More than 50 members of local Homeowners Associations attended the Nov. 6 Kent County Levy Court meeting, intent on finding a resolution to the problem of how to get deadbeat community members to pay their required dues.
HOAs are charged with collecting money from community residents to pay for services such as storm water pond maintenance, upkeep of common areas and snow removal.
Problems arise, often causing dissention within the community, when someone decides they no longer wish to pay the fee, but continue to receive services from the HOA. Studies have shown between five and 10 percent of HOA members do not pay their dues.
It's an issue many HOAs have struggle with for years, but it now appears Levy Court is considering a solution.
HARP committee chairman Ben Kuntz told commissioners when HOAs fail, consequences can be widespread.
"Some [HOAs] have significant delinquencies to the point they do not have sufficient funds to manage their properties as required," Kuntz said. "This eventually will require the HOA to default, leaving the county and state the question of what to do."
Commissioners expressed concern because not taking care of items such as storm water ponds could cause flooding and other problems in nearby communities, troubles Levy Court or the state of Delaware then would have to address.
Commissioners in general seemed receptive to the committee's suggestion that Levy Court put its weight behind some sort of government-run fee gathering effort.
"Anything that supports an HOA and it not pitting neighbor against neighbor is great," Commissioner Alan Angel said.
Ideas floated included sending collection letters from the county or putting the fee as a line item on property tax bills. In either case, the funds received then would be disbursed back to the HOA.
The idea is similar to a system used in New Castle County, but legislation from the state General Assembly would be required to enable the county to start collecting the fees. The HARP committee already has set Nov. 12 as a date to sit down with local legislators, to include Sen. Brian Bushweller, (D-Dover) and Rep. Trey Paradee, (D-Dover) to discuss such legislation.
Both men were at the Levy Court session in support of examining the idea.
Commissioner Eric Buckson said afterward he is sympathetic to problems faced by the HOAs, although he normally does not favor increasing government intervention in non-governmental issues.
"I don't think Levy Court wants to be involved, but I think we have to be involved," he said. "As a county, though we don't require HOAs, we enable them and rely on them. If they don't function properly, eventually it will fall back into our laps. That's my greatest fear.
Page 2 of 2 - "What we're trying to do is be proactive. I could kick this down the road, but that's not the right thing to do. This is our attempt to try and help."
Buckson agreed with fellow Commissioner Terry Pepper, who worried about "unintended consequences," such as having to increase staffing -- and increasing the county budget -- to deal with the added work.
This and other issues bear close examination before the county moves ahead, Buckson said.
"We are saying the idea has merit, but let's see where it will take us."