Kicking the Can Down the Road

/ Owner - April 15, 2012

On Sunday mornings, I really love to sit down and actually read, from front to back, the Sunday newspaper.  I know, newspapers are so yesterday, and to be honest, they’re hardly a shell of their former selves, but it’s a longstanding habit that I really enjoy.  This week I noticed one particular phrase was popping up in numerous articles.  In articles about local, county, state and federal governments, and even in a sports story, the phrase “kicking the can down the road” was used repeatedly.  Just for the heck of it, I Googled the phrase to find out it’s origin, but with 11,900,000 results, I didn’t waste the time.  The first 200-300 were references to stories similar to the ones I read.  I knew it meant “to procrastinate” but I hadn’t quite realized just how much it has come to define how we have dealt with various economic, social and legal issues in recent years. (Actually, the phrase comes from a children’s game similar to hide and seek – someone kicks the can down the road and everybody runs and hides, while one kid chases the can down, and once the it is recovered, starts looking for the others).

Unfortunately, community associations have been right there, “kicking the can down the road”.  What I keep hearing from associations is that times are tough, so something has to be let go, or ignored, or only partially taken care of, and some future board will have to deal with it.  Believe me, I understand the problems.  I’m looking at work on my home that I know needs to be done, but that I have to postpone simply because it’s too expensive to do right now.  I’m not chastising boards for making hard choices during a miserable economy.  However, I DO have a problem with them “kicking an EMPTY can down the road”.  This simply means they are passing the problems along to future boards, with no plan in place to recover.  While governments with the ability to borrow funds against “future”  revenues have long used this to avoid making hard decisions, community associations, with fewer options available, can not.

BOARDS TAKE NOTE – if you postpone needed maintenance, reduce insurance coverage, borrow from or fail to fund operating or capital reserves, push painting back an extra year, reduce lawn watering, or do anything which changes an expected or needed action, it is your responsibility to not only explain what is going on and why, but also to adopt a plan for dealing with the consequences and how you plan recovering.

If you borrow from, or don’t fund reserves, then adopt a resolution outlining how you intend to recover from the shortfall.  Don’t just say, “Well, we’ll have to pass a special assessment when the time comes”.  That’s not a plan – that “kicking an empty can down the road”.  Sorry, it’s not fair, but it happened on your watch, so deal with it.  Don’t just pass a short-term “quick-fix”, but an actual solution.  This shows that you’ve actually thought the issue through from beginning to end.

One other reason why you should deal with the problems in a complete manner – last year I talked to a board member from an association I used to manage many centuries ago.  He was voicing the usual complaint about lack of candidates for the board.  I called a former board member who informed me that the association had taken a major hit during the past few years, with high delinquencies and numerous foreclosures, and that as a result, the board had significantly reduced maintenance and repairs, as well as borrowing from the reserves to cover basic expenses.  Now the association was facing some major capital repairs that were going to require additional funding and that no one wanted to be on the board that was going to have to pass that special assessment.  Eventually some former board members stepped up, but they took a public whipping for trying to correct the problems that had been “kicked down the road”.

Residents understand that times are tough and belts have to be tightened.  So tell them what you are doing, why, and, most importantly, how you’ve planned to deal with fallout.  It’s the right thing to do for the association, and the fair thing to do for your neighbors.

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