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CDD Board Hears Resident Input on Proposed Budget

The Aug. 5 meeting of the Westchase CDD saw supervisors hold their annual public hearing for their 2015 budget.

Westchase Community Development District (CDD) Chairman Mark Ragusa cautioned residents who attended the public hearing that the published budget – both mailed to residents and printed in WOW – was a county-required, preliminary TRIM notice budget. “The CDD’s budget is set high initially because we have to publish it through the county office,” Ragusa explained. “The TRIM notice budget cannot be increased and therefore it is always higher than the one that ends up being approved.”

Speaking from the audience, Glencliff Voting Member Kathy Carlsen inquired about the draft budget’s increase in legal fees and wondered what the money budgeted for repairs and maintenance (R&M) equipment would purchase. CDD Office Manager Sonny Whyte said that there were many lamps and lights that needed to be repaired and replaced throughout Westchase. Supervisors then told Carlsen she had an old draft and that the R&M equipment budget had already been dropped to $20,000 and the legal fees had also been reduced to $80,000.

Carlsen then asked about any ongoing or additional expenses associated with the land the CDD purchased between Stonebridge and The Vineyards off Promise Drive. She was told that there are not any ongoing expenses because the CDD does not pay taxes or utilities on the land. CDD staff maintains the property.

Bridges resident Dave Horwitz asked why the CDD purchased the land. CDD Supervisor Brian Ross, who negotiated the purchase, said that the land near Promise Drive was behind the lake on Linebaugh Avenue. He said many people felt that if the land was purchased and developed it would be an eyesore to residents plus past developers had wanted to access the land through Stonebridge. Later in the meeting supervisors agreed to CDD Attorney Erin McCormick’s request to spend $250 to find a new title insurance policy for the land. The current policy includes a number of exceptions that supervisors would like to see lifted to further protect the district against potential claims.

Carlsen also asked about the fountain purchase in the budget, stating she was under the impression that fountains weren’t going to be included in the new budget. Later in the meeting, supervisors agreed to buy the fountain budgeted for next year with money from this year. The fountain will be installed in the pond next to the fire station on Countryway Boulevard. This purchase reduced the money budgeted for R&M fountain from $18,000 to $2,000.

Carlsen wondered why both Baybridge and Glencliff Parks had to be renovated at the same time. Supervisors told her it was more cost effective and efficient to have them renovated concurrently and that the $400,000 in the current budget would not pay for all the renovations needed to make the parks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Supervisors expect to take a loan to finance the work and repay it over a number of years; the currently budgeted amount is expected to serve as the coming year’s payment.) Carlsen finished by telling CDD supervisors that last year’s 20 percent increase in Glencliff was difficult for many of the retirees who lived in her neighborhood and it would be even more difficult for them to have another increase.

All but three percent of Glencliff’s increase last year, however, was due to the district’s need to recoup a roughly $60 tax credit that was incorrectly applied in 2013 to homes in Westchase’s western villages.

Ragusa assured Carlsen that while park improvements would drive the assessments up this year there weren’t any other big-ticket items in this year’s budget.

In addition to the park expenditure, however, supervisors have tentatively included a 20 percent increase in landscaping costs to cover their new maintenance contract after District Manager Andy Mendenhall informed them that other districts were paying up to 15 percent more than Westchase. That number will be finalized with the awarding of the district’s landscaping bid on Aug. 25.

While $60,000 was budgeted for capital outlay last year, none of that money has been spent. Supervisors wondered whether they could buy some of the items on the 2015 list and reduce the $84,000 in the current budget. Ross pointed out that typically the CDD had spent $22,000 on capital outlay and all supervisors agreed to reduce the amount budgeted from $84,000 to $25,000. Supervisors also reduced payroll bonuses from $26,722 to $8,900.

With changes made at the meeting, homeowners now face a projected Operations and Maintenance Assessment of $524.38, an increase of 32.42 percent over last year’s $396.01 assessment.

Defying a brief, simple summary, Westchase CDD assessments, which are collected as part of homeowners’ property taxes each fall, are complex and vary among neighborhoods. In addition to the operations and maintenance assessments, CDD assessments also include debt service payments in eastern villages; western villages have paid off these construction bonds, which financed Westchase’s original infrastructure. Gated neighborhoods and West Park Village also have local assessments, which cover costs associated with roads, alleyways and gate maintenance (gated communities pay for their road maintenance) as well as street lights. In some cases these projected local assessments have declined or increased due to a neighborhood’s unique circumstances. Thus, while it’s correct to state the operations and maintenance assessment has increased by 32.42 percent, the actual percentage increase in total CDD assessments ranges in Westchase neighborhoods from 2.3 percent (The Greens) to 130.15 percent (Saville Rowe). Click on the link to the assessment table at the end of this article to see your total CDD assessment.

Other changes made to the draft budget affect specific neighborhoods.

