The decision came after public hearings on Oct. 13 and Nov. 10 to discuss the budget, and a board approved motion on Oct. 28 to defer Barton Hill tennis court upgrades to the 2023 budget. The initial proposed assessment fee increase was for 6% to $764.
The motions approved by the board included the reallocation of $195,667 earmarked for the Lake Newport tennis project to the Reserve, Repair and Replacement Fund, and the reallocation of $435,000 in positive variances from previous capital budgets to the 2022-2023 capital budget. The board also approved utilizing $500,000 of existing operating funds to fund the 2022-2023 capital budget.
Several personnel moves are included in the budget’s coverage. Those include two new positions, the director of environmental resources and a capital projects manager.
The budget also includes a 3.5% performance-based merit increase which was approved during a Nov. 10 special meeting of the board. About two-thirds of the operating costs are personnel, and merit increases were frozen this year. However, acting CEO Larry Butler previously suggested that the merit increases would help retain RA staff.
The board identified several key drivers in non-personnel costs as well. Included was an approximate $100,000 increase due to inflation across building materials and supplies, and an increase in accounting services due to anticipated higher credit card expenses.
There is an expected reduction of printing and advertising costs due to greater utilization of digital media for communications, and election expenses are also dropping as costs are not expected to be as high.
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.
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.
On Tuesday night (June 8), the Reston Association Board of Directors talked about their program and services ‘wish lists,’ while deferring a detailed discussion about increasing member assessments in 2022.
But an agreement was struck to delay that decision after RA Fiscal Committee Chairman David Kerr recommended that the board start working through its budget plans by focusing on priorities, the cost of them, and operating expenses.
Once those are agreed upon, Kerr recommended figuring out what it will cost and, then, moving to how it could impact member assessments.
“Let’s think about what revenue could be and then see how much we can afford to spend,” Kerr said. “I think a better approach [is] what do we need to deliver and what that’s going to cost…and that way you are focused on what we have to spend as opposed to what we can’t spend.”
This led to more process discussion before giving RA board members a chance to pitch their “wish lists” of programs and services they’d like to see funded.
Among the items suggested were: planting of more trees, further investment in maintaining Reston’s lakes, expanded sidewalks, adding more ADA features to facilities, the hiring of a senior environment officer, and year-around indoor tennis courts.
One board member also requested assistance for members who can’t afford to pay member assessment dues.
“There are members who don’t necessarily qualify for [county] assistance, but are definitely struggling,” noted RA board member Sarah Selvaraj-D’Souza. “We do have assistance programs available, but there’s a gap between those that are eligible and ones that can afford [assessment dues] comfortably.”
Lynch acknowledged that he’s received a number of hardship letters over the last year from members and recommended working with RA’s nonprofit arm Friends of Reston on that.
According to RA by-laws, the association has no authority to assist with membership assessments.
“We cannot remove someone’s obligation who is a member here to pay the membership assessment,” Lynch said. “Do I have authority to give or reduce or do anything to help individuals? The way the bylaws are written, we cannot.”
There was also a brief discussion of an “events barn” that could host arts, music, and food festivals. It would be a good way to increase non-assessment revenue, RA board member John Mooney said.
Member assessments were a hot topic of conversation at the RA Board of Directors meeting last week. A general conclusion was reached that an assessment increase is likely needed due to rising operational expenses as well as the plethora of capital improvement projects that need to be planned for over the next few years.
The assessment currently sits at $718, but additional expenses could mean a 6% increase — or nearly $40 — in 2022.
In a poll earlier this week, Reston Now asked readers if they support an RA assessment increase. 63% of respondents voted for keeping the assessment rate at its current level.
At the end of the meeting, the board deferred any further discussion about member assessments to the next budget work season, possibly in July.
The Reston Association Board of Directors appeared to come to a general agreement during a recent meeting that member assessments need to be raised in 2022.
The question, of course, is exactly how much.
According to a table presented by RA CEO Hank Lynch, additional operating expenses are set to be added to the 2022 budget to the tune of about $850,000. These expenses include staff pay increases, insurance costs, and additional positions.
