It is important to recognize that Maintenance Corporations are mandatory. They become part of your deed when you purchase a home and you are legally obligated as a property owner to pay assessments to the Maintenance Corporation. Civic Associations are voluntary and residents can choose to participate or not.
One of the earliest Maintenance Corporations in New Castle County and still one of the largest is Brookside Community, Inc. which was formed in 1953 and includes 1,339 homes just outside of Newark. It was very innovative and had 43 acres of private open space, clubhouse, three Olympic swim pools and even a constable. As time went on, the residents chose to no longer support the constable and the swim pools were filled with dirt and planted with grass.
By the end of the 50s, new communities began opting for voluntary Civic Associations whereby the County owned the open space (which became public). The county then had responsibility for maintenance, liability and improvements of the open space as part of their general property tax.
In the early 80s, the county came up with a cost shifting program whereby new subdivisions would have Maintenance Corporations and absorb costs of maintenance, liability and development of their open space, which would then become private. The Civic League recognized that this would result in huge problems in the future with new residents paying for services which older communities receive as part of their county taxes. People moving into new subdivisions had no idea that they would be part of a Maintenance Corporation let alone what their financial and volunteer responsibilities would be,
The county decided that this was such a great cost shifting idea that they added storm water management structures (detention basins and drainage swales) to the community responsibilities. Early Maintenance Corporations were able to assume additional responsibilities such as architectural review committees, snow removal and social activities. Now the county uses standardized Maintenance Corporation agreements, which limit Maintenance Corporation duties to private open, space and storm water management structures. While this may seem to simplify things, it requires a parallel voluntary Civic Association to handle those other community concerns, particularly snow removal.
New Castle County has unveiled a “Maintenance Corporation Voluntary Partnership” which is very limited in it’s usefulness and has what may be a fatal flaw of not assisting with recovery of snow removal costs. Similarly, it fails to address the difficulty in recruiting voluntary officers for the mandatory Maintenance Corporation let alone the parallel voluntary Civic Association.
Many legal issues arise when Maintenance Corporations fail to begin operation when volunteers either don’t step forward or become inactive when volunteers resign after they realize the magnitude of the knowledge, liability and time commitment they are expected to contribute.
Further resources. Fritz Griesinger (W) 302-737-4882, Marty Kirk, New Castle County Office of Community Governing 302-395-5286. Fritz is a past president of the Civic League and is chairman of the Civic Association Assistance Committee. Over a period of 40 years, he has assisted over 400 communities to form or reactivate dormant Civic Associations and Maintenance Corporations.