year” at Bryant Gardens enhance the City of White Plains, helping to make it a “city within a garden.”

From left, Louis Bruno, Robert Orlofsky, Robert Compasso and Tony Garrido.

Board President Lou Bruno, Property Manager Robert Orlofsky, Superintendent Robert Compasso and Landscape Gardener Tony Garrido

Bryant Gardens Board of Directors President Gaierose Haskel pointed to a long-term commitment to beautification that began over two decades ago when Mr. Orlofsky took over as Property Manager.  Supported by the Board and assisted throughout by Head Gardener Tony Garrido, Mr. Orlofsky has directed the plantings and improvements, garnering earlier awards in 1991 and 1998

According to Ms. Haskel, this latest award is yet another “tribute to the vision and direction” of Mr. Orlofsky.

The White Plains Beautification Foundation is a not-for-profit charitable organization comprised entirely of volunteers. One of the Foundation’s goals is to have people think of White Plains not just as a major business and shopping center, but as “A City in the Park.”

The Bryant Gardens Cooperative, located in White Plains, NY off Bryant Avenue, between Mamaroneck Ave and North Street, consists of fifteen two-story Colonial style garden apartment buildings nestled on 22 acres in a park-like setting minutes from downtown White Plains.

For more information:
White Plains Beautification Foundation website; contact President Mary R. Merenda at 914-761-8224 or by email.
Bryant Gardens Cooperative website; contact Louis J. Bruno at 914-574-2269 or by email.

Let’s Ban Smoking — Really

Everyone knows smoking contributes to heart, lung and other diseases. You can see why in the picture of a healthy human lung, left, and a blackened smoker’s lung. But smokers aren’t the only ones affected.

Most people know secondhand smoke is harmful, too. Andy Spano knows it. He banned smoking in Westchester workplaces in 2003. The people in Pueblo, Colorado know it, too. Their 2003 ban on smoking in public places is credited with a 30% drop in heart attacks.

At Bryant Gardens, House Rule 1(b) says:

Smoking is prohibited in the public areas of the buildings, including halls, stairways, basements and laundry rooms.

But a violation of Rule 1(b) is NOT “deemed to be a violation of a substantial obligation of the tenancy of the lessee.” Translation: it’s not enforceable.

We know smoking is harmful. We have a ban against it in public places at Bryant Gardens. Now we need to make it real by making it a violation of the lease, and enforcing it.

And perhaps the Board of Directors should consider turning down prospective shareholders and sub-letters who smoke!

What is a Board of Directors?

Talking PointThe Board of Directors governs the co-op community, planning its growth, monitoring its progress, and resolving problems. Its role in the co-op is crucial, not ceremonial. Its members, elected by the shareholders, need be both willing and able.

The annual shareholders meeting is set for Tuesday, November 29, 2005, and people are talking. Since the primary purpose of the meeting is to elect a new Board of Directors, a lot of the talk is about the Board — what it is and what it does.

Quick Definition. The Board of Directors is a group of individuals elected by the shareholders to promote their interests through the governance of the corporation.

Not Like Non-Profits. A co-op Board is not like the Boards of non-profit institutions, such as museums, friends of the arts, and charities. Those Boards serve primarily to raise funds. Their members need not be versed in the business of the organization, nor in governance. They have Directors to do that.

Oversight Body. Like those of major public companies, a co-op Board of Directors is primarily a high-level oversight body, which delegates the day-to-day running of the corporation to management — in our case, Robert Orlofsky Realty, Inc. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility for issues of ownership, strategy, and financing.

Powerful or Powerless. The power exerted by a Board varies from co-op to co-op. In some, the Board is a powerful body, providing strong direction to the management it selects. In others, the Board is a virtual formality, rubber-stamping management’s decisions.

Citizen Directors. Whether a Board is powerful or not has a lot to do with its makeup. Powerful Boards tend to include outside directors and shareholders selected for their expertise. Weaker Boards often consist of conscientious citizen shareholders whose chief credential is a willingness to serve in what many view as a thankless cause.

Role of Management. Weak Boards tend to occur when management sits on the Board. Some hold it is inappropriate for management to be included since this gives it too much power over the Board — which is supposed to provide oversight of management. Others think without management, the Board would be without direction.

Local Government. No matter who controls it, a co-op Board is unique in its responsibility. Unlike most corporate Boards, it is concerned both with the governance of the corporation, and the governance of the community. Its decisions impact not only the financial well-being of the shareholders, but also their comfort, convenience, and the relations among them. Charged with making and enforcing community rules, it is a de facto local government.

Strong Credentials Needed. The judicial, ethical, and fiduciary responsibilities of a co-op Board are so daunting — director’s liability insurance notwithstanding — it’s amazing that anyone runs for the Board. Nevertheless, shareholders must look past their amazement and gratitude to seek Directors whose expertise and experience match the awesome responsibilities. The Directors of our $7 million corporation with its $3 million annual budget need to be a lot more than willing, open-minded and fair.