By Lynch and RA treasurer Bob Petrine’s estimates, this could mean assessments will need to increase by approximately 6%, or about $40 per member. The assessment currently sits at $718.
However, the exact increase may vary depending on RA’s non-assessment revenue (like facility rentals, camps, and garden plots) and budget cuts.
There’s also a host of capital improvement projects that are ongoing or upcoming. While nothing new is currently expected to be added to the budget, Petrine cautioned the board to consider what could come in the future.
There’s also a potential option of deferring some of these projects, something RA has done before.
Over the course of several budget meetings planned for the coming weeks, the board will discuss exact finances, potential cuts (including the potential “repurposing” of some pools), and what an increase could look like.
The first of these meetings is set for tonight (June 8). The plan for this evening is for the RA Board to provide Lynch with a percentage range for an increase that the RA board would be comfortable with.
Assessment increases are nothing new for RA members. Last year, it went up by $10, or close to 1.4%. In 2019, it went up by 2.2%. Overall, between 2010 and 2018, the assessment went up by a combined 34%.
However, this potential 6% raise would be the highest in a number of years.
Taking the rising costs of personnel and facility maintenance and improvement projects, how would you feel about Reston Association raising assessments again?
The Reston Association Board of Directors is set to discuss increasing member assessments, potentially by as much as $40, at upcoming work sessions in preparation to draft the 2022 budget.
At a board meeting last Thursday (May 27), CEO Hank Lynch laid out factors, questions, and known expenses that will affect the upcoming budget, which will be discussed and drafted later this summer.
His report led to the conclusion that an assessment increase will likely be needed, along with possible cuts and ways to increase non-assessment revenue. The assessment is currently at $718.
Further discussion about what this increase could look like, including a proposed percentage range that the RA board would be comfortable with, will happen at upcoming work sessions. The first one is set for June 8.
Lynch said that the potential increase isn’t needed to add new items to the budget, but rather, to catch up on projects from the previous year.
“We are not planning, right now, any new programs or services,” said Lynch. “Mainly, we are trying to get things we had in the pipeline last year that we couldn’t do because of COVID up and running this year. We are not looking to do new things for 2022.”
A huge impact on the budget is an increase in operating expenses, particularly staff pay increases, hiring, staff turnover, and RA’s insurance policy.
Lynch authorized a compensation study by the human resources firm Archer Company in 2019. The study concluded that staff pay increases were needed for better retention and recruitment.
Adopting the study’s recommendations would cost an additional $400,000, according to a table that Lynch presented at last week’s meeting. There are also four new positions that have been requested to be filled, which would cost $430,000.
Overall, adding in the statewide minimum wage increase as well as rising costs for staff benefits, Lynch projects that RA can anticipate approximately $705,000 in new staffing expenses for 2022, even with some savings from higher-than-normal staff turnover.
There’s also a potential for an increase in the cost of RA’s insurance policy, bringing the total dollars expected to be added to the operating budget to nearly $850,000.
Without finding cuts or generating more non-assessment revenue, the additional operating expenses would mean a 6% increase, or nearly $40, in annual assessment fees for members, according to Lynch.
2020 was the “single greatest year” for capital project execution in Reston Association’s history, outgoing RA president Julie Bitzer declared at the association’s annual members’ meeting on Tuesday (April 13).
However, a number of much-needed capital projects remain, and RA CEO Hank Lynch says the ability to fund them is “primarily my biggest concern” for the next five to 10 years.
Despite delays and shortages related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Reston Association managed to finish 85 of its 121 ongoing capital projects this past year — 70% completion rate.
There are 13 active projects, and 28 projects will be completed this coming year, according to the map available on RA’s website.
Lynch specifically cited the Hook Road tennis court renovations and the Lake Thoreau Pool project, which is expected to enter the construction phase in the fall, as “taking up a significant amount of capital work.”
$3.8 million was spent on all projects this past year, and $3.6 million is being budgeted for this coming year, Bitzer said.
“We have aging amenities…About half of [the swimming pools] are more than 30 years old,” Lynch said. “As we look to the next five to 10 years, five of these pools will require major renovations.”
