Paula Chin in Board Operations on April 3, 2018
The Murray Hill Crescent co-op, a 21-story, 280-unit post-war building with a distinctive curved facade, is proof that committees can be an invaluable help to co-op boards. First came a makeover of the common areas, then a $1.3 million renovation project. Thanks to active shareholder committees – and a tight rein on its finances – Murray Hill Crescent has been able to fund such major capital projects without raising maintenance.
“Our committees have always been very thorough and meticulous, which is their job,” says Scott Rifkin, the co-op’s treasurer. “Mine is taking charge of the money and keeping my eye on the ball.”
When Rifkin, an accountant at the Citco Group, became treasurer in 2013, Murray Hill Crescent wasn’t running a tight ship. “The board wasn’t as proactive as it could have been when it came to accounting,” he recalls. “Whether it was plumbing or plastering, they had historically relied on management to tell them what work was done – and only after the fact, when invoices were already sent and paid. I also saw that there was a big surplus in the operating budget and moved to invest surplus funds in the highest-yield accounts.”
With the board’s encouragement, Rifkin was quick to get the co-op in order. He initiated a weekly contractor report, asking the co-op’s longtime super, Guillermo Guzman, to submit a list every Tuesday morning of all the contractors who had worked on the property in the previous seven days.
“That includes which apartments and exactly what was done, giving me a running tally so I could see right away if we were getting billed correctly,” Rifkin says. He also had Guzman prepare and present a separate report to the board and management at monthly meetings. “Keeping track of repairs and projects helps us have a better understanding of the condition of our building and what has to be fixed before there’s a serious problem,” Guzman says. “Preventive is the way to go.”
Rifkin wanted to be more hands-on with payables, too. When the co-op’s management company, Century Management Services, began using an electronic bill paying system called AvidXchange last summer, Rifkin asked management to let him in on the loop so he could access accounts in real time.
“They pushed back at first because they didn’t want another party involved,” Rifkin says, “but then I think they realized having another pair of eyes would prevent errors from falling through the cracks. AvidXchange automatically sends invoices to management, they approve them, and then they come to me. I check them against the weekly report, and if things are in order, it goes into the payables column – all in one fell swoop. It’s easy to refer to previous bills, too, since the system puts everything in a central location.”
Adam Zerka, a senior account executive at Century, has learned to appreciate the extra pair of eyes. “Thanks to Scott,” Zerka says, “there’s now a three-tier system with the super, himself, and me, which makes it easy to stay on top of everything. And believe me, Scott is on top of it. If there’s a dollar difference, he’ll catch it. At the same time, it’s not like he won’t spend a dime. He just wants to spend it wisely.”
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