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Wedell to Bring Proposal for Modified Assessments to RA Board Tonight

by Dave Emke — February 23, 2017 at 11:30 am 29 Comments

Ray Wedell/Credit: David Madison for RAAt tonight’s meeting of the Reston Association Board of Directors, At-Large Director Ray Wedell will present his proposal for re-calculating annual assessment fees for Reston Association members.

Wedell first brought the topic before the RA Board at their July 28 meeting. In a statement, text of which can be found on Pages 5 and 6 of the meeting’s minutes, Wedell said he had “reached [his] tolerance limit for turning a blind eye toward some of the extremely regressive policies within the Reston tax system.”

Specifically, Wedell said, he finds the flat rate for assessments to Reston Association members to be “hopelessly flawed.”

“Everywhere we look, the RA fee is the same $657/year [in 2016] I see for everyone, regardless of the home and location. This is so wrong. We all know it. Yet if I mention this to many of our citizens, some change the subject and others are stone silent. Maybe they assume that any changes would result in higher assessments for them and personal economics often have a way of overriding people’s sense of public purpose. I get it.”

Wedell said he sees that “those getting the shorter of end of the stick in this situation have little or no voice.”

“Imagine living in a city which has beautiful gated communities with city-funded lakes, trails, fields, etc., as well as other neighborhoods which have fewer of these amenities. Then imagine the city tax policy says that people living in these gated communities pay the same annual assessment/taxes as those living in a one-bedroom high-rise area which has little access for the very amenities they are subsidizing for the gated communities’ upkeep and improvements.”

In response to Wedell’s statement, CEO Cate Fulkerson directed staff to look into the issue and report back with assessment breakdown possibilities. Staff has been working with Wedell on the proposal to “identify possible alternates that may be more balanced and equitable to members,” according to information provided from the Feb. 6 meeting of the Board Operations Committee.

This and other issues on tonight’s agenda will be discussed beginning at 6:30 p.m. at RA Headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive).

  • Rational Reston

    Whenever RA says: “more balanced and equitable to members”, members get hosed

    • Really?

      RA isn’t saying it. Ray is. (There’s a “y” in there.) He doesn’t speak for the entire board and I’ll bet dollars to donuts this will go away – because everyone gets equal access to what our fees pay for. This isn’t taxes.

      • Rational Reston

        No he doesn’t speak for the board, but RA is looking into it and is working with Ray (with ‘y’). I lifted the phrase from the penultimate paragraph:

        “In response to Wedell’s statement, CEO Cate Fulkerson directed staff to look into the issue and report back with assessment breakdown possibilities. Staff has been working with Wedell on the proposal to “identify possible alternates that may be more balanced and equitable to members,” according to information provided from the Feb. 6 meeting of the Board Operations Committee.”

        The proposal will hopefully die, but it the end, we’ll still get hosed.

        • Greg

          So, in other words, they are spending (wasting) money on it and likely spinning a lawyer’s $400 an hour meter on it.

  • Tanks, a concerned citizen

    Can we have breakdown of what people get paid at RA? Because whenever this comes up there are defensive comments being made that suggest much work is done by “volunteers”.

    I would like to see an article that highlights what the board, its members, as well as staffers and “volunteers” get paid.

    If this information gets published perhaps more people would be interested in partaking as voters, board member candidates, and “volunteers”.

    Once we have that figured out lets talk about how we can restructure HOA fees so that everyone pays their fair share.

    Tanks, a concerned citizen.

  • Southreston3

    Does he not realize this is a homeowners association and it is a fee not a tax. Maybe the problem is that they think they are a government entity. This is why so much money is being spent on non direct services. If this is approved I can only imagine how much more it will cost us. (It costs money and staff to track assessments).

    I just wish the board would go back to the RA would go back to basic functions and focus on those.

    • Greg

      The assessments would likely be those set by the county, which are now done annually. The only cost, if any, will be to update the RA IT system with the new values.

      Also, we are pretty sure that the bylaws would have to be restated (again). The cost of doing so is well into six figures and not a guarantee that members will approve the change.

      • Southreston3

        Updating the RA IT system is not exactly a small cost with the amount they paid for it. Most likely the system will need an add-on to even be able to track this data. Then the mailings would have to be changed and be subject to more specific staff review (because not everyone will get the same letter anymore).

