New Mark Commons residents on March 2 got to hear directly from the candidates running for three open HOA Board of Directors’ seats, ahead of the March 13 Annual Meeting.
Questions and discussions focused on the stormwater management fee issue; the need for civility in community affairs; tensions between detached and townhouse owners; and the push to return and maintain the neighborhood in good shape as it celebrates its 50th birthday.
More than two dozen homeowners turned out at the Clubhouse to hear from the candidates: Alex Belida (705 NME) an NMC homeowner for much of the past 30 years; incumbent Board President John Hansman (6 Radburn Court), an NMC homeowner for more than 20 years; former Board President Joe Jordan (328 NME), an owner for 30 years; Daniel New-Schneider, 5 Tegner Court owner with two young children who once lived with his parents on Tegner and returned in 2008; and David Schwartzman (256 NME), an owner who has lived here for nearly 20 years.
Kathleen Moran (18 Welwyn Way), a 25-year NMC homeowner who worked for the City of Rockville for 27 years, was absent due to a previously scheduled trip, but former Rockville Mayor and former New Mark Administrator Rose Krasnow and Steve Krasnow represented her.
The running conflict between Joe Jordan and John Hansman once again emerged as the two were the first on their feet to answer the very first question in the town hall-style Forum. That question, about the stormwater management fee issue, was among those written on index cards by residents and drawn by Board member Ellen Stein, who moderated the meeting with assistance from Board member John Daroff.
The stormwater fee issue has simmered since last year’s Annual Meeting, after which townhome owner Richard Berman filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities (CCOC) to challenge the NMC Homes Association billing formula. The HOA billed higher charges to townhome owners to pay the City of Rockville stormwater management fee attributed to runoff from the townhouse parking lots. The charges have been added to the annual dues since 2011.
The CCOC ruled last month that the dues bill line item that added higher charges for townhomes violated New Mark’s own Covenants that mandate a certain ratio be maintained in dues charges among all the homes. The CCOC ruled that stormwater fees should be absorbed into the overall HOA budget, not added on as line items to bills, and ordered repayment to townhome owners to the tune of about $43,000 dollars.
Because Richard Berman refused mediation, the Board engaged counsel to represent the Association–a move that has cost the community about $40,000. At issue was the annual add-on for townhomes ranging from $36 to $64 a year.
During the Candidates Forum, John Hansman defended the Board’s actions in supporting the fees, noting that the CCOC had, in essence, upheld the Board’s authority to raise dues beyond the cost of living without a referendum, by not addressing that key issue in Berman’s complaint.
David Schwartzman backed the Board’s decision to involve the legal firm, due to the complex nature of the issue, and noted that Richard Berman had refused mediation. He said, however, that there should have been more discussion in the community at the time the new fees were imposed in 2010-11.
Joe Jordan, who backed Richard Berman in the intense discussion about the stormwater fee issue at the 2016 Annual Meeting, and again just recently at a monthly NMC Board meeting (when Berman threatened to take a newly-proposed dues increase to the CCOC), insisted that he himself had opposed the fees for more than five years–and that he had been “proven right” by the CCOC decision.
The issue, Joe said, “started the whole division between townhomes and detached homes.”
While all homes pay something toward the stormwater fee in their individual City property taxes, detached homes pay about $121 a year while townhomes pay about $60, according to an analysis by Hansman last year. Apart from that, New Mark had to pay stormwater fees for community-owned property that includes the townhome and pool parking lots, lake and walking paths, and pool area. The 2010 Board, in establishing the billing algorithm, tried to make up for the parking lot charges by adding more to the townhome annual dues than to the detached home fees. Under that system, detached homes ended up paying a total of about $140 to the City and townhomes about $126 in annual stormwater fees.
Alex Belida made an appeal to “improve our tolerance for opposing points of view” to “see if we can come to some kind of mutual understanding.”
Daniel New-Schneider advocated for more “outreach” by the Board. He proposed “walking board meetings” that would involve more of the community and invite more sharing of past experiences.
[Relevant to the references to the financial impact of the CCOC process and decision is the fact that New Mark is facing a major fiscal crunch to pay for several expensive capital improvement projects, including repaving the townhome and pool parking lots, making the Clubhouse ADA-compliant, and dredging the lake. An earlier proposed 2017 dues increase of 16.5% for the operating budget and 20% for the reserve fund for the 2017 budget provoked protests in the community and was put on hold until the CCOC ruling came out in February.
