Reston, VA

Reston Association’s Board of Directors narrowly approved a $10 increase in next year’s assessment Thursday night. Four members of the nine-member board — Ven Iyer, Sarah Selvaraj-D’Souza, Bob Petrine, and Mike Collins — voted against the proposal due to financial concerns.

The funding gap between current revenues and future expenses was especially apparent in this year’s budget negotiations as RA debated how to fund the renovation of Lake Thoreau.

RA CEO Hank Lynch originally pitched a budget with no assessment increase in order to account for the impact of COVID-19 on members. But RA’s Board directed Lynch to explore other assessment options up to $728 in order to account for future expenses and reduce the likelihood of a major fee increase in 2022.

Additional revenue from member fees will be used for ADA-additions to Temporary Road and accounts for the lease of RA’s headquarters, which will be reflected as an average booked rate for ten years instead of actual costs for 2021. Other funds above $80,000 would be placed in RA’s operating reserve for future use.

Assessment invoices will be mailed to members next month and are due Jan. 1. RA plans to launch a new system for members to pay fees online and “will be the most convenient way for members to pay their assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a news release.

The budget also does away with processing fees for online payments and accounts for an. 86 percnet increase in funding for lake treatment at Lake Thoreau and other Reston lakes.

RA’s Central Services Facility will also reduce the number of times it mows Virginia Department of Transportation roads in Reston. Currently, VDOT’s contract with RA pays for three mowing cycles on an annual basis.

Other features of the budget include:

  • No staff merit pay increases
  • Full-time headcount reduced by one position
  • Three current and vacant positions will remain vacant until the end of March
  • Next year’s communications, marketing and public relations budget is reduced by 9.5 percent
  • IT reduces the budget by $195,000 by moving to Cloud and not filling 2020 approved staff positions
  • Election budget increases by 14.6 percent to increase voter turnout

In addition to Lake Thoreau, the pools at Shadowood and Tall Oaks will be closed next year for capital improvements.

Image via Reston Assoication/YouTube

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The Reston Association (RA) still has decisions to make on its 2021 budget, including any potential change to the current $708 member assessment rate.

During a public hearing on Wednesday, a proposed budget by RA CEO Hank Lynch remained consistent with his October proposal by not including an increase from the current $708 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.

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If Reston Association maintains an assessment of $708 for 2021, members could see a fee increase of up to $100 in 2022, according to CEO Hank Lynch’s meeting materials.

RA’s Board of Directors will hold a public hearing tonight to discuss the proposed assessment of $708, which was pitched by Lynch. At the board’s request, RA is considering a possible increase of up to $728. Some board members hope a slight increase this year will prevent higher increases in the coming years.

Much of the budget’s assumptions rest on unclear factors. For example, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is unknown.

An assessment of major capital needs is due from RA’s Recreational Facilities Working Group. The assessment will be used to determine RA’s future capital needs and projects’. Impact on the 2022 assessment rate.

Lynch has proposed deferring many expenses to 2022 and beyond. Roughly $1.3 million in capital work has been deferred to future years. No staff merit pay increases as planned as part of the 2021 budget. 

The budget hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. today.

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In mid-August, a major and possibly toxic algae bloom blanketed Lake Thoreau following Reston Association’s treatment of an invasive plant in the lake.

The treatment, which RA said was one of several factors that caused the bloom, was conducted much later into the season, making the bloom worse.

Following this issue and subsequent community meetings about lake management, RA CEO Hank Lynch wants to more than double its lake maintenance treatment budget for 2021 budget, which is currently under development. This year’s lake maintenance budget is $31,745, up from $17,103 in 2020’s. budget.

The proposed budget would include up to five algae treatments of Lake Thoreau, up to five algae treatments at Lake Anne, and $18,920 to treat lake Thoreau with sonar pelters in the spring or early summer.

The association also plans to shift from treating the lake with contact herbicides to systemic herbicides earlier in the season to control the hydrilla plant.

“This solution will control the hydrilla before it gets to grow and become a problem in the lake,” according to meeting materials.

The systemic herbicide treatment is much more costly than previously used treatment but will produce more long-lasting results, Lynch said at a Board of Directors’ meeting last week.

RA also hopes to remove water lillies at Lake Newport every few years. Its consultant, Aquatic Environment Consultants, will “continue to monitor to determine the right timing of this treatment,” according to meeting materials.

The removal of primrose and alligator weed at Lake Thoreau on the shoreline and along the dams has also been identified as a pending project. The issue will be addressed based on growing conditions this summer.

