By Alex Bridges
A Warren County resident says her neighborhood could benefit as a sanitary district ,but her idea faces opposition.
Lake Front Royal would become the county's ninth sanitary district if Deborah Fritts gains enough support for her proposal.
"What I am doing is raising awareness in the community about how a sanitary district would benefit us," Fritts said by phone this week.
Fritts has invited residents in Lake Front Royal to attend a meeting Aug. 15. She has invited County Administrator Douglas Stanley to give a presentation on the pros and cons of a neighborhood becoming a sanitary district.
Fritts also has started a petition drive to collect signatures of people interested in turning the neighborhood into a sanitary district. Fritts needs 50 signatures of people living in the subdivision and registered to vote in the county. The neighborhood has 305 property owners, Fritts said.
Fritts mailed letters to residents in early June asking them to consider her proposal. But she noted that board members of the property owners' association don't seem to support her idea. Fritts claims the board has shunned her in the past and removed her from a meeting last week. She said her name does not appear on the deed for the property her husband bought the year before they were married.
Azlee Bates, vice president of the property owners' association board, responded to questions about the matter via email Thursday.
"The Board has not formally come out for or against becoming a sanitary district," Bates stated. "As record owners, we all have our own personal position on the issue, but as a Board we will act in accordance with the majority of the record owners' wishes."
Bates noted that the county administrator presented facts at a well-attended board meeting on May 22 on sanitary districts, information the association later posted on its website. Bates added that, while comments have been posted on the community bulletin board on the subject, "there has not been enough support for a sanitary district to create the required petition."
At the meeting, Stanley told those in attendance that becoming a sanitary district does not guarantee improvements to the neighborhood roads, Bates stated. Creation of a district means the county collects dues in the form of a tax and would charge 5 percent of the proceeds as a collection fee. The community remains responsible for road and grounds maintenance, snow removal and other expenses.
At a July 24 meeting and open forum, none of the record owners in attendance mentioned a sanitary district, Bates stated.
"Currently, the majority of the feedback the board is receiving from record owners is in opposition to becoming a sanitary district," Bates stated.
Creating a sanitary district out of Lake Front Royal may help the association financially, Fritts said.
"The [association] board wants to correct a sinking ship, which I don't think they can ever prevent it from fully sinking, and in becoming a sanitary district I think that we can start fresh, leave the past behind us and move forward from here," Fritts said.
The county has eight sanitary districts. Property owners in each district pay fees to the county, separate from dues owed to the homeowners association as dictated in the covenants. A Lake Front Royal sanitary district likely would run similar to most of the others in the county. Stanley explained that the county would collect fees from the homeowners and then reimburse the association on a quarterly basis. The associations use the money as they see fit.
The county offers a brochure with information about sanitary districts.
The exception is the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District, where the county has assumed more control over fees collected for road maintenance.
But in the other districts the county merely collects the fees assessed on the property. Owners pay the fees at the same time as their real estate taxes, County Attorney Blair Mitchell explained.
Fritts claimed the association collects approximately 65 percent of the dues owed to the organization. As a sanitary district, the county would collect fees and then distribute the funds on a schedule.
Not only would the county help the association by collecting the fees from property owners and keeping track of the money owed, the Board of Supervisors would have oversight of the sanitary district. "It's to protect the homeowners," Fritts said.
As for homeowners who fail to pay their dues, Fritts said the association leadership has not placed liens on the properties in an effort to recoup the money owed. The association has handed over 41 accounts to a private collections agency, she said.
Mitchell explained that the county handles delinquent accounts in sanitary districts as allowed under state code. The county uses a private law firm to address delinquent accounts. The county can try to recoup the unpaid fees through the sale of the property, but must wait three years as allowed under state code.
Bates acknowledged that the association does not collect 100 percent of the money owed by property owners. An outside collections agency does assist in collecting the dues, at no cost to the association.
"The association attempts to work with all owners by offering payment plans," Bates stated. "Beyond that, we use the legal remedies available to us to collect dues."
But Fritts pointed out that the low collection rate, coupled with a major construction project, means little money for other needed improvements. The association spent approximately $80,000 to upgrade the dam at the neighborhood's lake, Fritts said. This, she said, has halted roadwork in the district.
Bates stated that major road improvements had to be halted because of the dam repairs, not because of uncollected dues."
Bates explained that flooding concerns on U.S. 522 south prompted the association to make repairs on the dam as mandated by the state. A private engineer hired to inspect the dam also assessed a foot bridge over Sloan Creek and found it needed repairs, Bates stated. The dam was certified in January and the bridge in March, according to Bates.
But the major expenses made an impact on the association's funds. Bates acknowledged that the associated now must prioritize the necessary road repairs rather than perform large-scale improvements in the immediate future.
The roads committee chairman is making a list of repairs the association discussed at the July 24 meeting, Bates stated. Once the chairman reports his findings, the association can proceed with a plan to address specific areas. Bates said the association expects to address future roads needs at its next annual meeting.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org