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Votes

Burke Centre's Cost of Living Increase

Board of Trustees votes to raise general assessment.

For the second time in two years, the Burke Centre Board of Trustees has raised the general assessment.

The assessment, a resident fee that covers the costs associated with maintaining the 5,862-house neighborhood, was the subject of the yearly budget vote at Burke Centre's board meeting Thursday, Nov. 10. Last year, the board voted to approve a budget that raised the general assessment from $100 to $113 per quarter. This year, the budget committee recommended a $2 raise in the assessment to $115 per quarter, but Thursday night, the board upped that to $118.

The increased assessment will provide more funding for erosion control and capital improvement projects, a nominal salary increase for Conservancy staffers, and updating of reserve studies, said Oaks trustee Joe Berner.

The rising costs of fuel, postage and property insurance in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita mean that general maintenance costs would go up, he said.

But Leon Rose, chair of the budget committee, saw no reason for the assessment to go up to $118. The increase in gas prices contribute little to the Conservancy's maintenance costs, he said, and erosion problems cannot be solved by "throwing more money" at them.

"There are people out here on a fixed income," said Rose. "They're facing fuel problems. They're facing erosion problems."

"Anything traveling anywhere is going to have a budget based on fuel," said Phil Pool, board treasurer and at-large trustee. The economy has changed dramatically since August, he said.

“All the increases in costs are hitting families too,” said resident Jimi Grande. “I just ask you to consider the individuals and families.” Many residents may not even be aware of the rate increase, he said.

The real estate market is leveling, said Berner, and property values might go down if the community is not taken care of.

“We spend $3 million to maintain this community, and I think the land has never looked better,” said Landings trustee Sam DiBartolo.

SEVERAL YEARS ago, said DiBartolo, many Burke Centre residents were upset that the board raised the assessment while it had a surplus. He said he did not want this to happen again, and entered a motion to amend the assessment to $115 per quarter.

The surplus in question did not come from the assessment increase, said Luanne Smith, board vice president and at-large trustee.

According to finance administrator Karen Frank, the surplus came when the board's executive director, Patrick Gloyd, streamlined operations at the Conservancy. Most of the income from the assessment will go into the 2006 operations budget, with smaller amounts going into the capital repairs and capital improvements budgets, she said.

“All [a surplus] does is make more money to mismanage,” said resident Roy Thompson. He said the board needed to have a better plan for the funds before raising the assessment.

“We’re running at a more efficient level,” said Pool. “This is funding the future of the Burke Conservancy.”

“The worst thing that could happen from this is we’d have a surplus again,” said Pool.

Many of the board members were worried that they would be stuck in a budget shortfall as in 2003 following Hurricane Isabel, when the unexpected costs from storm damage forced the Conservancy to borrow against its reserves.

"I don’t think it is compassionate to hold [the assessment] steady for a number of years and then spike because we fell behind," said Luanne Smith. “A spike is what hurts people.” Smith advocated for a steady increase in the assessment over the years instead.

The board voted to uphold the assessment increase to $118 per quarter in a vote of four to three, with trustees DiBartolo, Marc Flaster and Greg Smith opposing.

According to Frank, the 2006 assessment will generate $2.7 million. About $2.2 million will go into the operations budget, she said, and $658,000 will go into capital improvements and capital repairs funds.