By Karen Billing
Staff WriterDespite an RSF Association Finance Committee recommendation to lower the assessment fees for 2010-11, the Rancho Santa Fe Association Board of Directors voted 5-2 for rates to remain the same. Members Jack Queen and Roxana Foxx were the two dissenting votes.
As approved in the budget in June, the assessment rate was established at 14 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation with 11 cents applied to the Association’s general services fund and 3 cents toward open space.
The Finance Committee wanted the Association to lower the rate to 12 cents, with 11 cents being applied to general services and 1 cent to open space.
President Tom Lang said to lower the rates would be like putting the cart before the horse as the Long-Range Planning Committee will be surveying residents in November on how they feel about the open space program in the coming year. The open space program would be eliminated if two-thirds of the funding is removed, some board members said, adding that is why it is important to first make sure the community is in favor of such a move.
“To me it’s very prudent to wait until we get input on this matter before arbitrarily cutting open space by 2 cents and then having to go back to the community and say we made a mistake,” said Lang. “I respect the Finance Committee’s decision but I don’t think this is a proper time to be reducing our assessment, it’s the proper time to be diligent on how we spend our money.”
RSF Association Manager Pete Smith echoed Lang’s concerns about the timing.
“For us as a community, this is a critical time for us as we head into uncharted waters,” Smith said.
Smith said there is some financial uncertainty as property valuations in Rancho Santa Fe dropped 3.19 percent from last year, from $4,165 billion to $4,032 billion. Additionally, delinquencies are higher than they’ve ever been, although still relatively low at 2 percent.
The Association’s next big project, a new office for the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol, could leave the free reserves (now flush at $2.5 million) at around $700,000, which is a low number for the Association.
Deane Curtiss, a member of the Finance Committee, said by lowering the assessment rates the Association could set the tone for spending in the coming years.
“My overall feeling about it is if there’s too much money, you’ll end up spending it,” Curtiss said. “I don’t think we need the money.”
Board member Queen agreed with Curtiss, saying that they have spent money on things this year that were “elective,” such as $125,000 on improving the parks and a kitchen renovation at the Association office.
If they hadn’t done those projects, “Life in Rancho Santa Fe would not have changed,” he said. “They were nice things to do because we had the money to do it.”
He said cutting back on the open space program for now makes sense, adding that they would have the latitude to change the assessment rate later on if the public opinion is in favor of saving more money for open space.
“I’m all for open space,” Queen said. “The difference I have is where to put the money right now.”
Steve Comstock, chief financial officer, said if that if 2 cents were taken away, the open space fund would end the year with $800,000 instead of $1.2 million. Queen said $800,000 is still plenty of money.
Smith said that since the open space program was adopted in 1985, it has been one of the most popular and successful programs in the community.
Last time the Association surveyed the public 10 years ago, 65 percent were willing to increase their assessments to buy more open space.
Longtime resident and former board member Andy Chitiea said he’d hate to see monies contributed to the open space fund reduced. Having money in the fund allowed the Association to purchase the Arroyo and Osuna properties when they became available.
“I would like to advocate continuing to build up the fund, it all adds up to why Rancho Santa Fe is a premier place to live,” Chitiea said.