By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Across the U.S., homeowners are considering tax districts to help them make essential repairs to their HOA infrastructure. Volunteer-led HOA boards face the difficult task of finding affordable solutions to deal with their busted dams, silt-filled lakes, crumbling roads and bridges, and obsolete wastewater systems.
It’s an increasingly common problem in association-governed common interest communities, especially as infrastructure breaks down or wears out with age.
Most HOAs are relatively small neighborhoods limited to a few dozen, perhaps a few hundred homes. But repair costs for many communities often exceed the resources available to the community through HOA assessments alone.
HOAs can also find it difficult to identify contractors willing and able to rebuild all the broken pieces of their communities. The amount of work needed can be extensive, specially after decades of deferred maintenance.
Meeting permit and environmental requirements alone is a daunting task. Between the complexities of a project and the work order’s relatively small size, plenty of contractors shy away from working with HOAs.
Likewise, HOA boards usually run into opposition from members who are unable to pay huge special assessments on short notice. Homeowners may be equally unwilling to drastically increase monthly or quarterly HOA assessments to pay for those expensive improvement projects, too.
HOAs seek help from local governments
So, IAC observes more and more examples of HOAs pressuring their local governments for help. That help can take the form of grants, cost-sharing arrangements, and formation of special tax districts to allow the repairs to be made now, but repaid with assessments to property taxes over the next 10-20 years.
Working with cities and counties has many advantages for HOAs.
First, local governments have better access to technical experts such as engineers and environmental scientists. Through their formal bid and proposal process, counties and cities are likely to attract more competitive bids from qualified contractors.
Local governments can also supply much-needed administrative support to groups of volunteer homeowner board members.
In some cases, the local government will assist several HOA communities in consolidating their needs. By forming regional tax districts or public authorities, multiple HOAs can spread out the cost of improvements among thousands of property owners, thus reducing the annual tax or utility bills for each property owner.
Several examples follow.
Sometimes, the biggest hurdle for homeowners is convincing the local government to provide assistance, including establishment of tax districts. That’s not surprising, since the vast majority of the time, local governments have spent decades strongly encouraging or mandating HOAs for new subdivisions.
The goal, at the time, was to make certain that existing taxpayers would never have to foot the bill for the cost of new construction. However, when cities and counties figured out that they could collect property taxes on new homes, without having to spend much money on public maintenance and services to these new communities, they became hooked on the HOA cash cow as a major part of development planning.
Predictably, some local government council members will resist helping one HOA, because then dozens more HOAs will expect help, too.
Other elected leaders reason that homeowners in HOAs pay taxes, just as their non-HOA neighbors. Why shouldn’t they have a right to public services when needed?
In Cumberland County, NC, homeowners deal with an indecisive commission with regard to a dam repair project.
Mount Vernon Estates dam project in limbo after Cumberland County commissioners’ vote
By Steve DeVane
Posted Oct 15, 2018 at 10:25 PM
County commissioners voted 4-3 on Monday to delay a watershed improvement project that would have repaired a dam in the southern part of the county.
It’s unclear whether or not the decision will kill the project in the Mount Vernon Estates neighborhood. Commissioners had narrowly approved the project in June.
The dam, which is near Fire Department Road, was breached when heavy rain from Hurricane Matthew hit the area in October 2016.
Residents who live on what once was a lake formed by the dam had asked commissioners to set up a district that would allow them to repay the county for dam repairs through a “special assessment” on their properties.
In June, Chairman Larry Lancaster and commissioners Michael Boose, Marshall Faircloth and Jimmy Keefe voted to move forward with the project. Jeannette Council, the vice chairwoman, and commissioners Glenn Adams and Charles Evans opposed it.
Monday, Faircloth voted with Council, Adams and Evans to delay the project, saying he thinks the board needs to take a larger look at what happened to dams in the county.
Read the previous news report:
Cumberland County commissioners to discuss dam repair requests
Homeowners in Georgia have been told that, because they own a ‘private’ lake, it’s up to them to dredge silt that keeps flowing into it from upstream.
But homeowners say that they cannot afford to clear tons of silt from the lake. And since the debris originates from other neighborhoods that are not part of their HOA, they deserve assistance from Cumberland County.
