Reston Association Board Mulls Assessment Increase, Employee Benefits

by Fatimah Waseem October 30, 2018 at 1:30 pm 22 Comments

Reston Association members could see their assessments go up by around $28 next year as the Board of Directors continues budget deliberations next month.

The decision to increase assessments is not final and will be determined by a number of factors as the board mulls several policy decisions, including health care benefits for staff, ahead of the Nov. 15 adoption. The increase is driven primarily by a new $60,000 reserve study required by law, $43,000 in new professional administrative software, $20,000 to dechlorinate pools and $250,000 in unanticipated lease payments for RA’s headquarters. 

Healthcare costs are also expected to increase by $65,000 and an average 2.3 percent merit-based increase for full-time and yearly part-time employees for the year is also anticipated. RA’s Acting CEO Larry Butler said the staff is working hard to maintain cost-savings cross all departments and limit the need for assessment increases.

In an effort to reduce expenses shouldered by RA, the board is also considering passing on the cost of credit card convenience fees to members and nonmembers, a roughly $180,000 yearly expense that is currently paid for by RA.

The motion to include the decision in the next draft of the budget passed with a 6-3 vote, pending staff assurances that the system to implement it could go into effect by Jan. 1. Board members Sridhar Ganesan, Sherri Hebert, and Ven Iyer voted against the measure, which they characterized as an equity issue.

“It’s just not fair, without any notice, to put members on this… not everybody has $700 in their bank account to pay for this,” Iyer said, referring to payments of RA assessments.

Others said RA should look into allowing online bank deposits. Currently, physical checks are accepted in lieu of credit card payment.

After some spirited debate, five members of the board voted to begin charging for financial updates requested by lenders, allowing RA to dip into roughly $60,000 in anticipated fees paid to RA for the service. Finance staff would have to provide documents within three days of the request date, per state law.

The board also struggled to grapple with how to handle healthcare premiums contributions, cost sharing for health services, and merit-based bonuses for staff across the board. Overall, the board concurred that RA’s healthcare package was too generous compared to the marketplace and competitors.

Hebert challenged the need for merit-based increases and generous benefits packages, noting that top-level vacancies and other openings in RA are not triggered by a lackluster benefits package.

“We are responsible to the membership first,” Hebert said, adding that attrition of RA’s staff may allow “new blood” and new ideas to enter the organization.

Others pointed to a larger issue about RA’s budget: staff expenses and compensation. Based on Ganesan’s research, salaries for RA’s staff increase by 36 percent between 2010 and 2018, more than half of the increases given to Fairfax County government staff. In that time period, assessments went up by 34 percent.

Ganesan and John Bowman noted that RA’s staff costs stand at a staggered 67 percent of the total budget, channeling the board’s overall consensus that RA’s new CEO will need to spearhead a complete review of staffing, compensation, and benefits.

The first year of the 2018 budget was approved on Nov. 16 last year. RA operates on a biennial budget, which is divided into the operating and capital budget. Assessment rates are calculated based on the bottom line of the two budgets.

Photo via YouTube/Reston Association

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