BY JOHN A. NAGY || Insider Staff Writer
Seven Lakes West residents can expect a dues increase of $276 this next year — and significantly higher dues in years ahead — under a proposed budget plan the community board of directors shared with residents at a Dec 13 meeting.
The meeting, held in the gated community’s Community Center, drew about 100 attendees and a few more watching in on the Zoom conferencing platform. There was little love shown by attendees for the increased dues or the projected spending outlined in the 2023-24 budget.
Board of directors president Josh Davis said he and his fellow board members did their best to rein in spending and reduce the impact on dues to the extent they could.
“We didn’t come in here with a $500 dues increase,” Davis said. “We didn’t come in here with a $300 dues increase.”
Indeed, the $276 figure shown for the coming year would be less than the $514 figure that had been shown during a similar town hall-style meeting back in September when the board was developing its budget.
Dues increased this past year for the 1,709 dues-paying lot owners from $1,300 to $1,550. If the new budget is approved by members in March, dues would rise to $1,826, a 17.8 percent increase. Board members say they are seeing the effects of inflation across the board, from maintenance costs to contracting for professional services.
The board at its Dec. 13 meeting also provided a projection through 2026-27 that showed significant increases in spending and the need to increase revenue. Operating expenses would rise from their current level of $2 million to $2.5 million in 2026-27. Capital expenditures to repair, replace and upgrade infrastructure and amenities would see the biggest jump, from $1.16 million this year to $2.1 million in four years.
Most of the revenue the board collects comes from dues. Under the budget projections shared with members, dues would rise from $1,550 this year to $2,443 by 2026-27.
Board members said the spending and revenue increase will be needed to meet the needs of a growing community — approximately 40 new homes are being built in Seven Lakes West each year — and maintain expensive assets such as Lake Auman and its dam.
“We’re running into an aging community with infrastructure needs that have to be met,” said board member Todd Brown. “It’s not going to get cheaper. If you’re expecting it to stay the same, you’re going to be disappointed.”
One of the most expensive items in the upcoming budget entails $700,000 for repaving existing roads. Seven Lakes West has more than 30 miles of privately maintained roads within its development. The state Department of Transportation provides money to municipalities each year for this work, but since Seven Lakes West is not incorporated, it does not have access to those funds. The board originally looked at spending $1.2 million on asphalt replacement but cut that to $700,000 to lower the pressure on dues.
Another expensive item coming up entails expanding the mail house. Mail collection is centralized at a building just inside the front gate and near the Community Center. It currently has 1,120 mailboxes, but they are fully leased, meaning any new residents must set up a mailbox in the U.S. Post Office in West End.
The board of directors recently accepted a bid from contractor KP Builders for just over $300,000 to expand the existing mailhouse. The upcoming budget includes $50,000 to go with the $274,000 already set aside for the project.
A number of residents who attended the budget meeting suggested putting that project on hold as a way to reduce spending needs.
However, Davis said that that project, once completed, would end a major sore spot for residents: having two addresses. Residents currently have a physical address and a mailing address corresponding to their box number in the mailhouse. That has led to confusion and lost mail and packages over the years. Davis said the postmaster has agreed to convert all mail to the physical address once the expansion is completed.
Other capital expenses coming due in the coming year include earmarking $160,000 for culvert replacement and cleanout; $80,000 toward the emergency spillway expansion for the lake dam; and $100,000 to boost the association’s contingency fund, which had been drawn down in the past couple of years to meet unexpected expenses.
The board will consider the budget again in January, and it will go out to members for approval in March. It can be rejected, but by state law must fail by two thirds of the total number of voters. Should that happen, the current budget would carry over. However, the community rarely sees more than half of the dues-paying members participate in the vote, and under the N.C. Planned Community Association Act, all non-votes are counted as “yes” votes.
Contact John Nagy at email@example.com.