Lynch noted that these renovations will take multiple years and require multi-million-dollar commitments.
However, RA’s budget for taking on these big projects is lacking, and the association may need to make some hard decisions going forward.
“Our assessments have really not kept pace with our anticipated long-term spending demands that we now found ourselves facing,” Lynch said. “We are really going to have some tough choices to make when it comes to some of these larger price-tag items.”
According to the presentation at the annual meeting, a huge chunk of members’ $708 annual assessment already goes towards maintaining and improving facilities as well as providing recreation services.
58.5% of the annual assessment dues goes towards these three categories. That’s about $414 annually per member.
RA members suggested some other ways to raise revenue, such as re-starting boat and Lake House facility rentals, particularly with weddings and other big events potentially returning this coming year.
But officials made it clear that the biggest potential source of much-needed revenue would be to raise annual assessment rates again. Rates went up each of the past two years, though there was a decrease in 2017.
“Keeping our assets and facilities in top condition remains a top priority for the board,” Bitzer said.
Photo via Youtube/Reston Association
Reston Association is adopting a new approach to its collections of member assessments.
RA’s Board of Directors voted to scrap a $2.95 convenience fee that was required for online payments. The organization also launched a new online portal for paying assessments.
In a recent Reston Today video, RA noted that the new portal creates a consolidated way for members to make payments or set up payment plans. The association will no longer accept payments made through the general website or the Webtrac portal.
However, members can also make in-person payments by appointment only. Payment via credit card can also be made by calling RA’s member services department or by dropping off payments in a box outside RA’s headquarters, which are located at 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive.
This year’s assessment will go up by $10. The board decided to approve the increase by a 5-4 vote in late November.
The Reston Association (RA) still has decisions to make on its 2021 budget, including any potential change to the current $708 member assessment rate.
Lynch did stipulate that the assessment is one of the key points the Board of Directors must still decide on. He said that the fiscal committee for RA has recommended an increase to the assessment of up to $20 for the 2021 budget.
Lynch stated that the fiscal committee suggested there is the potential of an increase of up to $100 for the assessment in 2022. But he said he does not believe there will be that significant of an increase for the 2022 assessment rate.
Robert Petrine, treasurer for the board, clarified the discussion on the potential 2022 assessment rate increase of up to $100.
“There are two major components that are not in the current 2021 budget, which if we look forward is number one is if you implement the salary plan, that’s going to have a material impact,” he said.
“And number two; we’re going to be fully paying on the (headquarters) lease. When you put those in and you also factor in the amount of capital projects that are already in the budget and projected for 2022, in order to have everything balanced, you’re looking at a substantially higher assessment.”
Lynch also discussed the decision point for the board of an operational change with the Central Services Facility (CSF) that mows the Reston roadways and median strips.
CSF is paid $45,000 in an annual contract through the Virginia Department of Transportation to mow Reston’s roadways and median strips three times. However, CSF mows those areas 24 times during the year to maintain Reston’s appearance. The additional mowing costs RA an additional $140,000 above the contract.
Beyond the roadways, CSF also brings in a turf maintenance company to mow many of the ball fields, parks and open spaces. This additional maintenance costs the association over $200,000 annually.
Lynch’s proposal for the board’s consideration includes the following measures to reduce CSF’s 2021 operating costs by $200,000 to $210,000:
- Reduce the number of VDOT highway mows from 24 down to eight.
- Eliminate contracted mowing services used for RA’s ball fields, parks and open spaces.
- Utilizing current full-time CSF staff and five seasonal staff to conduct all RA mowing.
During discussions with RA members following Lynch’s presentation and the boards’ comments, a primary focus fell on RA’s communications budget and, in part, the participation of members in RA’s planning.
While Petrine complimented the board’s participation and the members that joined the discussion, he admonished “the general membership for lack of concern and participation.”
Board member Selvaraj-D’Souza stated that this is where Lynch’s “team is failing” in its communication efforts.
The operating expenses for communications for the 2020 budget was $968,114. In Lynch’s proposal, those expenses increased to $979,373 for 2021.
