By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
A few days ago, I explained, by example, the outrageous reason that local governments mandate homeowners’ associations for all new residential development: double taxation.
For decades, most government leaders bought into the misguided notion that they could privatize public services by shifting responsibility to HOAs. Under the guise of saving money and keeping property taxes low, city and county governments created the ultimate bait and switch scheme.
But in the post-recession decade, homeowners have been hit hard with increasing property taxes and HOA fees. Even worse, despite increasing costs, many association-governed communities are dealing with crumbling roads and poor stormwater drainage.
More and more homeowners say, enough is enough!
We pay taxes! Why should homeowners have to fund basic services through an HOA?
Road repair and upkeep is the city’s or county’s job. Ditto for managing stormwater. After all, poorly built roads and bad drainage go hand in hand.
Little by little, city and county leaders are starting to “get it.” Finally, we’re seeing local reports of elected officials who still believe in public service. At the moment, they’re still outnumbered by the politicians who would rather collect higher taxes while providing fewer services.
But change is on the horizon.
Should city force HOA to remove leaves and snow from public roads?
For example, let’s look at Lower Macungie Township, a suburb of Allentown, Pennsylvania.
According to a recent report in the Morning Call, the growing township has130 miles of roads. A real estate developer, Tuskes Homes, has agreed to pay Lower Macungie Township $79,548 for traffic impact fees, in exchange for approval of plans to build 42 Single Family homes on a 21-acre parcel.
But buyers of new homes in Millbrook Farms Phase 6, an ungated community with public roads and no shared recreational amenities, will have to agree to membership in a mandatory HOA.
Because Commissioner President Ronald W. Beitler and three fellow commissioners voted in favor of a ‘compromise’ plan for road maintenance. You see, the township will require the HOA to take care of leaf removal and snow plowing of the public roads in the small development.
And, also, four out five commissioners insisted that Tuskes Homes must set aside a 1.8 acres “park.” which the HOA must maintain.
This despite the fact that Tuskes Homes had requested, through its attorney Kate Durso, permission to build two more homes in Phase 6. The additional homes would have eliminated common “open space” and the need for an HOA to pay for lawn mowing, weed control, and landscaping.
Lower Macungie already has public parks, but the majority of commissioners still felt the need to create a “hook” to mandate an HOA to cover the cost of some road maintenance.
But there’s a small bright spot in this story. You see, Commissioner Brian Higgins had the guts to vote NO on this short-sighted development plan.
According to the Morning Call:
Commissioner Brian Higgins — the lone no vote for the plan — said later having township roads being partially maintained by a private association “sets a bad precedent.”
“When you move into a community, you’re expecting that your municipality will take care of certain things,” he said. “I think it is our responsibility to provide basic services for residents who live in public areas…not private communities, not gated communities.”
Higgins said it creates a dichotomy between residents in older developments, where the township owns and maintains all the streets, and those in newer developments that must pay homeowner association fees toward snowplowing and leaf collection.
“They’re not getting a break on what they pay us, but they’re paying extra to have those services,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something we want to practice long term.”
Kudos to Commissioner Higgins. He understands that HOAs are nothing more than a way to double tax property owners for both public and “private” services.
Lower Macungie Township needs more leaders like Higgins, because he believes that the mission of local government is to provide basic community services. That includes keeping public roads free of leaves, snow, and ice.
Is the township is truly so financially strapped, and unable to afford to take care of a few roads in one small neighborhood? Then the commissioners could opt to assess the new homes to collect the added impact cost of leaf and snow removal.
As it stands now, future Millbrook Farms 6 homeowners will have to pay hefty HOA fees for private contractors to haul away leaves and plow snow in their small community. By contrast, due to economies of scale, taxpayers’ share of debris removal from their new public roads would likely cost just a few extra dollars per month.
Hopefully, buyers will be informed of this insane shared road maintenance policy before they close sale on their new homes.
City plans to adopt unfinished roads for public maintenance
Meanwhile, the News Herald of eastern Tennessee reports that the Mayors of Lenoir City and Loudon County are working with the Allenbrook HOA to adopt three roads in their community.
According to the report, Allenbrook’s original developer failed to complete the roads when he declared bankruptcy after the recession of 2007. At the time the community was under construction, the city and county were sharing an administrator of planning. Unfortunately, the planner allowed a letter of credit to lapse, and the developer was able to walk away from the project without depositing cash to finish the roads in Allenbrook.
More than a decade later, three roads are in need of repair: Flora Drive, Tristan Court and part of Lancaster Drive. Homeowners say that drainage is poor, and that, when it rains, silt collects at one end of Flora Drive.
The roads have never been transferred to the city as originally planned, and, as a result, the HOA never collected money to maintain them either.
Allenbrook Homeowners Association board members Barry Perkins and Barrett Hobbs, along with dozens of other taxpaying homeowners, continue to pressure City Council to take responsibility for the roads.
They insist — rightfully so — that they shouldn’t have to pay to fix the roads in their subdivision. Obviously, it’s not their fault the County, City, and developer messed up, saddling the community with rough roads and bad stormwater drainage.
Fortunately, Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw seem willing to help Allenbrook homeowners.
As quoted from the News-Herald,
Lenoir City did not have its own planning office and instead carried operations through Russ Newman, a shared employee between the city and Loudon County. A letter of credit lapsed on the developer.
After speaking with city attorney Gregg Harrison, the plan could be to adopt the roadway, Aikens said. A decision would not be made until he learned what the county planned to do, which was set for discussion at the Loudon County Commission workshop Tuesday. As of Monday, Aikens was only aware of Flora Drive.
“Those people are paying city and county taxes, and we want to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” Aikens said. “We also want to treat the citizens right, and I don’t think that we’re treating those citizens out there right by delaying it and not being able to do something. I asked early on for the homeowners association to try to come up with some money, but it’s a very small nominal fee that they pay out there and they just didn’t have it. But they’ve continued to pay city and county taxes for the last five years or so and I just think that we need to try to help them. It’s the right thing to do.”
What a breath of fresh air! Looks like the people of Loudon County and Lenoir City elected two Mayors with a commitment to public service.
Hopefully, Lenoir City Council and Loudon County Commissioners share that commitment, and taxpaying homeowners in Allenbrook will finally get the safe roads they deserve.
Lower Macungie OKs additional homes, but draws line on plowing the roads Margie Peterson, Special to The Morning Call, Jan. 22, 2019
Allenbrook roads in question By Jeremy Nash firstname.lastname@example.org Jan 23, 2019