- Stan Mulvihill
Hillcrest Trustees Background and Financial Summary
The Hillcrest neighborhood was established in 1912, and its 225 parcels were fully developed over the following two decades. Significant changes have taken place in the subdivision’s common area ownership and maintenance since then. This is a brief description of the background circumstances, neighborhood decisions and present operations of the Trustees of Hillcrest with regard to these common areas.
The Hillcrest Indenture of 1912 established the basic subdivision plan for the maintenance and improvement (to a “first class standard”) of the private subdivision’s common areas. This includes streets, sidewalks and curbs, lights, entrances and street trees. In numerical terms, the subdivision common areas originally comprised about 10,000 linear feet of streets and alleys, over 500 street trees, six entrance monuments and 40 streetlights.
As prescribed by the Indenture, mandatory annual assessments are used to pay for the subdivision’s maintenance and improvements. The assessments, however, are limited to the 1912 standard of 50 cents per front foot over all properties, at an average cost of $29 per household, and generate a total of only $6,444.50 per year for all operations. In terms of today’s 2016 monetary value, this would be the equivalent of charging households an average of $689 each to raise a total annual assessment of $155,000 (US Inflation Calculator CoinNews).
For extraordinary major capital improvements, the Indenture also provides a special assessment procedure whereby homeowners of the adjoining improvement areas may vote at a special meeting to assess their properties according to street front footage. If approved, the Trustees contract for the work and pay for the project with the special assessments.
For many years the Indenture financial assessment structure worked reasonably well, until by the late 1950’s increasing maintenance costs combined with aging infrastructure began to outstrip the annual assessment limitation. In response to these challenges, homeowners created the Hillcrest Homeowners Association. The HHA raised voluntary dues from the neighborhood to provide supplemental funds for common area maintenance and improve-ments, as well as other activities such as social events, a community directory and other special enhancement projects.
By the late 1980’s, the subdivision’s basic street and other infrastructure was literally “worn out” and required complete reconstruction to meet modern and safe standards. The projected cost of the reconstruction — approximately $100 assessment per front foot for all properties or about $5,000 for an average lot of fifty feet wide — was a major impediment to many households. This problem was not unique to Hillcrest; several private Clayton subdivisions were confronting the same funding dilemma. The situation for Hillcrest was further complicated by the unusual circumstance that the neighborhood stretched over two municipal jurisdictions: about 84% in Clayton and 16% in St. Louis.
RECONSTRUCTION OF SUBDIVISION INFRASTRUCTURE
In 1994-95, the neighborhood ultimately addressed the reconstruction issue in three ways, based on homeowner preferences and a series of property owner votes according to the procedures of the Indenture.
First: For the portion of the subdivision within the City of Clayton, homeowners voted to publicly dedicate the common areas to Clayton for all future maintenance. In exchange, Clayton provided one-half the reconstruction cost for the Clayton-portion of the project through its citywide public improve- ment bond facility. Clayton homeowners were also able to pay their one-half share through a five-year installment program on their local tax bills.
Second: For the portion of the subdivision within the City of St. Louis, the neighborhood overwhelmingly agreed it should remain private. (The City of St. Louis did not offer a similar improvement bond option to share the reconstruction costs, nor did Hillcrest homeowners wish to cede private control of the subdivision entrances to a public entity.) As a result, however, the St. Louis homeowners did not have access to public funds and thus paid the full amount of the special assessment up front.
Third: To pay for future maintenance and improvements for the remaining private portion at the subdivision’s east end, a neighborhood consensus developed that the combined budgets of the Trustees and the HHA would be sufficient to meet expenses of this relatively small area of Hillcrest –- comprising 1,600 linear feet of streets and alleys, about 75 street trees, four entrance monuments and a dozen streetlights. This understanding was an important consideration in the homeowners’ decision to approve a “split” ownership structure of common areas between Clayton and the private subdivision.
The goal has always been to address the infrastructure needs of Hillcrest as one neighborhood, for the benefit of all. This requires close cooperation and a shared obligation among the Trustees, the HHA and the City of Clayton.
TRUSTEES' BUDGETS AND OPERATING PROCEDURES
The Trustees review operating cash statements (Income/Expense) periodi-cally, as well as annually with HHA officers at the HHA Annual Meeting in April. The Trustees also meet to review and approve individual maintenance and improvement projects, as circumstances require throughout the year.
In practice, usually one of the Trustees coordinates the direct contracting with outside vendors (getting bid estimates and work proposals for Trustee approval), as well as overseeing payment per budget of the actual final invoices when due. Approved invoices are forwarded to our non-trustee Treasurer; the Treasurer pays the invoices by check drawn on the Trustees bank account, and files the documentation for the Trustees’ records.
The Treasurer also maintains the Trustees’ financial accounting records, and provides cash statements (showing income and expense) for each operating period, as requested. Some expenses are predictable recurring annual costs (such as general liability insurance, street sweeping, administrative tasks, etc.). Other expenses are less-routine and more unpredictable maintenance and improvement projects (like rebuilding the Aberdeen monument or replacing the Arundel underground electrical conduit). As specific invoices are approved for payment, they are charged to an expense category, in accordance with the budget and accounting standards.
The cash statement format provides an accurate summary of Trustee budget expenses for fiduciary oversight purposes, but does not provide a great amount of detail about specific project expenses. This format also has limitations in terms of future planning and budget trends analysis. The Finance Committee is charged with establishing a more comprehensive understanding of the subdivision budget and its challenges, in order to ensure future financial stability.