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Votes

Building Governing Documents Support

RA members at the SL district meeting keep RA guessing.

When the Reston Association Board convenes for its first meeting next year, it will vote on the final version of the proposed governing documents, which are scheduled to go to referendum Feb. 13.

If it were up to Jerry Volloy, a Reston resident and former executive vice president of RA, the board would delay that vote as well as the referendum.

“I suggest to you that I think some of us know that there are some very important decisions coming,” said Volloy. “If we delay the referendum for three to six months, then we’d have a much better idea of where we stood for this referendum.”

When someone pressed Volloy to reveal explicitly what he was talking about, Volloy said he was not at liberty to say.

Despite Volloy’s cryptic concerns, several residents voiced specific problems with a few policies in the proposed governing documents.

AS PART OF the governing documents campaign, the Reston Association had a South Lakes District meeting on Dec. 10, to explain the policy changes of the proposed governing documents.

During the two-hour meeting at Sunrise Valley Elementary, which attracted about 40 people, RA Board Member Joe Leighton (South Lakes) and RA President Jennifer Blackwell responded to member questions that ranged from the transfer fee to the maximum assessment cap.

Last week, RA conducted a similar meeting to discuss the documents in the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district.

The RA board has worked for nearly four years to revise the governing documents, which were last updated in 1984. In the last few months, RA has started down a final stretch of outreach efforts before the documents go to referendum in two months.

MANY RESIDENTS at the meeting had questions about the provision that allows RA to add property that is not contiguous to the Reston Master Plan.

Dan Mulqueen asked if future RA boards would be proactively seeking out communities to incorporate into the RA.

Blackwell responded by saying that the board has not been proactive about this in the past and that she doesn’t expect it will be in the future. She said the provision provides the flexibility for nearby communities to become part of RA if they want to and if RA wants them to. “We’re not looking to add property that’s 20 miles away,” said Blackwell. “There’s no community that we have in mind.”

“Is there any community that’s clamoring to get into the Reston Association?” asked Mulqueen. Blackwell answered, “no.”

ANOTHER ISSUE that came up during the meeting was the transfer fee, also known as the resale fee, which is a $250 charge to people who buy a home in Reston. The fee, which will not apply to current Reston residents, will also increase by a percentage of the assessment each year at the discretion of the board.

“I don’t see how [the transfer fee] is ever going to decrease our assessment fee,” said Sandy Dresser, who added that she thinks RA will anticipate the additional revenue the fee brings in and then expand services commensurate with the added revenue.

Blackwell disagreed, arguing that the fee is tied to the assessment. “The transfer fee is a new revenue source that will benefit the members because it will subsidize the assessment.”

Neddal Abutaa said he thought the fee was too much considering all the charges already associated with buying a home.

Others at the meeting said the fee was a good way to help new RA members invest in the community. “It’s an equity buy-in to pay for the facilities and amenities that current members have paid for over the years,” said Ed Robichaud, who has lived in Reston for 21 years.

RESTON RESIDENT Frank Pfeilmeier, president of the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners, raised the issue of the maximum assessment cap, which is a yearly limit on what the actual assessment can be each year.

There is consensus on the RA board that the existing cap will soon be financially unstable. The existing cap is $445, which is $20 above the 2005 assessment of $425.

In April, the board agreed to eliminate the cap in the proposed governing documents. But in September, in an effort to generate broader support for the proposed governing documents, the board re-instituted a modified cap. The new cap would increase the current cap by an initial $69 and then adjust it in future years by the greater of 4 percent or the Employment Cost Index, which has averaged 3.9 percent since 1984. The one-time $69 increase represents a decision in 1991 that rolled the recreation pass fee, which was about $50, into the assessment. The 1984 roll-in instantly reduced the cap margin by $50, which, accounting for inflation, equals about $69 today.

Pfeilmeier, speaking on behalf of ARCH, said that the RA needs to justify the spending authority that will be granted with the modified maximum assessment cap. In an ARCH analysis, the modified maximum assessment cap increases RA’s “spending authority” to $2.5 million per year over the next 10 years. The increased authority, ARCH argues, is “above and beyond known financial needs for capital and operations.”

YET FOR MANY people at the meeting, the modified cap was not an issue. Robichaud said that the new documents shouldn’t “put shackles” on the board to maintain services. “You don’t vote on your property tax. You don’t vote on your income tax,” said Robichaud.

Robichaud also felt ARCH was pushing an anti-tax platform. “I’m always suspicious of these anti-tax, starve-the-beast operations,” said Robichaud. “I’ve never heard of ARCH. It seems clear they have an anti-tax agenda.”

However, Pfeilmeier said that ARCH has not made any judgments approving or disapproving the governing documents. “The ARCH goal was and is to better understand funding needs of the Association,” said Pfeilmeier.

Blackwell said the cap should provide enough spending flexibility to allow future boards to adapt to unforeseen events. As an example, Blackwell mentioned how insurance rates for the Association went up considerably after the events of 9/11.

RA Director Barbara Aaron, who also attended the meeting, pointed out that many homeowner associations do not have a cap. “Hopefully, we won’t have to [modify the cap] again in 20 years if we’re smart this time,” said Aaron. “That’s the whole point.”

In the past 20 years, the board has increased the actual assessment each year on average less than the rate of inflation (See Box).

SOME RESIDENTS AT the meeting said they had problems with a change in the proposed documents that decreases the voter turnout required on referendums from 40 percent to 25 percent. “Referendums are supposed to be important,” said Deb Russo, who said 25 percent is too low. Leighton and Blackwell explained that referendums were expensive, but said they would consider Russo’s concerns.

Another issue was brought up by Leslie Platt, a Reston resident since 1971. He said that the proposed documents might not be doing enough to notify “affected parties” when a neighbor is making a change to the house. Blackwell explained that the documents were not making any changes compared to the 1984 documents, but instead were making the process more explicit.