“When we’re spending a million dollars on communications, we need to be proactive and figure out a way to get our membership to show up,” she said.
“And that’s where we need to look at out of the box ideas, how are we reaching out to them, is our messaging actually being effective. And there needs to be some absolute accountability with that.”
Board member Ven Iyer echoed the suggestions of Selvaraj-D’Souza. Iyer suggested efforts be turned toward “grassroots level participation in order to shape the direction where this organization is headed.”
Lynch defended the communications department’s efforts, stating that he believes “there’s a complete misunderstanding of what communications does.”
He added that with roughly 60,000 members, an “enormous amount of work” is required to serve all the needs and wants of the members.
Board member Mike Collins followed the discussion by stating that RA has had difficulty in member participation for at least the 10 years he’s been in Reston. He also did not recommend that members should assume something is wrong with the efforts of the communications department.
However, Collins did discuss his belief that board members take a look at digging more into those details of the budget next year.
Board president Julie Bitzer concluded the discussion by agreeing with the notion that the board needs more information on the communications to reach a more appropriate “comfort level.” She suggested reviewing more details on the communications budget during the board’s next meeting.
The board will next meet virtually on Nov. 19 via Zoom.
Reston Association members now have an additional month to file annual assessment fees. The deadline was extended from March 1 to March 31 due to technical issues with RA’s new online payment system.
Readers told Reston Now that the system did not allow members to complete payments, despite multiple attempts.
RA will waive late fees and interest charges, as well as offer a 20 percent discount for passes to pools, tennis, and pickleball. This year’s assessment is $708.
Due to issues with the online system, members can also drop-in at Reston Assiocation’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) on Saturday, March 7 from 9 a.m. to noon to pay fees. RA’s member services team is also available on weekdays between 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m. to help process dues.
Earlier this year, RA transitioned to a new online feature in its existing WebTrac portal for online payments. The change came after MemberSuite — a website that launched in December — was discontinued due to “configuration challenges that are requiring significant research and additional time to resolve.”
“We recognize that some Reston homeowners have been unable to make their payments electronically, therefore we are waiving the late fee and interest charges for the rest of the month in order to give folks more time to make their transactions,” wrote RA CEO Hank Lynch in a statement. “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience to our members and will work prudently to ensure that these technical problems do not occur in the future.”
Image via Reston Association
The Reston Association recently decided to institute a new payment method for its annual assessment fees.
Starting later this week, people will be able to pay the 2020 assessment fee using a new and improved portal, according to a Reston Association representative.
The RA decided to abandon the previous portals because they were glitchy and people were not able to log in, the representative said, adding that for the time being, people are not able to pay their bills online.
Instead, they can pay them over the phone by calling 703-435-6530, send a check in the mail or pay in person at the member service desk (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive).
RA members have between now and March 1 to pay their assessment fees.
The representative said she wasn’t sure if late fees will temporarily be waived because of the system malfunctions.
People who already paid their fees will not have to resubmit their payment, according to the RA website.
Photo via RA/Facebook
If you were not looking forward to paying the entirety of the Reston Association assessment fee today (March 1) to avoid fees, you’re in luck.
The Reston Association announced on Twitter this afternoon that the assessment deadline was pushed to next Friday (March 8).
The decision is “due to recent inclement weather,” the tweet said. The 2019 annual assessment is $693 — a bump from last year’s $682 fee.
The discount on the pool and tennis passes has also been extended to the new date.
Reston Association’s Board of Directors approved next year’s budget, which increases the assessment fee by $11, at last night’s meeting. The Thursday meeting focused on finalizing the $17.9 million budget for next year and setting the assessment fee to the new rate of $693 — a bump from last year’s $682 fee.
Larry Butler, RA’s Acting CEO, presented his recommendations for the budget before the board took a deep dive into the budget.
The long-vacant CEO spot — one of several unfilled positions, including CFO and Planner — loomed over the board’s budget deliberations.
RA At-Large Director Ven Iyer, who unsuccessfully attempted to keep next year’s assessment fee the same as last year’s, argued that keeping costs low sets a good example for whoever fills the CEO spot. “What happens if the CEO comes in and says, ‘Actually, the costs need to go up’? What would you do if that happens?” Iyer said. “I think we need to set the tone.”
