Sanitary districts offer pros, cons
FRONT ROYAL – Warren County’s government chief this week touted the benefits of sanitary districts – an issue that now has a neighborhood at odds.
County Administrator Doug Stanley presented information about the special taxation area Tuesday at a public hearing on a request to dissolve a recently created sanitary district. The pros appeared to outweigh the cons in the presentation.
Deputy County Administrator Robert Childress further explained the regulations pertaining to sanitary districts on Wednesday. While the creation of sanitary districts has allowed subdivisions to upgrade roads and hand them over to the Virginia Department of Transportation, this is not required. Instead, the property owners association can continue to maintain the roads.
However, communities that become sanitary districts and turn roads over to VDOT can no longer keep or install gates at the entrances and exits.
“Once a roadway is upgraded and turned over to VDOT it is opened for public use,” Childress said in an email. “A gate would restrict public access. VDOT will occasionally allow gates for security on their roads serving public facilities. An example would be a park (that) closes at dark. The gate would be shut by the park staff at night for security purposes and then reopened in the morning.”
Supporters of the Lake Front Royal Sanitary District claim the neighborhood needs to improve its fee-collection rate in order to raise enough money to replace the bridge at the entrance. Childress noted that county officials have met with the property owners association and individual owners many times over the past few years to discuss the bridge replacement – a project initiated by the organization through the VDOT cost-sharing program prior to the creation of the district.
The county has 11 sanitary districts. The court has abolished one district in the history of their use in the county. The T.B. Boies Sanitary District established in the mid 1970s consisted of a small subdivision off state Route 55 West located on one street – Whippoorwill Lane. The district was created to generate enough money to upgrade the street and turn it over to VDOT. Once accomplished, the court abolished the district sometime after June 1982.
Some supporters of a petition to abolish the Lake Front Royal Sanitary District expressed concerns that their taxes and those of elderly residents would increase. The county sets the district fees and approves any increases based on requests by the property owners associations. However, an association could seek tax increases if faced with a need to fund road improvements such as those undertaken in cost-sharing projects with VDOT.
Benefits of sanitary districts include:
• Privacies of roads, gates, pools not affected.
• Ability to set uniform fees in subdivision.
• Subject all lots to district fees.
• County Treasurer’s Office, not property owners association, collects taxes.
• Fees considered a tax, deductible on federal income tax return.
• Sanitary fees collected with county taxes on mortgage escrow.
• Tiers provide lower rate for undeveloped lots.
• Builders pay new construction road use fee prior to building permit issuance in certain districts.
• Makes subdivision eligible for state, federal disaster relief money.
• Gives community ability to raise funds for improvements.
• Board of directors no longer needs to place liens on property because owners must pay unpaid taxes before property sale.
• Improved property values, community credit status.
Drawbacks of sanitary districts include:
• Cost to petition court to create district from $2,500 to $10,000.
• Must receive court approval.
• Board of Supervisors approves the district budget.
• County can take over if not operated properly.
• Must follow state and county procurement rules.
• Must have annual audit performed.
The Board of Supervisors runs each district, though members can contract with the property owners group to operate it. The property owners group submits a budget and proposed tax rates each year. The county collects taxes and remits the revenue to the property owners group minus the collection fee.
Shenandoah Shores, with 985 lots and created in 1971, is the county’s oldest sanitary district. Skyland Estates has 1,138 lots and was created in 1980. Districts range in size from 23 lots in Shangri-La subdivision, created earlier this year, to Shenandoah Farms, with 2,815 lots, created in 1996.
Tax rates for each district are as follows:
• Blue Mountain – $65 per lot plus 23 cents per $100 of assessed value.
• Cedarville – $50 per lot.
• High Knob – $383 per unimproved lot, $620 improved lot.
• Linden Heights – $350 per lot.
• Riverside – $60 per lot plus 17 cents per $100 of assessed value.
• Skyland Estates – 35 cents per $100 of assessed value.
• Shenandoah Farms – $240 per unimproved lot, $275 improved lot.
• Shenandoah Shores – $115 per lot plus 17 cents per $100 of assessed value.
• South River – $300 per lot plus 5 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Rates for Shenandoah Farms, High Knob and Blue Mountain increased from fiscal 2016 to 2017.
Stanley also touted the collection rates for the sanitary districts. Rates ranged from 83.31 percent in Shenandoah Farms to 97.66 percent in Blue Mountain. Supporters of creating the Lake Front Royal Sanitary District claimed that the subdivision’s property owners association only had about a 50-percent collection rate. A representative of the property owners seeking to dissolve the district presented information to the county they say shows a rate of closer to 80 percent though some supporters of the district voiced doubt about the new figure.
Sanitary districts, as units of local government, can receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to help cover the cost to handle disasters. Stanley explained that the federal government reimburses up to 75 percent of all allowable costs with the state covering 15 or 20 percent of the remaining 25 percent. A handful of the county’s sanitary districts received reimbursements for costs associated with the January snowstorm “Jonas.”
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org