Good Governance Needs Good Guidance

Co-ops Are For Living In

There are lots of wrong reasons to buy a co-op at Bryant Gardens. The only right reason is to live in it. One of the worst, but popular, wrong reasons is because “real estate is a better investment than the stock market.”

Prices Match Inflation. It’s true that Bryant Gardens prices have increased at double-digit rates for several years, but they haven’t always. Historically, real estate has lagged stocks, usually just beating inflation by one or two points. But there were times, not so long ago, when prices dropped more than 30%, and didn’t recover for nearly ten years.

Going Upside Down. Then, as long-term Bryant Gardens residents remember, people wound up owing a bigger mortgage than the co-op could be sold for — “upside down” in real estate parlance. Some were forced to walk away from co-ops they couldn’t sell, losing their investment and ruining their credit to boot.

Lure of Outsized Profits. The phenomenon of buying into a rising market on over-extended credit isn’t peculiar to real estate, to Bryant Gardens, or to our times. John Train’s lively and informative Famous Financial Fiascos, has examples in commodities, land, and stock stretching from 17th century Holland to 20th century America. The lure of quick, outsized profits has brought down ventures, companies and countries — and untold millions of small “investors.”

Beware Plunging Prices. Whenever a shareholder talks about his Bryant Gardens co-op as an investment instead of as his home, I get nervous. And I really hope that co-op prices don’t plunge, that interest rates don’t soar, that fuel prices don’t keep increasing, that he’s not already working two jobs, that he can delay starting a family, and that he borrowed from forgiving relatives, not a bank.

Banking on a rising market is a recipe for disaster, not profit.

Energy Conservation

Talking PointExperts say fuel costs will continue to rise. The Board needs to seriously consider boiler upgrades, valve and window replacement, and insulation before it spends another dollar on renovation.

On October 14, 2005, the Board of Directors released to shareholders a memo about the “Fuel Oil Surcharge and Capital Project Update.” It announced a doubling of the fuel oil surcharge from $12.00 to $24.00 per share annually — the surcharge now is just shy of a month’s maintenance after Star — and simultaneously reported approval of the hallway renovation plan and the beginning of an entranceway renovation project.

Favorable Comments. The memo says, “The Board received many very favorable comments about the prototype hallway that has been completed in Building 7.” It also reports, “Everyone that has seen the new entrance has complimented that it is beautiful and a welcome addition to Bryant Gardens.”

Analysis Trumps Compliments. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn all those favorable comments and compliments into fuel oil to heat our apartments this winter? Of course, we can’t. Compliments don’t pay the bills, and they’re no substitute for the cost benefit analysis the Board should have done before approving the renovations.

Conservation First. It is unresponsive and irresponsible for the Board to proceed with renovation projects, compliments or no, without first providing for conservation projects to reduce our heating costs, and not incidentally, to make our apartments more comfortable. As the memo says “there are apartments in Bryant Gardens that are overheated during a typical winter season.”

Heating Costs are High. At about $2.00 per gallon for #4 fuel oil, the cost for heating will be, on average, over $1100 per apartment this year. The memo says “Even by today’s standards that number is considered to be excellent.” The U.S. Department of Energy says “Heating and cooling costs the average homeowner around $600 a year.” Who’s kidding whom?

Aging, Inefficient Heating Plant. Our 25-year old heating plant, which our conscientious maintenance staff keeps working optimally, is nevertheless nowhere near as efficient as modern equipment. Any plant built over 15 years ago has a maximum efficiency around 80%; modern plants, using condensing boilers, top 95%. And there’s more efficiency to be gained by changing from just two boilers with no backups to more sophisticated configurations of multiple smaller boilers. Never mind the possible savings from rebates and cogeneration. And let’s not get started talking about insulation.

It’s 2005, not 1995. The memo says “After review with Con Edison in 1995, it was Con Edison’s conclusion that it was not cost effective for Bryant Gardens to convert to natural gas.” Right, but… Hey guys, it’s 2005. Fuel costs have increased 300% since 1995, but the cost of equipment and labor has increased only marginally. Back to the drawing board, Board. The real numbers will more than justify changing our aging boilers.

Experimentation, No. Consultation, Yes. The memo says “The Board has also experimented with Danfoss thermostatic control valves that help regulate the temperature in individual apartments.” May we suggest that instead of experimenting the Board follow the lead of responsible boards everywhere and hire a consultant? Thermostatic control valves save energy while making our apartments more comfortable.

Two Panes Better Than One. The memo says “All of the apartments have replacement thermal break insulated windows.” But that’s not what the experts recommend today. We urge the Board to get expert advice on replacing the remaining single pane windows with energy efficient double pane windows mounted in non-conducting window frames. But let’s get the valves replaced first. As others have noted, it doesn’t make any difference what kind of windows we have, if we have to leave them wide open in the winter.

The Onus is On Us. After imposing an increased fuel surcharge, and without proposing any meaningful ways to reduce fuel consumption, the Board suggests in its memo that shareholders should “Limit hot water and dishwasher usage,” to conserve energy. Well, at least they didn’t suggest we shower with a friend.

Conservation should begin in the Board Room.