RA President Andy Sigle said that RA needs a CEO’s “fresh eyes to keep pushing for more efficiencies.”
Quite a bit of confusion around the operating reserves dominated the discussion as well. Ultimately, the association trimmed roughly $280,000 from initial expense estimates from the first draft of the budget, which allowed the association to limit the assessment increase to 1.6 percent.
“Our job is not, not to spend money,” said John Mooney, secretary of the RA, said at the meeting. “We can’t do everything everyone wants… The question is not expense, it’s value.”
In an effort to pass expenses shouldered by RA, the board also green-lighted a measure to start passing on credit card fees for purchases made through WebTrac to members beginning Jan. 1. Members who purchase pool and tennis passes or activity registrations through the website will be charged the credit card service fees.
Assessment-related credit card transaction fees will also be passed on to members starting in 2020. RA also directed the association’s staff to increase employee health insurance contributions.
The RA will mail assessment packets by the end of the first week of December to residents with information about the fees and funding. The payment will be due Jan.1, and a six-month installment plan will be available. Late fees for assessment payments kick in after March 1.
Photo via Reston Association/YouTube
Reston Association is set this week to hold a vote and the second public hearing on next year’s budget.
This upcoming meeting will focus on approving the second year of the 2018-2019 budget at the public meeting tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at RA’s headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) after the first year of the budget was approved last year.
Larry Butler, RA’s acting CEO, presented his recommendations for the budget at a public hearing last Thursday (Nov. 8). RA board and staff created three drafts of the budget, using 2018 as a baseline.
During the budget process, the RA board directed the association’s staff to increase employee health insurance contributions and to reduce expenses by passing credit card convenience fees along to the cardholder. The association trimmed roughly $300,000 from the initial budget estimates from an earlier draft, according to a Nov. 1 press release.
“This year’s budget was shaped primarily through a wide range of cuts in operating expenses,” the press release said.
If approved, the proposed budget would increase members’ assessment fee by $11, setting the rate at $693. The first draft would have set the annual fee, which helps the association maintain pathways, facilities and recreational areas, at just over $700. Last year’s totaled $682.
The board is also requesting $40,000 from cash reserves to reinstate staff training and $17,545 for staff recruitment and “market rate adjustments for difficult to fill positions,” according to meeting materials to be presented to the board.
After the new assessment is set by the board, RA will mail assessment packets to residents with information about the fees and funding. The payment will be due Jan. 1.
The draft agenda for the meeting is available online.
Photo via Reston Association/Reston Today
Wexton, Democratic incumbents celebrate Election Day victories — Local voters also turned out in numbers the surpassed recent midterm elections. The Fairfax County Office of Elections estimated a 69.7 percent turnout for the general election, up from 45.7 percent in 2014. [Fairfax County Times]
DMV2Go in RTC today — The wireless office on wheels will offer DMV services today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the pavilion. Services include driver’s license and ID card applications and renewals, driving records, decals and more. [Reston Town Center]
Reston Association budget hearing, assessment increase proposal tomorrow — RA will hear comments from members about its plans to increase assessments by $11 at a hearing tomorrow (Thursday). [Reston Association]
Robert Sapolsky to speak at CenterStage tonight — Sapolsky, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, will speak tonight. His lectures touch on topics like stress, baboons, the biology of individuality, memory aggression and schizophrenia. Tickets are sold out but the box office will maintain a waitlist today for any returned tickets. [Reston Community Center]
Photo by John Pinkman
As deliberations on next year’s budget continue, Reston Association is holding a public hearing to get feedback from members next week.
RA’s Board of Directors is also contemplating a number of policy directives, including passing on credit card fees for processing members’ and nonmembers’ payments from the organization to individuals. Other issues before the board include expanded health benefits for employees, overall compensation packages and merit-based salary increases.
The first year of the 2018-2019 budget was approved last year. The second year will be approved by the board in mid-November.
Photo via Reston Association/YouTube