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Residents request road organization

October 17, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The former officers of the Shenandoah North Community Association required property owners to post bonds before starting home construction, pay road maintenance fees and attempted to put liens on the deeds of owners who didn't.

The problem, an attorney for the new officers says, is the association did not have the legal authority to do any of those things.

A group of Shenandoah North residents, a subdivision near Harpers Ferry off Hostler Road, asked the Jefferson County Commissioners Thursday to allow them to form a road maintenance organization.

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Under state law, if 60 percent of the property residents sign a petition, the county can allow them to form a road association to collect fees from property owners to maintain the roads.

Attorney Braun Hamstead said the group has enough signatures and meets the requirements to become a road maintenance association.

Since 1980, the Shenandoah North Community Association has been collecting dues from property owners, Hamstead told the commissioners.

While some of the deeds had covenants requiring them to pay road maintenance fees, many did not.

Some residents have been paying the fees, while others have not, he said.

Earlier this year, a new group of officers took over the community association and checked to see if liens could be placed on the properties of those whose owners don't pay.

That's when they found out they had no legal authority, Hamstead said.

Since then, the community association, which once collected between $4,000 and $5,000 a year in road maintenance fees from the 64 lots at the subdivision, has now collected only about $450 since residents know that paying the fees is voluntary, Hamstead said.

Residents said they are concerned because the gravel and dirt roads are already barely passable. Some prospective buyers have not been able to get loans to buy property there because the roads are so bad, residents told the commissioners.

Tom Butcher, a Shenandoah North resident and member of the community association, said that reviewing past budgets of the group, he believes only about 25 percent of the money collected actually went to road maintenance.

Butcher told the commissioners that thousands of dollars are unaccounted for, while thousands more were spent for secretarial expenses - money he thinks should have gone toward road maintenance.

The previous officers also spent $850 a year for a $1 million liability insurance policy to protect themselves from any legal action, Butcher said.

The group has had three contractors give estimates on the amount of money needed to properly maintain and improve the roads, including snow removal in the winter.

Based on the estimates, Butcher believes the amount a road maintenance association would have to collect is $140 per lot to raise the $8,200 a year needed for the roads.

Tom Von Stein, who is opposed to the formation of a road maintenance association, said he believes the amount is too much. He said the community association was able to maintain the roads for about $1,000 a year and he said he does not see why the group would have to spend $8,200.

Von Stein, a past officer with the community association, said he disagrees with Hamstead because he believes the community association does have the authority to collect road maintenance fees and to place liens, as well as to require bonds before homes are constructed. He said the bonds cover any damage to the road caused by construction equipment.

"You'll be creating a real legal quagmire by creating two associations that basically have the same powers," Von Stein said.

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