The county says it sometimes assists communities by creating tax districts to fund the costly projects such at this.
Springlakes subdivision looking for answers after sediment continues to fill lake
By: Ashley Campbell, CSRA News
Posted: Sep 24, 2018 05:11 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 24, 2018 05:11 PM EDT
COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga.(WJBF) – As water flows through Reed Creek and into the lake of the Springslakes neighborhood in Martinez, homeowners say something else is flowing- sediment and storm water run-off.
The HOA president says they’ve dredged the lake twice but new EPA regulations have put a stop to that because the cost to dredge is more expensive.
“It is an asset. The Springlakes lake is one of our assets. We need to maintain it. We need to make sure it’s cleaned-up,” said HOA President Surendra Gupta.
The HOA is working to get another dredging permit, but that’s where it stops.
The HOA says it doesn’t have the cash to move dirt and the HOA says there’s a lot of dirt to remove.
“We’ve had some studies done, and I think the average now is 2 and a half foot of sediment throughout the entire lake,” said homeowner Michael Sutton.
We spoke to Commissioner Trey Allen who’s over that district.
Allen says the county is considering a special tax district which would have the county front the money but the HOA would still have to pay it back over the course of ten to twenty years.
Read more (video):
In this Florida community, a neglected wooden bridge is so unsafe that it needs emergency repair. And even then, the bridge won’t be sturdy enough to accommodate a fire truck in an emergency.
Santa Rosa County has agreed to help the HOA with short term repairs, and to set up a tax district to construct a new, stronger bridge that will meet current building codes.
The process to set up the tax district will take several months, and requires a two-thirds vote of approval from property owners. Homeowners will pay back the County over a 10-12 year period.
Projects involving public health and safety are good candidates for tax districts.
No fire response in Bernath Place due to a failed bridge inspection
by Randy WoodThursday, August 30th 2018
MILTON, FLA. (WEAR-TV) — Bernath Place is an upper middle-class subdivision southwest of Milton. The fifty -four homes are well kept.
But keeping fire engines rolling on these streets in an emergency has become an issue.
The Avalon Fire Department informed the homeowners association by letter in the spring, that they cannot use the bridge that leads to the neighborhood, after it failed an inspection.
For the county to take over maintenance of the road, and bridge, it would have to first be brought up to county standards.
Commissioner Parker says that would be costly, but the county can help if residents are willing.
Parker says”Through an MSBU or municipal service benefit unit where the county will loan them the money, so they can get the repairs done. It’s just assessed on their taxes over a 10-year period.”
There is another way to access the subdivision. But both the county and fire department say the dirt road that crosses railroad tracks at this locked gate, will not accommodate a fire truck.
Read more (video):
See the following article for more details:
Bernath Drive residents ask Santa Rosa County for help fixing bridge
Several 50-60 year old condominium communities in Maui must upgrade their sewage treatment systems to meet current environmental regulations.
Property owners have begun discussing the possibility of establishing a tax district for building a new regional wastewater utility plant.
Those in favor of the option say it makes fiscal sense, since most of the small condominium associations cannot afford the high cost of building their own small sewage treatment plants.
Maalaea condo groups working on wastewater alternatives
Health Department citations issued for three condominium complexes
OCT 14, 2018
Staff Writer, Maui News
The Maalaea Village Association has begun facilitating discussions among area residents, businesses and governmental entities about the feasibility of a regional wastewater treatment plant to serve the Maalaea community.
Condominiums that line Maalaea Bay have their own wastewater systems, but they are aging and getting difficult to test and maintain. Some condominiums are under enforcement action from the state Department of Health to repair and upgrade their wastewater treatment plants. But cost estimates to do the required work are in the $1 million range for each project, the association said.
The wastewater systems’ injection wells are coming under increased scrutiny. The association points to Maui County losing an appeal against the federal Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year. This was over the county violating the Clean Water Act by pumping treated wastewater into injection wells at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility since the early 1980s.
And, there is a new state law that prohibits the Health Department from issuing permits for the construction of sewage wastewater injection wells unless alternative wastewater options are not available, feasible or practical.
So, the association is ramping up efforts to find possible solutions.