During the Board meeting that followed the Candidates’ Forum on March 2, the Board considered a revised budget that called for a 12.3% dues increase for the operating budget and a 20% increase for the reserve fund. Five Board members voted to table the proposal until the newly-composed 2017-18 Board meets in April, saying they received it just hours before the meeting.
President John Hansman, who pushed for adoption, was the only dissenting vote.]
The financial issues were discussed at the Forum as both Alex Belida and David Schwartzman called for studies to plan future expenditures. It’s been about nine years since the last Reserve Fund study was done.
“I want to see a new Reserve Fund Study for short-term and long-term plans,” said Alex, who is a member of the Architectural Control Committee. “I would like more efforts to make New Mark look better than we do.”
He proposed putting together teams of homeowners willing to help others make external improvements.
David called for more prompt responses to residents’ requests and complaints, saying people often feel “as if the Board doesn’t listen.”
Alex noted that the Board may need to do a “better job” in anticipating what people need, but added that the Communication Committee team is providing information on multiple platforms. “We all have a duty to inform ourselves on the issues,” he said.
The lake dredging could cost $300,000 to $400,000, due to new rules about disposal of the sediment, which is now considered toxic. Requests to the City of Rockville for financial support have apparently fallen on deaf ears, as officials do not consider that Lake New Mark meets the standards for designation as a stormwater-management pond– even though many City streets outside of New Mark drain into the pond.
That issue and others–such as the deteriorating City infrastructure within New Mark–have pointed to the need for more lobbying at City Hall, and Alex and David both called for more efforts along those lines. David said every Board member should meet with the Mayor and develop relationships with heads of City departments. Alex called for a Board member to attend City Council meetings and speak out every Monday night.
Speaking for Kathleen Moran, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow noted Kathleen’s long-time work for the City that included managing the Rockville Civic Center complex and other events and programs. “She thinks outside the box,” Rose said, adding that Kathleen would have given good answers to all the questions if she had been present.
Joe Jordan noted that he had been Mayor Bridget Newton’s campaign manager in the 2015 elections, and that he had proposed to the Board that he get involved in the dredging issue– but said the Board “dropped the idea.” [A report in the April 2016 newsletter about the April 7 Board meeting indicates that the Board had accepted Joe’s offer to look into getting help from the City with the dredge project. but his remarks at the Town Hall indicated that nothing had come of it.]
In response to a question about upholding Architectural Control guidelines, David Schwartzman said the community has the “right to insist” that violations be fixed if done–misguidedly–without ACC approval. But violations that were either approved or carried out by a previous owner demanded some element of compromise, if there’s a way to fix the problem that’s “not so burdensome,” he said.
Alex Belida noted that the Board has before it a proposed new procedure that would call for prior violations that were approved to be addressed at the point of house sale. Alex, who crafted the new guidelines, noted that the CCOC has ruled that Boards have some flexibility on architectural controls, but if they are not applied all the time, the Boards may be neglecting their “fiduciary responsibility.”
John Hansman, who chairs the ACC, said the issue is very contentious, and that the top priority is on violations committed by a current owner. “We’ll probably wind up before the CCOC,” he said, referring to future steps by the Board to enforce architectural control guidelines.
Joe Jordan, who has pointed out violations to the ACC in the past that have been corrected, admitted that he has been told his own door “doesn’t comply” – but said he intended to address it.
The swimming pool and team also came up in the discussion. Daniel New-Schneider, whose daughter swam with the “minis” last year, has joined the Pool Committee and said he was surprised at how much the HOA subsidizes the team. He suggested that the team could explore other ways to raise money, such as inviting food trucks to the pool with a profit-sharing plan.
At a lively community forum in December 2016 about proposed dues increases, it was suggested by some residents that the team got too much pool time and even questioned the need for the team. But, as had many residents during the December exchange, the candidates who spoke on this issue made clear their support for the swim team.
Alex Belida, whose three children swam on the team in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, insisted: “The swim team is one of the strongest binding elements of this community.” Living as near to the pool as he does, he said he is not irritated by the blast of the starter’s horn on swim meet mornings – rather, he said, it was a wonderful “sign of summer.”
Paper copies of the Revised 2017 Annual Meeting Notice, including candidate statements, voting instructions, and an absentee ballot, were delivered to each NMC home on Thursday, March 2. A copy is posted in the Board Meeting Minutes and Agendas page of the NMC website Resident Area. If you did not receive a Revised Notice or have questions about the Annual Meeting and/or election process, please contact Jim Denny at email@example.com or 301-340-0288.
Disclosure: The author, a retired journalist who regularly covers the Board meetings for the newsletter, is married to Alex Belida.