Reston Association Acting CEO Larry Butler talks budget, increasing assessments, and pools

Early last month, Larry Butler took over as the acting chief executive operator of the Reston Association (RA) after Hank Lynch resigned from the position.

Butler, a long-time employee of RA, was formerly the chief operating officer nd actually was the acting CEO once before, prior to the hiring of Lynch in 2018.

All of this is to say that Butler understands RA and the challenges that come with running one of the largest community associations in the country.

It’s also a complicated time for RA, with the organization in the midst of budget season, possibly increasing assessments, cutting capital projects, and still dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

Reston Now spoke with Butler via phone last week to discuss assessments, community engagement, pools, budget, and a timeline for hiring a new permanent CEO.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Reston Now (RN): Since you took over as acting CEO in early September, what’s been taking most of your time? What have been the challenges so far? 

Larry Butler: What’s taking the most time is working through the budget process, which is always time consuming. The key part there is trying to get a [grasp] from the broader community on what the priorities are for the coming year. There’s obviously a lot of opinions on what those priorities should be and how we fund those priorities. 

RN: And what have you heard from the community so far? 

LB: Not as much as we would have liked. I would have thought we have had more people participating in the September board meeting. We’ve had listening and work sessions… and very, very few members are jumping on that. 

We do a pretty good job of getting information out there. One person [told me] maybe that means people are okay with the job that RA is doing in the community. Maybe that leads to some apathy, at least regarding the budget. 

RN: In terms of the budget, an assessment increase is being considered. Why is that and is there any way to avoid it? 

LB: We are a staff-driven organization, a service organization. Whether that is our central service facility, taking care of all of our myriad facilities throughout the community, or our programing staff and intelligence, we are staff-driven. What I’ve put into the budget draft is a 3% merit pool increase because there was no merit increase in 2021. I feel strongly that’s a very important thing. It’s a very difficult job market right now. 

Insurance costs are also going up, that’s something we must absolutely pay for. There’ll be three new positions as well. We’re going to be adding into the next budget draft a senior environmental position at the RA Board’s direction. We are currently operating without three of our senior leadership team. We don’t have a CEO, our IT director resigned, and October 20 is the last day for our director of Human Resources. There’s also inflation. 

One of our considerations to help offset these costs and increasing assessments… is looking at our fiscal position in terms of the repair and replacement fund as well as some operating surplus going forward in 2022, as well as possibly 2023. 

RN: If assessments do increase, how does that impact the affordability of living in Reston? There’s been some discussion about working with the Friends of Reston on providing help to those who can’t afford the assessments. 

LB: We haven’t fully fleshed out how that could work yet. It’s a difficult situation because when one buys into or even rents in Reston, it’s contractual in nature. We don’t have the ability in our governing documents to afford relief. We’ll have more discussion about it, certainly with the Friends of Reston. The difficulty there too is that there’s limited funding there as well. We may be able to assist a handful of people, but not hundreds. 

RN: There’s been a lot of talk about capital improvement projects, renovations, and possibly “repurposing” of pools. Where is the discussion currently at with that and how is a decision made on that? 

LB: In terms of big projects, we are not in much different position than in years past. But, sure, none have been like Lake Thoreau Pool, which is much more complicated because it’s next to a lake… that will be the biggest capital project we’ve ever done in terms of cost. 

In terms of smaller projects on pools and tennis courts, what we are finding now is that it makes more sense if you are going to go spend a [few] hundred thousands of dollars on a pool, that might be a time to rethink the shape. Or could it be something else? I think we’ve done a really good job of managing that and managing the expectations. 

Anytime you bring up the notion of closing recreation facilities, whether it’s a pool or a tennis court, you get a lot of input. Those four pools [being considered for repurposing] have historically really low usage, but cost is the same to maintain and repair. We’ve heard a lot from those [communities] around those four pools. It’s really about starting a conversation about what’s possible.

In the end, if that conversation leads to we would like our pool exactly the way it is, so be it. That’s what we will program for and budget for. It was really just to get that conversation on the table. 

RN: What’s the status update on the process of finding a new permanent CEO? 

We are finalizing the contract with the search firm. Hopefully, that will be done [soon]. The search firm will be putting together a profile based upon input from the RA board… like what skill sets, traits, and experiences are wanted. Then, we will kick it off in earnest. 

There’s not an established timeline, at least not until the board meets with the search firm. Typically, a search like this could take four to five months. 

RN: Any last thoughts you’d like to share? 

LB: We have public hearings on the budget coming up on October 13 and November 10. It would be great to have people come out and share their thoughts. 

We know people are so busy and they get most engaged when something impacts them really close to their homes, like the pool discussion, but talking about the more nebulous things that don’t impact them exactly where they live, it’s harder for them to get excited about that. 

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