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Tom Britt, Publisher of atGeist.com and GHPOA board member.

I think I’ve found a black hole near Geist, at least that’s what it feels like every time the topic of uniform mailboxes comes up at a GHPOA board meeting. Countless hours have been spent debating an issue that gets bigger as our homes get older.

One of the volunteer boards I’ve served on for the last six years is for the Geist Harbours Property Owners Association (“GHPOA”) which represents 2,380 homeowners living in 12 Geist neighborhoods: Admirals Bay, Admirals Pointe, Admirals Sound, Admirals Woods, Beam Reach, Crossing South, Feather Cove I, Feather Cove II, Feather Cove III, Diamond Pointe, Masthead I, and Masthead II.

After completing the five-year, $580,000 street sign project, the grounds committee, chaired by now-retired Dr. John Moore, presented the concept of uniform mailboxes to the board last fall. None of our mailboxes in any of our neighborhoods (with the exception of Admirals Woods) were standardized or uniform despite our current covenants that clearly give design approval to the GHPOA. The result is a potpourri of mailbox styles, designs, and tastes which really detracts from the all-important curb appeal of our neighborhoods.

Just replace them. That’s pretty easy, right?

Not necessarily.

About five years ago, the GHPOA board approved a standardized mailbox design featuring a sailboat that retails for $495 installed. Doing some simple math, replacing 2,380 mailboxes at $495 each is a $1,178,100 project which is twice the amount of the five-year street sign project. Proponents argue that we wouldn’t have to buy 2,380 because over 300 residents have already purchased the new mailbox. They also contend that buying them in bulk will help us lower the cost.

I have several issues with this proposal, here are my top three:

  • Cost: Even if you buy the mailboxes in bulk, they are still going to cost around $350 each installed (Susan Lew, new grounds committee chairperson, has secured some preliminary bids already). Replacing the 2,080 estimated mailboxes at the new price is still a $728,000 project. The only way to subsidize a project like this is to have a dues increase or a one-time special assessment. Homeowners association dues are taxes, and I’m not in favor of raising taxes unless it is absolutely necessary. Standardized mailboxes are not a necessity in my opinion.
  • Future Upkeep: So you get a new mailbox installed and one of your kids runs it over accidentally. Who pays for the new mailbox? GHPOA is not going to buy you a new one, but the assumption would be that since they installed it, they would maintain it. And if you are looking at a $495 replacement cost versus a $150 mailbox from Lowe’s, how can GHPOA insure that every homeowner will do the right thing and buy the $495 replacement box?
  • Variances: You have a $10,000 brick mailbox in front of your waterfront home. Is GHPOA going to tear that down and put in a $495 (or $350 if we buy in bulk) mailbox? Are you going to allow GHPOA to tear down your $10,000 mailbox? GHPOA would have to make exceptions to the standardization mandate and deal with several angry homeowners that might not have a $10,000 mailbox structure, but they have an otherwise aesthetically pleasing mailbox. I believe the GHPOA needs to pick their battles, and arguing over a mailbox isn’t at the top of my list.

At the last GHPOA meeting, the board decided to take the discussion offline since we have spent hours debating this proposal at our monthly meetings. We met at Eddy’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill last Monday evening and invited some other residents to attend. Surprisingly, about 20 homeowners attended and voiced their opinions and ideas. My favorite concept and proposed solution to this dilemma was brought up by Randy Frisk, a Masthead homeowner.

Negotiate a bulk price for the mailboxes (say $350 for argument sake) and offer a GHPOA subsidy program to a fixed number of residents that purchase the standardized mailbox. For example, GHPOA allocates $75,000 from the 2010 operating budget to subsidize a maximum of 500 mailboxes at $150 each. This would bring the purchase price down to $200 for each homeowner that wanted a new, standardized mailbox. Each year, the GHPOA board could budget for this mailbox subsidy fund and control the expense by capping the number of eligible mailboxes to be installed.

This proposal overcomes my three objections to the original proposal. First and foremost, the homeowner is still purchasing the mailbox and thus “owns” the mailbox. The cost to the association is much more manageable at $150 per mailbox. Second, the burden of upkeep and maintenance clearly falls on the homeowner. Lastly, those homeowners with aesthetically pleasing mailboxes would not necessarily have to replace their mailboxes, but over time as they get older and need replacing, having a $200 option available would be a nice option.

I intend on proposing this option at our next GHPOA board meeting and would appreciate any of your feedback and comments. I also encourage you to voice your opinions to your respective GHPOA neighborhood representative.

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