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Significant Rise in Westchase Homeowners’ CDD Assessment Seems Likely

With the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) one month from their Aug. 5 public budget hearing, the latest draft of the district’s spending plan still points to a significant increase in homeowners’ operations and maintenance assessment.

The CDD’s operations and maintenance assessment is currently slated to jump from $396.01 to $543.20 per home, an increase of 37 percent. (Note: In all neighborhoods outside of non-gated villages on Countryway Boulevard and Radcliffe, the operations and maintenance assessment represents only a part of Westchase homeowners’ CDD assessments. For a more detailed discussion of CDD assessments and overall changes to specific neighborhoods, please see the bottom of this article.) The two current drivers of the operations and maintenance increase are costs associated with parks and landscaping. The district is currently rebidding its landscaping contract, which will likely see resolution in early September. At the recommendation of District Manager Andy Mendenhall, who has told supervisors other districts are paying as much as 15 percent more for landscaping than Westchase currently is, supervisors have tucked an $108,000 increase into the draft budget, representing a 20 percent climb in the district’s landscaping costs. Should the winning bid come in lower, supervisors will incorporate the lower number into their approved budget.

Supervisors have also incorporated a $400,000 increase into parks spending for the coming year. Recent months have seen both CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart and an independent park auditor inform supervisors that the current playground equipment at Baybridge and Glencliff Parks is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Initial rough estimates for bringing the parks into compliance have ranged widely, from $1-3 million. Should supervisors elect to undertake a capital improvement program, they have indicated they will borrow the funds and the $400,000 proposed increase will represent the 2015 payment toward the loan.

Supervisors’ review of the 2015 draft, which saw confusion over which of their wish-list items had already been incorporated into it, made clear that few areas remained that they could significantly cut to pare assessment increases.

District Manager Andy Mendenhall, however, began the July session with a staff salary discussion. Mendenhall stated he had recently completed staff performance reviews and that Field Supervisor Doug Mays, who did not attend the meeting due to vacation, had advised him on salary increases. “He had mentioned between three and five percent,” said Mendenhall, stating Mays’ preference was five percent. “I recommend the same amount,” he stated.

While Supervisor Bob Argus initially indicated support for the recommendation, Supervisors Mark Ragusa and Greg Chesney made clear they saw five percent as excessive, given staff’s compensation increases and bonuses last year. Chesney instead suggested a CPI-based increase of two percent with further compensation for outstanding work being recognized by bonuses at year’s end. Argus then proposed a compromise, suggesting a 2.5 percent increase. That motion, however, was defeated when only Argus and Ragusa voted in favor.

Supervisors then appeared to endorse Chesney’s recommendation to table further discussion until the Aug. 5 meeting, allowing supervisors to individually weigh in on staff performance with Mendenhall before he returns with a new recommendation. In the meantime Chesney suggested Mendenhall cut the budget’s salary line, which originally had a 15 percent increase as a placeholder, to five percent, which would shave approximately $16,000 off the bottom line.

Looking for other cuts, supervisors questioned the $30,000 increase in projected legal fees. While budgeted for $80,000 this year, legal fees are running ahead of expected levels, likely due to the district’s acquisition of a piece of land earlier in the year. Remarked Ragusa, “I’d like to see that get back to eighty.”

Supervisors also shaved about $6,000 from the line covering printing and reproduction, given their recent acquisition of iPads and the decision to distribute board materials electronically.

Looking at items at the district’s wish list, some of which may be acquired by surplus funds from this year, supervisors seemed inclined to cut $18,000 from their fountain budget. While uncertain, most supervisors suspected that budget line was increased to fund the installation of a second pond fountain in the community. With the desire to find cuts, it appears unlikely that fountain will survive the budget ax.

Barring the district’s receipt of unexpectedly inexpensive landscaping bid or supervisors’ decision not to bring the district’s playgrounds into compliance with federal law, the current budget will likely  see only additional minor nips and cuts, saving little more than $50,000 from May’s draft. Thus, the projected increase to homeowners’ operations and maintenance assessments will likely remain somewhere between $125 to 147 per home (with the exception of Berkeley Square).

Making her report, CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated staff had pinpointed a few ponds for possible erosion repairs, including portions of the canal that lies between the West Park Village tennis courts and Village Green and portions of ponds in The Greens and The Fords. When Stewart mentioned that The Greens pond happens to be owned by the Westchase Golf Course, CDD Chair Mark Ragusa asked CDD Attorney Erin McCormick to determine the district’s legal responsibility of undertaking repairs there. Stewart committed to returning with a formalized proposal for the repairs in August.

When District Manager Mendenhall began briefing supervisors on the timetable for the district’s landscaping bid, McCormick expressed concerns about the proposed plan. Following a brief break during which McCormick delineated the actions the district had to take to comply with state law, Mendenhall announced a new timetable. While last month’s plans had supervisors awarding the contact at the same Aug. 5 meeting as their budget hearing, the new timetable has the district opening bids on Aug. 11. (Bids will be opened after a three-person committee determines which of the interested companies pass the district’s qualifications to bid.) To incorporate the new landscaping contract's costs into next year’s budget, however, supervisors ultimately decided they would continue their Aug. 5 public hearing on the budget – and the budget’s approval – to their September meeting. Supervisors also scheduled a district meeting for Monday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. at the WCA office building in West Park Village to award the landscaping contract.

