Budgets are crucial to a community association’s financial operation. Just like for-profit businesses, association boards should work diligently to develop annual budgets that estimate revenue and expenses for the upcoming fiscal year. A properly drafted budget can help prevent reduced services, deteriorating property, or special assessments.

Many state statutes and most governing documents impose a legal obligation on boards to develop an accurate budget and collect sufficient assessments to cover expenses. A detailed budget helps residents understand why assessment amounts are reasonable and how their money will be used.

Community associations have two types of budgets: an operating budget and a reserve budget. Operating budgets have unrestricted funds that are used to run the association through the fiscal year, while reserves have restricted funds saved for expenses that will occur in the future.

The board is tasked with gathering the necessary financial information to project potential sources of income and expenses, including conducting a reserve analysis, looking at bids for contracts, projecting utility or service increases, and comparing past years’ budget trends.

Certain line items constitute expenses that associations are required by law or contract to pay and should be allocated for first. An association also should allocate contingency funds, separate from the reserve budget, for unanticipated expenses such as extreme weather, economic conditions that could increase fees for products or services, emergency repairs, and lawsuits.

Here are some of the most common expenses that associations should include when drafting the operating budget.

Maintenance. Allocate line items that protect and enhance the community’s property. A maintenance schedule should be developed or amended annually for budget considerations, and service contracts should be checked to anticipate potential increases or to negotiate a better rate.

Taxes. While assessments are not taxable, other sources of income, such as interest earnings, facility rental income, and income from goods and services, likely will be taxed. Other taxes that associations may need to pay include personal property, payroll (if it hires salaried employees), or real estate tax.

Utilities. Associations should measure past consumption of electricity and water to anticipate any increases. Conducting a professional utility audit can ensure meters and other equipment are functioning properly. The audit also can help an association determine if it can reduce expenses by installing energy-efficient systems.

Insurance. An association should ask its insurance professional to audit current property and liability coverage and recommend appropriate protection that fits its needs.

Administrative costs. These include expenses for professional services provided by consultants, reserve specialists, attorneys, and accountants, fees for banking and collecting delinquencies, as well as the costs of maintaining an office, including equipment, supplies, and phone and internet service.

Once your budget is drafted, share it with homeowners so they can review before the annual meeting.

  • Daniel Brannigan

    Daniel Brannigan is CAI's Director of Publishing and Managing Editor of Common Ground™ magazine. He has been editor of CAI's flagship publication since 2010 and previously edited CAI's newsletters Community Manager, Minutes, and Law Reporter. Daniel has helped guide Common Ground to awards for feature article design and single-topic issue from Association Media & Publishing's EXCEL Awards. Community Manager picked up six awards for general excellence and newswriting under Daniel's guidance from 2007-2010. A former reporter, Daniel is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, daughter, pug, and cat.

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