The doubling of fees to cover Hurricane Matthew costs in Sea Pines has spurred debate in an upcoming election for seats on the Community Services Associates Board.
The board last week unanimously approved a one-time special assessment that will double fees for property owners in 2017.
Three incumbents on the board say the additional $1,018 fee on top of property owners’ annual $1,028 fee for next year is needed to cover an estimated $5.3 million in hurricane costs. Charlie Miner, Mark Griffith and Michael Tucker are all running to keep their seats on the board.
“We are doing this so we can keep paying the bills,” Tucker said Wednesday. “No one wants it, but we have to do it.”
Two challengers for board seats — Sharon Lowe and Michael Telepchak — said Wednesday residents shouldn’t have to bear an overwhelming majority of the costs.
“I am certainly hearing a lot of people aren’t happy with the assessment,” Lowe said. “The property owners pay the bulk of the fees that also benefit the (Sea Pines) resort.”
Sea Pines property owners should already have received election ballots in the mail and have until Dec. 15 to return the ballots. Winners of the election will start a three-year term on Jan. 1.
The raised assessments will cover the costs of several storm-recovery projects, Bret Martin, CSA president, said in a letter to property owners Tuesday.
That includes tree removal along with fixing damaged and destroyed beach and boardwalks. The Wren pond stormwater system and fences also need repairs, the letter said.
Lowe said many property owners are struggling to pay for personal damages resulting from the Category 2 hurricane.
“Insurance doesn’t cover everything and to also pay another large assessment is tough,” Lowe said. “This can be especially difficult for the elderly or those on a fixed income.”
It’s just too soon for the board to ask homeowners for the maximum special assessment allowed, she said.
The board is allowed to approve special assessments up to the previous year’s fees — which is what board members approved last week.
“It almost feels that they are using the homeowners as a bank,” Lowe said. “If they get reimbursed by FEMA, there is no assurance we would get any of our money back.”
“The funds can only be used for cleanup,” he said. “It will be refunded if not spent, or other reimbursement from South Carolina or FEMA is credited to the account.”
An independent auditing committee made up of property owners will review the special-assessment account to assure it is being spent correctly, Miner said.
Telepchak said the Sea Pines Resort should pay more of the recovery costs.
The special fee is expected to bring in $5.9 million in revenue from property owners and another $65,927 from commercial owners such as Salty Dog. The Sea Pines Resort will pay $271,442 for the recovery, according to Martin’s letter.
“The contribution from the resort and commercial interest is very small,” Telepchak said. “Everyone needs to pay their fair share.”
Tucker contended the resort does pay its fair share.
“The CSA does not go in and clean up the golf courses,” he said. “The resort is paying for their own cleanup, and the CSA is paying for its cleanup.”
Increasing gate fees could be another revenue source, Telepchak said. He said a CSA committee is in charge of setting the gate fee.
“All these people that come to visit for a day are taking advantage of our amenities we have, but what they are paying is marginal,” Telepchak said. “They could pay a lot more. It wouldn’t scare anyone away if the gate fee was raised from $6 to $10.”
A call Wednesday to Griffith, CSA chairman, was not answered. Griffith said earlier this week the special fee is needed to cover hurricane costs.