WOW’s reporter then asked supervisors if they would hire an irrigation specialist to determine the state of the district’s irrigation system before the current landscaper, Mainscapes, leaves. During the two most recent transitions to new landscape contractors, the district has been faced with upwards of $30,000 in irrigation system repairs before the new contractor would accept responsibility for the system. Ragusa assured the reporter that the district’s contract required the new landscaper to inspect the system and sign off on it. Further, the final payment to Mainscapes will be withheld until any irrigation repair costs are determined. Ragusa also asked Office Manager Sonny Whyte to notify Mainscapes of the district’s plans.

In other actions:

Supervisors took no action on a request from Greens Voting Member Jerry Pappa that the district install an American flag – like those permitted for display on Westchase homes – on the Greens guardhouse. Supervisors first wished to clarify who would ensure the flag is properly maintained and flown correctly in observation of the U.S. flag code. They asked staff to explore those concerns with Pappa.

Supervisors unanimously approved an agreement to permit the Westchase Soccer Association exclusive use of Glencliff Park’s fields for their upcoming soccer season.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick confirmed that the district has an easement along property adjacent to Fifth-Third Bank and two empty lots on the southern side of Linebaugh Avenue across from Westchase Elementary. The parcels’ owner, Real Property Specialists, frequently leases the empty lots to vendors, who erect tents to sell seasonal items like fireworks, which are not permitted in Westchase. The owner has been asked by some supervisors and the Westchase Community Association (WCA) to stop using the parcel for fireworks sales. The easement would permit the CDD to erect a brick wall and landscaping to shield view of the parcels – and any seasonal tents they would hold – from Linebaugh Avenue. The announcement was greeted with smiles from supervisors. “Fantastic,” stated Supervisor Greg Chesney.

Chair Ragusa closed the session by asking staff to return with a proposal for the construction of a wall along the easement.

Supervisors adjourned at 5:57 p.m.

CDD Assessments at a Glance

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 discussed above, 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 dramatically due to a neighborhood’s unique circumstances. Thus, while it’s correct to state the operations and maintenance assessment has increased by 37 percent, the actual percentage increase in total CDD assessments ranges in Westchase neighborhoods from three percent (The Greens) to 136 percent (Saville Rowe).

Another peculiarity of this year’s assessment tables lies in an error from previous years. In 2013, the CDD incorrectly extended for a second year a refund to western villages of excess assessments collected from their completed debt payments. This incorrect refund, which varied among neighborhoods but averaged about $60 per home, was recouped as part of western village’s 2014 operations and maintenance assessment. Thus, western villages’ homes had higher 2014 Operations and Maintenance assessments than eastern villages. Thus, the percentage increase of 2015’s assessments over 2014 assessments appears lower there – ranging from 5.6 percent to 37 percent. Teasing out these internal bookkeeping adjustments, the true proposed operations and maintenance assessment, however, has increased 37 percent for all Westchase homes.

Last, under the district’s complex assessment methodology, Berkeley Square units are assessed as multifamily dwellings. Thus, the units do not pay the full operations and maintenance assessment. Instead, Berkeley Square units will see their operations and maintenance assessments increase from $280.60 to $382.81, an increase of 36.42 percent

Individual Neighborhood Impact

Local CDD assessments, which cover gated communities and West Park Village, vary significantly. This year due to recalculation of reserve tables and requested work in various neighborhoods, local assessments have seen some significant adjustments (Note: The district’s assessment tables call local assessments “special funds.”). If the current draft of the budget is passed, a handful of gated neighborhoods will see some noteworthy changes in their proposed local assessments:

Harbor Links/The Estates: Last year Harbor Links/The Estates converted their aging and leaking gas lights to more efficient LED lights. To do so, they borrowed about $180,000 from the district’s fund balance. The current budget sees the neighborhoods’ local assessments jump from $577.43 per home to $1,268.06 per home, a 119.6 percent increase. Under this repayment plan, homes there will pay the district back within three years. Repayment may be quicker due to saved gas costs. Supervisors, however, could lower Harbor Links/The Estates’ local assessment by extending repayment over four or five years. Combined with their operations and maintenance assessment increase, Harbor Links/The Estates’ homes would see CDD assessments rise from $1,058.98 (Harbor Links) and $1,091.63 (The Estates) to $1,811.26, an increase of 71.04 percent and 65.92 percent respectively.

The Greens: In 2014, homes in the Greens had a local assessment of $692.29 to cover items for their gate house and roads. Their roads will be repaved this month. When the district recalculated the neighborhood’s reserve schedule for future repaving, the projected costs fell, lowering the Greens proposed local assessment to $609.77, a decrease of almost 12 percent. Thus, total CDD assessments in The Greens would see the smallest increase of all Westchase homes, ranging from 3.09 to 3.49 percent.

The Vineyards: In 2014, The Vineyards local assessment was $331.42. This year, due to The Vineyards HOA’s request that gate cameras and entrance lighting be installed, Vineyard homeowners’ local assessment, if adopted without change, will increase to $418.63, up 33.57 percent. Along with debt service and their operations and maintenance assessments, Vineyards homeowners’ total CDD assessments would rise from $1,258.43 to $1,510.83, an increase of 20.06 percent.

Saville Rowe: In 2014, because of a large surplus, the district zeroed out Saville Rowe’s local assessment rather than see it grow further (its local assessment had been $273.95 the previous year). No sooner did they do this than the Saville Rowe’s HOA requested the district help address drainage issues within the community, which triggered a full-scale project that included road repaving. With the surplus gone and the neighborhood now running a small deficit, Saville Rowe homeowners will see their local assessment return, going from $0 to $393.97. Their total proposed CDD assessment would rise from $396.01 to $937.17, an increase of 136.65 percent.

Click on the following links to view the CDD draft budget and draft assessments (Note: These documents do not include two changes made at the July 8 meeting. When an updated draft is available, it will be posted here.)

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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