General Assessment Unchanged

General Assessment Unchanged

Burke Centre Conservancy drafts preliminary budget for 2007.

In a budget where nearly every dollar is accounted for each year, a few significant savings and expenses have popped up for the Burke Centre Conservancy.

“Every year it’s a zero-based budget,” said Patrick Gloyd, executive director at the Burke Centre Conservancy. “What we try to do is come up with a zero balance. In a perfect world, we come out and break even every year.”

Staff reductions and outsourcing has allowed the Conservancy to cut the budget in many areas. Upcoming projects like pond dredging, asphalt work, pier rebuilding and the Woods Community Center renovation are taking money from the Conservancy’s reserve funds. Those projects will not affect the general assessment, though, which is predicted to be exactly what it was last year: $118 per quarter.

The 2007 budget draft, which will not be finalized until Nov. 9, has the Conservancy’s total expenses equal to its revenue, at $3,888,684. A surplus this year covered some expenses that were conservatively budgeted last year, specifically tree removal. Last year’s $75,000 tree removal budget is scheduled to be spent by the end of this month, prompting the board to increase the budget in that area for the 2007 budget. Snow removal assessments won’t be charged in 2007 because light snowfall last winter provided a surplus in those funds. Some of that money could even be available in 2008.

“If it’s a mild winter this year, we may have $30,000 left over for 2008, who knows,” said Phil Pool, Burke Centre treasurer and trustee-at-large.

AN 8 PERCENT increase in insurance is already included in the $118 general assessment, but the 5 percent trash removal increase is separate from that assessment. The landscape service for the clusters will remain flat.

The Woods Community Center renovation project was originally predicted to cost about $1.6 million, which has already been set aside from the capital reserves. Bids for that project, however, should be coming in around mid-to-late October, and some staff members are optimistic that they might come in below the original estimate.

“The only estimates we have came early on from an architect who was looking at meeting some commercial codes that we may not need,” said Gloyd. “The plan was then changed to a more residential style of construction.”

The change in style would hopefully equate to lower building costs, said Gloyd. That is why he said staff isn’t really moving full speed ahead with finalizing the budget until they have some answers about the Woods project. Kala Quintana, the Woods' community trustee, said she is concerned about the cost of the project and is “anxiously awaiting what the builder quotes will be.”

“The real thing is to watch the Woods Community Center; that will be the story on how quickly we move forward,” said Gloyd. “Of course, if they [the bids] come way over, then it will be back to the drawing board.”

The biggest increase that residents are going to see and feel are the cluster assessments. Mason and Mason engineering analysts recently conducted a cluster reserve study after Burke Centre went 10 years without one. The study revealed that most of Burke Centre’s 65 clusters are in need of major infrastructure maintenance and improvements, thus an increase is necessary for most areas.

“We want to reassure people that this is not money that’s going toward any other project other than their clusters’ improvements,” said Quintana.

The increase for most of the clusters may come as a shock to some residents, said Quintana, but staff and cluster committees are working hard to try to ease the financial burden. The average recommended increase is $19.61 quarterly, but some clusters are faced with recommended increases of nearly $170 quarterly. That is why staff has encouraged all clusters to get together to discuss options for the increases, such as holding off on certain projects or spreading the increased amount over a period of more than one year. One option that the Bunker Woods cluster has been looking at is using some of the money from their discretionary funds to offset the sting of the assessment increases. Bunker Woods experienced the highest recommended assessment, $169.98, and they’ve been working together to find a solution.

THE CLUSTER BUDGETS are due Friday, Sept. 29. Conservancy trustees and staff will then look over those budgets and work to implement them as best as possible. Some might require some changes and others could be in good working order, said Quintana.

The Conservancy staff agrees that doing nothing is not an option, however. The improvements necessary are significant in some cases, and ignoring them only devalues property in those clusters, said Quintana.

At an Aug. 16 budget and finance meeting, the Conservancy went over the general assessment rate and determined that a $1.50 or so reduction in the rate could be considered. At the Sept. 20 budget draft meeting, Burke Centre resident Duwain Ketch asked staff to keep that consideration in sight.

“Assess for what you need, but don’t hold onto something you don’t need,” said Ketch. “Keep that in mind. If we really don’t need it, let’s not ask people to pay it.”

The small difference is not something that would send a red flag to staff, though, said Gloyd. Since the Conservancy is going through another transitional year with regard to staff reductions and outsourcing, he said it is better business to keep that small comfort level through the transition. If something happened that would make staff have to get that money back, “it looks like poor management.” If the difference were something more significant, such as $3 or more, the excessive surplus would look bad too. As of now, the $1.50 difference is not something the staff would want to reduce assessments for.

“The worst thing that could happen is there’s a little bit of surplus,” said Gloyd.