The debate over proposed changes to the Reston Association's governing documents heated up Thursday night at a special meeting of RA's Board of Directors.
The proposed changes would amend the documents — RA's Deed, Bylaws, and Articles of Incorporation — for the first time in 20 years. The documents are essentially the rules by which RA governs its 21,155 members, and the changes will have to be approved by RA members in a Nov. 1 referendum.
"It's important to bear in mind that these documents are important because they govern our quality of life," said Lee Rau, chairman of the RA committee that is proposing the amendments.
The most controversial — and already the most heavily debated — proposed amendment would increase RA's maximum annual assessment fee. The assessment cap, which currently stands at $250, would be increased to $300.
The proposed $50 increase for the assessment cap is intended to alleviate growing pressure on RA's budget from rising labor and capital improvement costs.
Originally, Reston's recreational facilities were fully user-funded, costing residents hundreds of dollars to use RA's pools and tennis courts. In 1991, RA officials realized this funding model was not working, so a $50 recreational fee was rolled into the overall assessment. This proposed $50 increase, Rau said, would simply normalize the assessment fee to its intended level.
This is not a tax increase, he said, but merely the best way for RA to adapt and allow itself financial flexibility in the future.
IF RA MEMBERS REJECT the proposed cap increase in November, many of RA's services and programs will be cut back and property values will almost certainly decline, Rau said.
Under current expenditure and inflation levels, the funding needed to provide RA's required services and facility maintenance will exceed the cap within the next 10 years. In other words, RA would be forced to continue operated under a deficit, as it has already for the past two budget cycles.
"One of the main reasons for this review is simply cap relief," he said.
Without raising the assessment cap, Rau said, an extra $15.2 million would be needed over the next 10 years to maintain aging capital facilities — specifically Reston's pools, lakes, dams, tennis courts, and pavilions.
"Reston is now 40 years old and, frankly, many of these facilities are beginning to wear out," Rau said.
THOUGH LAST THURSDAY'S meeting was only intended to be a simple presentation of the proposed amendments to the board, the debate over the assessment cap increase drew out some board members' feelings on the issue.
RA Director Joe Leighton (South Lakes) said the talk of increasing the assessment cap is tasteless with so many Reston residents already struggling to make ends meet in the slumped economy.
"We have a lot of people who have lost their jobs and are on a fixed income," he said. "I'm having a hard time supporting this. People are having a hard time meeting expenses right now. Not everyone's a doctor or a lawyer."
On the other end of the debate last Thursday, RA Director Barbara Aaron (Hunters Woods/Dogwood) suggested eliminating the assessment cap altogether.
RA's assessment fees are far lower than comparable communities, such as Ashburn Village, said Aaron, who served on a blue ribbon panel that investigated the assessment cap two years ago.
RA requires monthly dues of around $30 to $40, she said, whereas for similar services, Ashburn Village residents pay monthly dues of $70 to $80.
Without a cap, Aaron said, RA could still never go overboard with spending or increase dues dramatically because the board is ultimately accountable to voters.
"You get the scoundrel you vote for," she said. "And if that scoundrel is doing good constituent services, they'll vote them in again. If they don't, they'll be voted out."
RA Director Robert Poppe (at large) urged the board to support the assessment cap increase as the review committee recommended.
"I believe we need a modest increase in the cap," he said.
Too much attention is being paid to the proposed assessment cap increase, Poppe said, criticizing the press for focusing on the issue.
"The cap should not be the number one issue here," he said.
OVER THE NEXT seven months, RA will tweak the proposed amendments to the governing documents and voters will decide the issue in November.
Voter turnout will be instrumental in passing the proposed amendments because RA rules require two-thirds of a quorum — 40 percent of RA's total members — to approve the changes.
The last time RA held a referendum, voters approved the Southgate recreational center, which will be built later this year.
It took a concerted effort by the full Board of Directors to urge homeowners to support that referendum.
This time, RA officials expect it will be more difficult to coax voters to participate because, while the recreational center issue was easy to grasp, the issue of RA governance is complicated and most homeowners are too preoccupied to develop more than a cursory understanding, Aaron said.
"There are a lot of people out there who are very busy," she said. "And so long as they're happy and satisfied with the way they live, they don't get involved."