A Cluster of Higher Bills

A Cluster of Higher Bills

Cluster reserve study points to an increase in assessments for many in Burke Centre.

Residents of the Burke Centre Conservancy can expect an increase in their quarterly assessments, some of which will be significant, based on a study conducted recently by Mason and Mason Capital Reserve Analysts, Inc.

"They [analysts] look at it with an engineer's eyes," said Karen Frank, finance administrator at the Burke Centre Conservancy. "Then they assign a cost and determine how quickly it should be done."

The study looked for areas in each of the five neighborhoods and their clusters that need work, such as gutter, asphalt and sidewalk improvements. Until the recent study, one had not been conducted in nearly 10 years.

Some of the residents might have a case of sticker shock when they see the increased assessments, said Patrick Gloyd, executive director of the Burke Centre Conservancy.

That is why Burke Centre is drafting letters to send to every resident to inform them of the details associated with the new assessments. That way, everyone will have a chance to understand the reasoning for the increases and they will also have a chance to provide feedback to their cluster committees and to Burke Center, said Kala Quintana, Woods neighborhood trustee.

"We don't want anybody caught off guard," said Quintana. "We want to make sure people can manage the cost."

SOME CLUSTERS will not see any change in their assessments, but a few of the 35 clusters will see a significant increase, as much as 70 percent in some cases. Current assessments for the 35 clusters range from $3 to $44.82 per quarter, in addition to the quarterly $118 general assessment. The average increase is going to be about $13 per quarter, said Frank, but that takes into account the clusters with decreases, increases and no change at all. That's where the sticker shock might come in, said Quintana, because some of the clusters will see a big change.

Frank said one cluster needs to collect about $50,000 between just 70 homes. Situations like that are when dialogue is needed to determine a way to collect the money, he said.

"We did mail to the clusters that have committees the individual studies recently," said Frank. "We would hope they review the documents and let us know if they have any concerns or issues ... a lot of it will take a lot of dialogue between the residents, staff and trustees."

Gloyd said a series of meetings will take place for both the board and residents. The Conservancy is already working on next year's budget, and a cluster budget meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 13. Frank said the meeting is to solicit assistance in the whole process, and residents can attend to ask questions to the Conservancy board and staff.

"Clusters should review their reports, then they should communicate with the Conservancy board," said Jim Mason, of Mason and Mason Capital Reserve Analysts, Inc.

About $2.6 million is available to clusters from their capital reserve fund, and what's available is divided by what each cluster has put into the fund. When there isn't enough money there, the increases are determined per cluster. The new assessments would not begin until Jan. 1, 2007, which is why the board, clusters and staff are working together in the mean time to come up with an equitable solution, said Frank.

"We're looking for some way to ease this pain [for residents who will see drastic increases]," said Frank.

ONE OF THE main factors for increased assessments is weather, said Mason. In drought conditions, sidewalks and asphalt might remain like new for years. Heavy rains cause more deterioration though, which has been the case in some of Burke Centre's clusters who haven't maintained their neighborhoods as well.

"It's very much subject to weather and maintenance," said Mason. "If you don't maintain your stuff, it's not going to hold up as well."

Since it's been 10 years since a cluster study was done, inflation will also play a key role in the increased assessments. Mason said his company likes to establish what the contribution should be for the first year of the study, and then increase it with inflation every year thereafter, until a new study is completed. Since the Conservancy has planned a study every five years now, inflation should account for the only increases between now and then, said Mason.

"In the long run, cost will probably go back down," said Mason. "But no one can predict. It's imperative to look at this and not assume everything is O.K."