  • cRAzy

    Ah, Mr. Wedell, why should we pay different prices for the same services?

    We all have access to the same facilities, activities, etc., for our same assessment fee. Do you plan to scale the available RA services to the assessment fee paid? For example, if you paid a low fee, you couldn’t get access to the tennis courts and swimming pools, had to pay extra for RA programs, etc.

    In other words, where’s the equity in having some people be able to pay less for a set of RA services than others?

    • The Constitutionalist

      Unfortunately, right now we’re all paying the same amount for different services, I think that’s what he’s getting at. There’s no reason I, or you, or anyone else should have to pay extra for services they’re not going to use. If I don’t ever life in a gated community, use the pool, or play on the tennis courts, I shouldn’t have to pay for their upkeep.

      Then again, I don’t really believe in the public good, only personal economics… and if everyone did that, we wouldn’t need someone to force us into paying for the public good.

      • cRAzy

        Please note, Mr. C, that Mr. Wedell is proposing fees based on property value, not usage. A pay-for-service model might work (I don’t use much of RA’s services either) although it would be complicated (meaning a larger overall RA expense), but that would have nothing to do with property values or income.

        • The Constitutionalist

          Right, but I still think he makes a good point.

          Those living on property with lower value who don’t see the benefit of the other RA provided services, landscaping, beautification, etc, are subsidizing it for the sections of the community that do.

          Which are generally the higher value communities, where the rendered services are much more expensive.

          Either way, the current model sucks, a new model will suck, and the model after that will suck too.

          • JB

            But the landscaping, beautification, etc., is on common areas that all residents do have equal access to or drive by. RA isn’t “beautifying” at expensive clusters; the clusters do that with cluster fees. And RA doesn’t landscape around higher priced single family homes.

            If they do landscaping at a pool, everyone has access to that public area and pool. If they do landscape work on trails, anyone can walk the trails.

            What benefits or that our fees pay for do people with lower property values not have access to? We all have equal access to pools, parks, roads, programs at The Nature House, etc.

          • Scott

            “Those living on property with lower value who don’t see the benefit of the other RA provided services, landscaping, beautification, etc, are subsidizing it for the sections of the community that do”

            What does this mean? RA only cares for RA owned property (trails, pools, nature center, lakes, lake house, etc). They have nothing to do with maintaining privately owned property except to enforce design guidelines. What benefit are “rich” Restonians getting that others are not? I cannot think of a single one.

      • Greg

        Were you here when that matter was brought up on referrendum? We voted to keep the pool and tennis fees out of the annual assessment, but the RA rolled them in anyway.

        We also approved the RA building its own HQ building, but it decided to rent one instead.

        Keep in mind that these referenda cost tens of thousands each.

      • Scott

        “Unfortunately, right now we’re all paying the same amount for different services”

        This is incorrect. All residents have the same access and opportunity to RA amenities. Whether you choose to use them or not, is a different story. As a Constitutionalist, you should know the difference between opportunity and outcome.

        Ray thinks RA is providing amenities to certain neighborhoods and not others. Ray needs to be specific. I live in South reston which has a mix of single family homes that top $1M, town homes of various price points, and condos below $200K. All have access to the same amenities.

        As has been noted, RA is an HOA and a fee based organization…not a government with a “tax system”. Ray’s comment displays ignorance and should disqualify him. The only way to structure RAs income involve a mix of flat fee for common services (trails, nature center, etc) and usage fees for pools, tennis courts, etc. The mix is up for debate, but this is the only equitable manner.

  • NewtoReston

    Our family is new to Reston and one of the reasons we moved here is to live in a community with great amenities, but also to be in a place where the members of the community are willing to contribute – financially and otherwise – to the quality of the place they live. I don’t want to live somewhere where the financial commitment is minimal. I want to live with people who choose to invest in Reston. If you don’t want to pay, move to one of the neighboring communities and make room for people who prioritize community. It’s a subtantial sum for us, but we choose to make the sacrifice. We believe others should do the same.

    • The Constitutionalist

      You’re new. You’ll catch wind soon enough.

      It wouldn’t be such a substantial sum for you to sacrifice if the money was being used properly instead of lining the pockets of those doing the collecting.

    • cRAzy

      If throwing good money after bad is what you want, you have moved to the right place!

    • Greg

      Show us where there’s “community.”

