The Coast News Group

Association votes to keep assessments the same

RANCHO SANTA FE — Discussions about lowering the assessment rate for open space became emotional at the Oct. 7 Association meeting.
Members of the finance committee challenged the 2010-2011 budget, asking the board to lower the assessment rate from 3 cents per $100 property value to 1 cent because they feel if the board has the money, it will spend it and the tough financial
times require some belt-tightening.
The majority of the board members believe the assessment should stay as is until they can get a reading on how important open space is to the community.
“Open space is a well-established priority of the community. Until we hear different, this (discussion) is out of place,” board member Dick Doughty said.
How important is open space to Rancho Santa Fe residents? A survey to be mailed out sometime this fall or early winter will determine if their minds have changed since 10 years ago when the 2010 long-range plan was being constructed. At that time, it was very important.
Several of the directors believe that open space is still important to residents and want to wait until the survey is returned to determine which way to proceed on next year’s budget.
However, members of the finance committee don’t want to wait that long.
Bruce Miller, a member of the finance committee, told the association that because of the economy, there needs to be financial consideration on the way the board and the staff thinks.
“It is awfully easy to spend it when you have it. This is the time to stand up and draw the line,” he said.
Dean Curtis, who is a self-described conservative, a member of the finance committee and a 25-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe, told the directors that it is dangerous to have “free cash,” which can be spent any way.
“An HOA is a (like) a government agency,” Curtis said. “Don’t give it money, they will spend it.”
He said it is better for associations to have “just enough money.”
Andy Chitea, another member of the finance committee who called himself “a cheap conservative,” concurred with Curtis
“I feel like I am here representing some of your predecessors,” Chitea said.
Some board members clearly resented the assumption that they would spend money just because it was available.
“I hear this discussion and I sense there is a perception out there that the Association can’t be trusted to act in a responsible manner,” Doughty said. “I’d like to point out that the Rancho Santa Fe Association is a responsible organization that has been around of a long time and has been pretty successful.”
Board member Anne Feighner said it has been her experience from serving on several boards in the past, including the school board, that when finances are unstable is the wrong time to lower assessments.
“Cutting our reserves now just wouldn’t be prudent,” she said.
Board President Tom Lang said that changing the assessment at this point is a bad idea.
“I think it’s putting the cart before the horse,” Lang said.
Board treasurer Jack Queen said he believes residents don’t feel as strongly about open space as they did 10 years ago and while waiting for their response, it makes sense to lower the assessment.
“We have all the latitude in the world to change it later,” Queen said.
In the end the board voted 4-2 to leave the assessment in the budget as stated. Queen and board member Roxanna Foxx voted against with Doughty, Feighner, Lang and Jack Dorsey voting for and Deb Plummer abstaining.
At the June 3 meeting of the Association, an assessment rate was established as 14 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of the property. To be applied to general services and operations would be 11 cents and 3 cents toward open space.
At its Sept. 22 meeting, the Association Finance Committee recommended to the board that an assessment rate be lowered to 12 cents per $100 of property value, with 11 cents for general services and operations and that the assessment for open space be reduced to 1 cent.
As of July 1, 2010, the San Diego County Tax Assessors roll determined that the property value in the covenant totals more than $4, 032, a 13.19 percent decrease over last year’s assessment of $4,165 billion.