Harbor Links/The Estates Voting Member Nancy Sells told supervisors that when the streetlights in her neighborhood were retrofitted, residents were told that their repayment for the work would be minimal. She attended the meeting to request that the neighborhood’s repayment be made over four or five years instead of the currently budgeted three-year payback. CDD Vice Chairman Gregory Chesney said that if the residents were asking for five years to make the repayments, they should be given five years and all supervisors agreed. Supervisors therefore reduced the amount budgeted for R&M streetlights within the Harbor Links/The Estates local fund from $66,500 to $10,000. If the current draft is approved, Harbor Links/The Estates will now see a local assessment of $635.17, an increase of 10 percent over last year’s local assessment; the neighborhood’s total assessment, if approved, would rise to $1,159.55, an increase of 9.5 percent in Harbor Links and 6.22 percent in The Estates.

Whyte also informed supervisors that the Vineyards’ new HOA board members had contacted her and asked that the district to remove the funds the previous board had requested the district budget for the addition of cameras and lights at The Vineyards’ entrance. That change to The Vineyards’ local assessment (specific to that neighborhood) dropped to $324.24, an increase of 3.45 percent over last year; The Vineyards total projected assessment under the changed draft budget is now $1,397.63, an increase of 11 percent over last year.

Supervisors did not yet have bids for a new landscape contract to maintain Westchase’s common areas and parks. The bids are expected to be reviewed at the district’s specially called Aug. 25 meeting. The public hearing on the budget was also continued until this date.

CDD engineer Tonja Stewart and McCormick reported to the board that it is still unclear whether the Westchase Golf Course or the CDD owns a pond whose banks are eroding adjacent to homes in The Greens. The erosion has been caused due to storm-water run-off. The homeowners maintain the bank, but McCormick and Stewart feel that the golf course owns all or at least the majority of the pond. Several of the residents have talked to CDD Field Manager Doug Mays about their concerns. All agreed to Ross’ suggestion that McCormick send a letter to the golf course to see if they would look into the issue. McCormick and Mays said they would work with the residents to start discussions with the golf course.

Stewart also reported that a canal between West Park Village and The Greens was experiencing significant erosion in places. Her estimated cost to repair the erosion damage was $55,000. Chesney asked why this was so expensive when less expensive plant material had been used effectively in the past. Stewart said they had actually only had a 50 percent success rate with the plant material and that the erosion in the canal was much further along and needed more extensive repairs. Chesney asked Stewart to look into the possibility of correcting the problem with plant materials. Supervisors all agreed that Stewart and Mays should compile a report on erosion problems across Westchase so they could get an idea of their scope. Ragusa said there needs to be a more proactive plan to work with homeowners to prevent erosion before it becomes a problem.

A Greens resident whose yard is experiencing pond-bank erosion told supervisors that a very tall pine tree in his backyard is about to fall into the canal. Horwitz, moreover, encouraged supervisors to avoid using a cookie cutter approach that would address all erosion repairs the same way. He also encouraged them to do quality work the first time to fix the problem for the long run.

Stonebridge resident Pat Neal had complaints about the repaving in his neighborhood and in The Greens but Stewart said she had not seen any problems in her earlier drive through. She encouraged supervisors to drive through the neighborhoods and let her know if they saw any problems.

Supervisors asked Mays to talk to Greens residents about their voting member Gerald Pappa’s request for a flagpole at the entrance of The Greens. Ragusa asked Mays to ensure that Greens residents know they will have to pay for the installation, the flag, the electrical costs for illuminating it and all maintenance.

The next CDD meeting, at which the district’s landscaping bid will likely be awarded and the budget finalized, will be Monday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. at the WCA office building on Parley Drive. The regular monthly meeting of the CDD will occur Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 4 p.m. at the same location.

Click here to view the most recent draft of the budget (containing the changes detailed by this article) and the latest draft of the assessment tables.

Note: In the news article originally posted here, Westchase resident Dave Horwitz name was misspelled and comments about erosion on a Greens pond and its affects on a pine tree were incorrectly attributed to him (they were made by gentleman sitting in front of Mr. Horwitz.). Based upon a response by a CDD supervisor, the original article also incorrectly stated the R&M Equipment budget line had been lowered to $25,000; the draft budget currently lists the amount as $20,000. In the updated article, Mr. Horwitz’s suggestions about CDD erosion repairs have been slightly clarified. Last, further details about CDD assessments made available to WOW after its original posting have been added to the article. Subsequently, the original reference to the reduction in R&M streetlights incorrectly gave the impression the change affected the general fund. It also incorrectly stated the line was reduced from $66,500 to $50,000. The actual reduction was to R&M Streetlights within the Harbor Links/The Estates fund and the reduction was $66,500 to $10,000. The above article has been changed to reflect the correct information.

By Marcy Sanford

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