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Sudden Valley residents split over big dues increase

Video: Sudden Valley in disrepair, may increase dues

Sudden Valley Manager Mitch Waterman gives a tour on Tuesday, Oct. 20, of community buildings and equipment in need of repairs. To get this done, the homeowners association says it needs to increase dues.
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Sudden Valley Manager Mitch Waterman gives a tour on Tuesday, Oct. 20, of community buildings and equipment in need of repairs. To get this done, the homeowners association says it needs to increase dues.

Leaders in this private community are asking property owners on a Nov. 7 ballot to pay a large dues increase for much-needed repairs and to get serious about routine maintenance.

Mitch Waterman, who stepped into a management position at the Sudden Valley Community Association in September 2014, said the increase — as much as 48 percent for owners of developed lots — is needed because past administrations neglected even the most basic upkeep.

Workers have slapped one quick fix on top of another in the swimming pool’s pump house, leaving the equipment primed for failure, Waterman said. Roadside ditches are choked with plants and pine needles, which could cause rainwater to flood homes. Cracks in the tennis courts have made them practically unplayable.

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, an association employee noticed a maintenance shed was starting to collapse.

“It will literally fall on people’s heads,” said Larry Brown, president of the homeowners association’s board of directors, on Friday, Oct. 23. “Another one bites the dust, and that’s just today.”

$832.80 Current annual dues on developed lots in Sudden Valley

$1,235.40 Annual dues on developed lots if all measures pass

Members of the Sudden Valley Community Association, which serves a population of nearly 6,500, are being asked to consider four separate dues increases. The ballots will be counted at the end of the association’s annual general meeting on Nov. 7.

The Sudden Valley ballot is separate from the Nov. 3 county elections.

An increase to the base dues would raise rates 27 percent for owners of developed lots and 24 percent for owners of undeveloped lots. They would pay $1,060.20 and $891.84 annually, respectively.

If this increase is approved, along with three others, the full rate hike will be 48 percent for developed lots and 36 percent for undeveloped lots. Annual fees could be as high as $1,235.40 and $976.80.

In separate measures, the board is asking for money to pay for maintenance of roadside ditches and culverts, for parks and for the swimming pool.

History of neglect, failures

Each dues measure requires 60 percent approval to pass. People opposed to the increases and critical of the current board are vocal on Sudden Valley social media sites, frustrated with a history of mismanagement.

The Sudden Valley library was forced to move in 2014, three months after it opened, when a beetle infestation was discovered inside the building.

Workers replaced a roof on a security building even though the beams supporting the roof were visibly rotting.

We need a dramatic increase and trust me, we’ll get the work done with it.

Larry Brown, Sudden Valley Community Association president

Efforts in recent years to increase dues were shot down, and a 2014 court decision made it harder to raise dues.

Waterman called Sudden Valley’s maintenance style — attending to things only after they fall apart — “management by crisis.”

“The association has been told time and again, time and again, time and again: ‘You are underfunding your maintenance by any standard,’” Waterman said.

The association’s manager borrowed the phrase from a 2013 report on the common properties in Sudden Valley. In addition to no maintenance plan, the association didn’t have enough money to start an effective maintenance program, the report said.

“In the opinion of (the consultant), the association must ... increase operational and reserve funding sufficiently to pay for routine annual maintenance,” the report said.

To ask for this much money now is premature because this new team needs to prove itself.

Gail Chiarello, SVCA board candidate

The requested dues increases are based on the actual anticipated costs of getting the community’s common properties back into shape, Brown said.

“For the first time in my knowledge, there now is a set of numbers that back up exactly what we’re looking for,” he said.

“We need a dramatic increase and trust me, we’ll get the work done with it.”

Some doubt leadership

Trust is in short supply in some corners of Sudden Valley.

“It’s pretty widespread, and it’s been going on for a pretty long time,” said Gail Chiarello, a candidate for the board who opposes the dues increase.

“To ask for this much money now is premature because this new team needs to prove itself to the community that it will be managing wisely and prudently,” she said.

Some of the new manager’s purchases have been called into question by residents, including new security cameras and a “Cadillac” school-bus stop topped with solar panels and surrounded by bollards that would stop a car in its tracks, as Waterman described it.

The bus stop came from an account different than the impoverished fund that pays for day-to-day expenses, Brown said. It was built to benefit the health and safety of children, he added.

Chiarello said the previous manager kept such poor records that this year’s finances can’t even be compared to those from last year.

“Things were screwed up last year, and you’re saying trust us, they’re not screwed up now,” Chiarello said. “You need time to establish credibility.”

Brown said the board should have approved a large dues increase five years ago.

“There’s nothing left to allow for another year of good work,” Brown said. “Next year, if the dues proposal for at least the basic amount doesn’t go through, then we have to begin shutting things down.”

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.

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