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Who Is to Pay?

March 9th, 2011

A while ago, a woman asked me, as my local HOA Board President, what she should do to get a railing going up her steps.  Her husband had troulble walking up the steps from their car after coming back from the VA hospital; they have a disabled tag on their car.  I told her about getting an architectural approval form,  even got the form for her, and walked her through getting the form approved.  When it had finally been approved, I gave her the names of some handymen who could install the railing for her.  She was surprised, at that point, that the HOA was not going to contract out and pay for the work.  “Oh, I thought, because it was ‘disabled,’….”

So, she thought the HOA should be paying for it.  I had to tell her that no, the HOA  was not, unfortunately, going to pay for it, and she would be responsible for getting it installed, like all the rest of  the people in the community who have had railings installed.

I wish we could pay for it.  I wish we could put a railing up for old Mr. Cooper, who could really use one.  And several other infirm members of the community.

I wish we, the HOA, could be responsible for the water main branches going from the street into each house.  I wish we could take care of  the gardens in people’s back yards.  I wish we could stain all the privacy fences (the Covenant says the homeowner is required to weatherproof their privacy fences).

But, we don’t.  We can’t.  If you have a tree in your back yard (within your fence), it is your responsibility, as are the shrubberies and flowers there.  We just don’t have the money to pay for everything that would be nice.

We could have the money, if we raised the maintenance fee high enough.  But everyone would scream.  Or, we could have a special assessment.  Even louder screams.

People forget that the HOA is a kind of local government. Its mandate is spelled out in the Covenant and By-laws, and the Rules as determined by the Board.  The Board is a unicameral legislature (the camera for the nonce is my livingroom), which elects its own officers, just as was done by early, colonial legislatures on the States. It has no independent source of income; all monies flow from the Residents, through the Regime Fee, which, if you think about it, is a kind of tax.  This is taxation with representation.  Whatever the HOA spends, it is spending your money.  It is your friends and neighbors, with you, who pay the landscapers, the garbage collectors, the paving resealer, the fence mender, the gate maintenance, lighting, water, termite control, gutter cleaning and repair, water damage repair,  and everything else spelled out in the yearly budget (which you saw at the recent Annual Meeting).  So when someone says, ‘Why can’t the HOA pay for this?’ they need to consider, do I want to ask my friends and neighbors to pay for my needs?

Which is one reason why the Tea Party deficit hawks, and even the so-called conservatives here in SC, drive me crazy:  they (like the lady above with the railing) want all the services–schools, fire and police protection, street and highway mainenance, national defence, trips to Mars, Iraq invasions, and so on–but don’t think they should have to pay for these things.

Then who?

I’m all for fiscal conservatism.  At our last Board meeting, I saw that, even with a bare-bones budget, we would run a deficit without raising the regime fee.  It had to be raised; we have no madate to run a deficit.  So the regime fee went up 2%.  Hadn’t raised it in three years.  Ever so sorry.  But we, all of us, as good citizens of whatever polis, state, nation, city, town we’re talking about, have to be responsible.  We must.

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