      We have two county-run, but Reston funded by a special tax, community centers…one of which is usually empty. The larger one is 40+ years old.

      The RA pools are closed for 3/4 or more of the year and several of them are so small and so obsolete that they are rarely used.

      And, of course, we’ve wasted millions of dollars acquiring and renovating a worthless flood-plain (Tetra) building and many more millions on lawyers — none of whom are suffering or sacrificing anything.

      More millions wasted on a taj mahal central office that’s hard to find and harder to get to once one finds it.

      And, more millions on staff and related benefits.

      Oh, and the RA lost many tens of thousands of reserve money in the stock market.

  • JohnIZ

    RA should get its management and fiscal house in order before thinking about the fee structure. Eliminating waste and getting spending under control would lower assessments for everyone.

  • Drip

    Why not work to LOWER assessment fees for everyone by gutting the budget to just the essentials that are in line with a homeowners association? Perhaps hire in-house counsel with a modest staff to do debt collection, contracts, advice, etc rather than keep Chadwick on retainer. That alone would save tons of money. Cut our losses with Tetra. Restructure the maintenance crews so perhaps some of the work is contracted out. RA is not a social welfare organization. It has a fiduciary duty to its members to be good stewards of our money. If the board members want to assist lower-income people in Reston, they should work for the county. RA is not local government.
    As for Wedell, wasn’t he one of the most bombastic advocates for the Tetra purchase during the referendum sales pitch?

  • Scott

    Guess I won’t be voting for Ray. Hate to tell you Ray, but RA has nothing to do with the upkeep of a gated neighborhood OR a condo building property. No matter where you live, you have access to the same pools and tennis courts, the same trails and get the same magazine in the mail.
    The policy is NOT regressive. If we are being honest, town home clusters use more DRB resources than single family homes or condos as the enforcement regime inspects every detail of a house when its sold and every home/inch of each cluster every 10 years.
    If you want to make things more equitable, let’s do things like take pool/tennis maintenance out of the Assessment and charge for Passes what pools/courts actually cost. If you want to talk about regressive, it’s single Reston residents who don’t swim or play tennis paying for families of 4-6 to swim their little hearts out.

    ***THIS IS IMPORTANT FOLKS***
    Make Ray detail exactly how RA services are unevenly distributed or don’t even think about voting for him. Giving the RA board arbitrary control over how to charge selective group of Reston residents bad news. If you think RA is bad, and full of conflicts of interest now, wait until they have the power to selectively increase or reduce the assessment levied on one neighborhood vs another.

    • Greg

      Get rid of the magazine (which, of course, is mostly a free propaganda piece for Plum, Hudgins, Howell, Connolly et, al.) and cut the assessment (not tax) for everyone.

    • pc

      Well said Scott. Exactly right. The only inequity that I see is that there are some condo owners (eg, in Town Ctr) who do not have to pay RA dues at all. They may not use the pools, but they still use the trails, boat docks, etc. It costs money to maintain those areas.

  • dudewe

    Ray W. , I hope you read the comments, All, except one is good. And now one more – Probably most seniors are on fixed income and don’t use most of the benefits, especially pools and tennis courts. It is increasingly difficult for seniors to keep up with medical expenses. Sure our properties have grown in value but they would have grown in almost any other community. Please withdraw your recommendation and have staff do something worthwhile./

  • John Higgins

    I hate to dampen the party atmosphere, but the torches and pitchforks are a bit pre-mature; the proposal has not been seen yet. I understand that negative views of a fresh idea can be formed on general principle. I’m reading arguments for keeping the same “everyone pays the same” assessment system. Don’t look now, but that’s not what we have.

    There is the full assessment, paid by the vast majority. There is a reduced assessment paid by owners of properties under a given threshold amount. Members who receive county tax relief pay less. Subsidized housing units pay less. Senior living facilities pay less. Future residents of Reston Station pay less (and it’s quite likely that new members in developments along the toll road corridor will negotiate the same less-than-full assessment.) So, there are now six different assessment groups.

    There is an argument to be made that the benefit all RA members receive is a package of services that maintains (and perhaps enhances) property values. The value of that package is proportional to the property value being maintained. A fair argument for some degree of progressivity in the assessment rate. I would at least like to hear discussion of that. My hat is off to a board that takes us consideration of alternatives. (And while they are doing that, they are not working on new ways to spend.)

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