Spector, supervisor of the county's Office of Community
Governing, acknowledged in response to a Delaforum inquiry that
a 'Maintenance Corporation Voluntary Partnership Initiative',
which has been developed over a period of several months, will
be officially unveiled on Sept. 28 at a by-invitation gathering
of maintenance corporation officers.
that [participation] is completely voluntary." he said.
critics charge, however, that the combination of no fee and the
various leverages that county officials have in dealing with
community organizations will provide, at least, a strong
incentive to sign up. Since the same limited number of
volunteers tend to be actively involved both with maintenance
corporations and other civic interests, the relationship with
public officials inherent in the former is almost certain to
affect the latter, they argue.
more, they question whether intervention in the affairs of
private corporations or spending taxpayer money to do so are
legitimate governmental functions. A more fundamental criticism
is that the plan is an intrusion by the county administration
into the sphere of private and community initiative.
lousy idea," said state Representative Greg Lavelle, who was a
civic activist in both his Brandywine Hundred community and the
region before being elected. "It amounts to politicizing the
point also was at the core of a discussion by the steering
committee of Common Cause of Delaware, which agreed to look into
the propriety of the situation.
takes an opposite view. There is no sinister motive, he said.
"We just want to be of help."
Residential developers have been required to establish
maintenance corporations in all new subdivisions since the
mid-1970s. The practice became especially widespread with the
building boom of the 1980s and 1990s, which saw explosive
development in such place as the Hockessin, Bear and Glasgow
Homeowners become members of the corporation when they accept
the deed to the property at settlement. The initial function of
the nonprofit organizations was to care for common open spaces
in the community. That mostly conssts of numerous pocket parks
where regular county maintenance was considered impractical. But
many maintenance corporations have undertaken additional
responsibilities, primary among which have been snow removal and
architectural review of proposed property improvements.
do that is raised through involuntary assessments on all
property owners in the development. Unlike conventional civic
association dues, paying the maintenance assessment is a legal
obligation comparable to municipal fees in incorporated areas.
Fees vary from development to development, ranging widely from
$75 to $250 a year. Spector said that the system is supposed to
be explained to property purchasers at time of settlement but
often is overlooked.
existing homeowners and assuring that newcomers are brought up
to speed quickly is one of the objectives of the county
initiative, he said.
of the county plan is to take over the collection of the
assessments. Homeowners, who are unaware of the obligatory
nature of the assessment, are believed less likely to ignore or
contest a bill from county government than they are from an
organization led by neighbors in voluntary positions, Spector
said. If necessary, he added, the county will assist the
maintenance corporation with getting property liens against
that it is not unusual for collection rates to drop as low as
80% -- which means that one out of every five residents of the
place do not pay -- and that some developments have rates as low
as 50%. Where a maintenance corporation is defunct -- for lack
of volunteer leadership, for instance -- there may not have been
any collections at all.
Boylan, a principal in B.C. Consulting, said that arrangement
calls for the county, in effect, to finance the accounts
receivable of private corporations. "They'll be using tax
dollars to do that," she said.
Consulting is one of three private management firms which have
maintenance corporations for clients. Boylan said the county's
plan is not likely to adversely affect her firm "beyond causing
confusion to the public," but is something that should be
opposed "on principle."
agreed. He pointed out that the timing of the requirement for
establishing maintenance corporations means that they exist
mainly in newer suburbs west and south of Wilmington while there
are relatively few in older areas. "Why should we up here (in
Brandywine Hundred) have our taxes [used] to specifically
benefit other [places]? Clearly, the county is incurring costs
to do this," he said.
the government now entering a private-sector market?" is one of
the questions posed by the Common Cause committee.
Weldin, a B.C. Consulting employee who is the Republican
candidate running for the Sixth District County Council seat
being vacated by Democrat Christopher Roberts, questioned how
the administration of County Executive Tom Gordon can assume
authority to institute the new system. "Shouldn't there be some
review by County Council before getting into the private running
of a corporation?" he asked rhetorically.
according to critics, is that, in exchange for its services, the
county office will assume authority for approving, or
disapproving, the corporation's budget. Specifically, they say,
the intention is to eliminate snow plowing and other things that
have nothing to do with open space maintenance from the scope of
the corporations' activities.
acknowledged that the county's position is that some
corporations have gone too far afield from their initial purpose
and responsibility. The county, he pointed out, provides major
repairs to stormwater holding ponds and the state reimburses
communities for 75% of the cost of snow removal as the result of
falls exceeding four inches.
developments without maintenance corporations local costs are
handled by civic associations and the same thing can be done in
developments where the corporations come under the county
initiative, he said. Civic associations raise money to finance
activities but dues are voluntary contributions.
Cahill, the other principal in B.C. Consulting, said that would
pose a major problem in some areas. Many residents who now have
such things as snow removal included in their assessments will
balk when hit up for civic association dues to pay for that
while still having to pay an assessment.
he said, the scope of maintenance corporation responsibilities
-- including everything beyond caring for open space -- are
spelled out in deed restrictions which have been previously
approved by the county Law Department. "Now they are telling us
what they approved isn't correct," he said.
Cahill and Weldin are former county employees.
said that, in some cases, a third to a half of a maintenance
corporation's budget goes to pay management and lawyer fees.
While the county initiative is intended to eliminate that, he
added that individual corporations will be able to choose
whether they want to keep their current arrangements or move
under the county umbrella.
will probably cause problems for those who don't ask the right
questions," Cahill said. "It might seem that you can get
something free that you now pay for."