By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
The joy of living on Kiawah has reached an ebb for residents of the Preserve. The Kiawah Island Community Association’s (KICA) budget for 2019 includes a fivefold increase in the posh subdivision’s “Segment Assessment,” which sums to a 50% increase in every Preserve owner’s annual assessment. In addition, representatives of a group of Preserve property owners that is opposed to the assessment told the Island Connection that they weren’t notified until after the Nov. 5, 2018 meeting of the KICA Board of Directors.
Concerned by the announcement of the increase, which followed November’s board meeting, Preserve residents began questioning the decision immediately. They say they are frustrated by the piecemeal way responses came to them from KICA COO James Bailey and other KICA staff members, specifically a lack of consistency from KICA and no legally stated opinion to support the increase.
The group says that cost estimates don’t add up and seem to vary from one email/ meeting to the next.
The increase was agreed to by the KICA Board without public review and not as a separate measure but as an up/ down vote on the budget as a whole. It went into effect with a letter sent to Preserve residents on Jan. 10, 2019.
The Preserve has been assessed $200 a year to maintain its signature, split rail fence since 2009.
This is on top of the annual assessment all residents pay. Fence maintenance was used as part of the justification for an increase of over $1,000. Article V, section 5 of the KICA covenants was also invoked. However, Brad Mcllvain, a retired attorney with several decades of large-scale litigating experience, told The Island Connection that he had said to Bailey it didn’t apply because there had been no additions in the Preserve, which Article V deems a requirement.
The decision was deemed “final” by KICA when Bailey forwarded a letter to Preserve residents on Wednesday, March 3. The letter was written for Bailey by Trenholm Walker, the attorney that represents both KICA, and the developer. Recipients, including Mcllvain were surprised by the letter’s claim that a unique combination of KICA covenants and separate Preserve covenants meant the decisions of KICA were final, and could not be appealed or litigated. The issue has since evolved into an island-wide concern, because of the emerging mindset “if they can do it to me, they can do it to you” as Preserve resident Gary Rice observed in an email to the Island Connection.
“The Preserve community is not objecting because of the dollars involved. We are objecting because KICA this year imposed large segment assessments on two neighborhoods for the first time in the history of the island and, on Tuesday, not only asserted unprecedented authority to issue segment assessments across the island but claimed such assessments are final and un-appealable by property owners,” said Rice.
“Such authority, if fully utilized, would allow KICA to roughly double the amount of the assessments it takes from property owners. All of these decisions were made by KICA behind closed doors and, in our view, clearly violate the governing covenants. This is a governance issue,” he continued.
“KICA’s argument that 31 other neighborhoods already pay more is misleading. Most of these are condominiums or similar properties and the fact that they hire outside landscapers to do landscaping on their property is no more demonstrative of KICA’s assessment authority than is the fact that I, like everyone else, pay a landscaper to maintain my property. And gated communities of course pay to maintain their own common property because residents of the rest of the island don’t have access to that common property,” said Rice.
A 5-page letter was sent to all Preserve property owners on January 26. It was signed by Brad and Maura McIlvain, Gary and Eileen Rice, Glenn and Karen Thomson, Richard and Laura Ames, Steven and Karen Brody, Randy and Nancy Carleton, Philip and Leila Cuthbertson, Paul and Andrea Leiman, Gerald and Pam Levy, Perry and Marlene Molinoff, and Chester and Christy Murray. The letter, provides a detailed, step-by-step breakdown of their concerns and concludes by saying they could challenge the ruling in court for about the same cost as the segment assessment. Rice said the number of calls and offers of support following the letter is trending upward.
Bailey did not respond to a request for comment as of this writing.