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Votes

Cap Tapped Out?

Committee recommends raising fee maximum, expand membership.

For the first time in 20 years, the Reston Association is updating the documents that govern its relationship with its 21,155 members — a move that RA officials say will determine if Reston will be able to continue providing the services and programs residents have come to expect.

Since November 2002, a committee of 16 Reston Association members has poured over RA’s governing documents — specifically the Deed, Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation — and will formally present their recommended changes at a special RA Board meeting Thursday night.

Though most of the recommended changes to the documents merely modernize the language — for example all references to Reston Home Owners Association would be changed to Reston Association — there are several hot-button issues being proposed. Of these recommended changes, the most significant the committee will propose Thursday night include:

* Raise the existing maximum homeowner assessment fees from $250 to $300.

* Change fee adjustments currently based on the Consumer Price Index to an index model that incorporates labor costs.

* Add a new category of RA members who will live in future housing in the industrial corridor along the Dulles Toll Road. This new category would also allow existing residents of the Reston Town Center area to join RA.

"This is important. This is the future of the governance of Reston," said Cate Fulkerson, RA’s executive officer for board and legislative affairs. "It’s going to dictate how our members associate with us and how we associate with our members."

RA MEMBERS will vote on the proposed changes in a Nov. 1 referendum. In order for the changes to be enacted, two-thirds of a quorum — 40 percent of Reston’s 16,974 home and apartment owners — must agree to the changes.

Undoubtedly, RA officials agree, raising the cap on assessment fees will be the most controversial measure the committee is recommending.

Though the cap would be raised, any increase in homeowner’s fees would be slight and incremental over many years, said RA Executive Vice President Gerald Volloy.

"Our intention is certainly not to find a way to increase assessments in an unnecessary way," he said. "But we do need the flexibility to take care of the needs of our community."

Those needs, said RA’s Board President Suzi Jones, are the programs and services that Restonians have come to expect: upkeep of recreational facilities, staffing of Reston’s 15 pools, and maintaining Reston’s 55 miles of pathways. Without the proposed changes to the governing documents, many of these services and programs will inevitably be cut.

"RA’s job is to protect our property values," Jones said. "If we don’t do this, we won’t be able to maintain the standards our community has become accustomed to."

One reason RA wants to raise the assessment cap, Volloy said, is because prior to 1991, Reston’s recreational facilities were fully user funded. Under that system, RA members paid several hundred dollars in fees to use Reston’s pools and tennis courts. However, as user fees increased, attendance at the recreational facilities steadily declined. So, the RA rolled these user fees into the overall assessment fee, but never increased the cap.

Consequently, the existing assessment cap does not take into account that additional user fee, straining RA’s ability to fund its services and programs.

"The impact of that (on average) $50 roll-in was never recognized and it needs to be," Volloy said.

Also, Volloy pointed out, the cost of capital projects has increased over the past few years. To illustrate this, Volloy cited the rising costs of dredging Reston’s lakes. In 1987, the cost for dredging a cubic yard was $21.06, whereas that figure had risen to $37.66 per cubic yard in 2002.

AS THE GOVERNING documents stand now, increases in assessment fees are tied to the CPI, which is a measure of the price of consumer goods and services. Because RA provides services, rather than consume them, the CPI has become an inadequate model, Jones said.

"The Reston Association is labor intensive and the CPI used in the '80s didn’t account for labor costs," she said. "If we can’t pay people, we can’t do what we need to do."

The committee is recommending the documents switch from the "Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers" index to the "Civilian, Total Compensation, 12-Month Percent Change, All Workers" index. This move, Volloy said, is more appropriate for a homeownerís association.

"We're not a consumer, we’re a service and program provider," he said. "The majority of our cost is labor and personnel."

THE OTHER MAJOR proposed change is to create a new class of RA members who will live in the future residential areas of the industrial corridor.

These 10,800 potential new dwellings would be built near the three transit stations along the Dulles Toll Road at Wiehle, Herndon/Monroe and Reston Parkway.

By adding these future Reston residents to RA’s membership, the citizens would have access to all of RA’s programs and services, while RA would increase revenue via the new assessment fees.

"It’s really a win-win situation," Jones said.

This new category of RA members would also include current residents of the Town Center area and residents of future developments.

LEE RAU, chairman of the committee recommending the changes to the governing documents, said the committee represents a broad cross-section of Reston’s various communities.

"The committee that reviewed these documents represents a wide range of perspectives and there’s a fundamental consensus on most of these issues," he said.

There was some notable dissent on the board regarding the assessment cap, Rau said, but months of compromise and debate has produced agreement on the issue.

However, RA officials are gearing up for an intense debate over the assessment cap, Jones said, because some residents will undoubtedly see this as a potential tax hike.

"There will be some people who will use this issue to say RA is going to do something they’re not," she said. "We have to make the case to the community that we are not going up on assessments, but the board needs the flexibility it had in the past."