Board Votes to Eliminate Assessment Cap

Board Votes to Eliminate Assessment Cap

The RA Board removed the 21-year-old assessment cap from the working draft of the governing documents.

When the governing documents eventually reach Reston voters for approval, they won’t include an assessment cap.

For 21 years, the Reston Association has operated and provided services with an assessment cap as dictated by the governing documents, which act as Reston’s version of a town charter.

At a governing documents working session Wednesday, April 13, the board voted 5 to 3 to eliminate the assessment cap from the working draft of the governing documents. RA Director Douglas Bushée, who attended the session by teleconference, missed the vote because his connection failed, but said in an interview after the meeting that he would have voted against eliminating the cap.

For over a year, the board has worked to revise the governing documents with the intention of making the language less confusing and more straightforward. While making revisions to the 2-month-old draft, the board has addressed several important changes to core policies within the original documents.

No other suggested change has elicited as much debate and consideration than the assessment cap.

Right now the Association is operating at 98 percent of the cap, which board members agree does not permit them any budgetary leeway to handle unexpected costs, such as catastrophes or other happenings.

“I’d much rather not have a cap,” said RA Director William J. Keefe, who argued that a cap would make the Association ineffectual in the event of a catastrophe. Directors Jenn Blackwell, Robin Smyers, Barbara Aaron and Tim McMahon also voted to eliminate the cap on the basis that the Association might need assessment flexibility to deal with unexpected incidents that require more spending.

“I’m for the preservation of the cap,” said RA Director Joe Leighton, who voted against the measure. “Without a cap there’s no limitations on spending.”

Directors Robert Poppe and Rick Beyer also voted against the elimination of a cap.

“This can be a killer for the referendum,” said Poppe, who pointed out the difficulties in passing a referendum. To take effect, referendums require the approval of 67 percent of RA members. In addition, a referendum’s passage requires a 40 percent voter turnout.

“Whether or not Reston has a cap, it will survive,” said Bob Diamond of ReedSmith LLP, the attorney hired to help revise the governing documents and provide the working draft. “But this is not the issue.

“The gut issue is who do you trust,” Diamond said, who the board has sometimes looked to during this process for his observations. “If you trust the board, you don’t need a cap. If you have concerns about the board, or future boards, then you’ll probably want a cap.”

In the case of referendums, Diamond said, “Generally, the community will follow the lead of the board.”

“Issues like this make it absolutely critical for members to let us know what they think,” said Bushée.

Directors Aaron and Smyers made the point that voters serve as the ultimate limitation on spending. They said that as elected officials the board is responsive to voters. The elimination of the cap, they said, won’t cause unchecked spending. Instead, they argued the elimination of the cap allows the board the necessary ability to deal with unexpected happenings that require additional spending.

The board also passed a backup motion in the event they later determine that the elimination of the cap is not a viable option. The alternative motion to raise the existing maximum assessment by $69 from $445 to $514 passed 7 to 1, with Keefe being the only dissenter.