The lake will also be stocked with 130 carp — which consume aquatics plants — to help manage the overgrowth of certain aquatic plants like hydrilla. The lake was last stocked in 2017 with 80 carp.

RA will hold another community engagement meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Lake Thoreau and lake environmental health. The meeting will take place online.

Photo by Jeannine Santoro

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Reston Association CEO Hank Lynch is aiming to keep next year’s member assessment rate unchanged at $708.

But at a Board of Directors’ meeting on Thursday night, some members suggested increasing the rate — as done in previous years — in order to keep up with major expenses and other operational needs. Lynch hopes to keep fees stable in order to account for the impact of COVID-19 on its membership.

No staff merit pay increases are proposed in Lynch’s budget, resulting in savings of roughly $208,500.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do right now,” Lynch said, adding that he discussed the proposal with senior staff, who concurred with his plan.

Board member John Mooney said the “artificially” holding down the rate simply delays more substantial long-term fee increases necessary to keep up with real-time costs.

“It’s artificial. We’re paying with resources from elsewhere,” Mooney said.

Board members Mike Collins also noted that RA’s membership must grow accustomed to fee increases as serious infrastructure challenges come forward due to aging facilities in need of replacement.

To fund the replacement of Lake Thoreau Pool, the board is considering a plan to defer roughly $1.3 million in scheduled 2021 capital expenditures.

“I just don’t see any another way,” Collins said, adding that he “hates” the idea of increasing fees.

The board juggled the possibility of a $20 increase in the coming year, although no number was settled upon.

Mooney suggested that Lynch and his staff consider how a $membership assessment of up to $728 for next year would help meet RA’s costs.

Other budget highlights include:

  • Delaying the hire of three vacant positions
  • Reducing annual IT expenses by $45,000-$50,000
  • Lake maintenance treatments at $31,745

A budget hearing is set for November 4 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom. The board plans to indicate that a range of assessments is being considered between $708 and $728.

Photo via Reston Association

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Friday Morning Notes

Feedback Sought for Reston Association Website — As the association prepares to launch a new website in 2021, a survey aims to gauge how users interact with the current website. Possibilities for consideration also include new features like text messaging, a mobile app, and other online functions. [RA]

Dense Fog Advisory In Effect Until 10 a.m. — The National Weather Service has issued yet another advisory until 10 a.m. today. Drivers should ensure there is adequate distance between vehicles. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

First Budget Hearing Set for November — Reston Association’s Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on the 2021 budget on November 4 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom. [RA]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Reston Association’s Board of Directors plans to defer $1.3 million in capital work for the upcoming 2021 capital budget.

Although budget deliberations continue, RA staff have identified six projects that will likely be deferred to future years. Plans for deferrals come as nearly $600,000 in capital work has been adjusted or added, including the renovation of Lake Thoreau Pool and general increases in costs for construction and materials.

Plans for Lake Anne Dam, which currently does not meet state safety codes for overtopping Wiehle Avenue during a design flood, could be deferred. Currently, a state committee has been forced to evaluate dam regulations for all structures in Virginia, according to draft meeting materials. The outcome of those discussions could take up to two years to formalize.

“We will maintain our provisional approved status with the state with no penalties enforced,” according to RA meeting materials.

A more comprehensive renovation of the Glade Tennis Court may also require the deferral of that project. Staff found that more work beyond planned that grading and lighting retrofitting is necessary.

Other deferred project include:

  • The addition of seven vehicles and mowers
  • Lake Newport pool siding
  • Glade Pool floor coating, cabinets and counters
  • Newbridge cabinets and counters

So far, the $3.45 million draft budget includes the renovation of Lake Thoreau Pool, with project costs being split between 2021 and 2022.

The meeting is set for Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

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Reston Association is taking another look at its finances and budget projections due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a meeting on Thursday, May 21, RA’s Board of Directors will discuss the impact of the pandemic on the budget, revenues, camps, pools, and other items. CEO Hank Lynch is also expected to offer an update on the status of strategic goals recently outlined by the association.

RA expected to see a decline in revenues from The Lake House. The amended 2020 budget also shows expected decreases in allocations for the Walker Nature Center, environmental education, and camp, according to a draft agenda of Thursday’s meeting.

So far, RA has canceled its 2020 summer camps program entirely.

“Based on all uncertainties associated with COVID-19 and feedback we have been receiving from parents of campers, as well as steps taken by other summer camp providers in the Northern Virginia area — Reston Association is canceling its 2020 summer camps program.”

RA pools could see a dramatic decline of 70 percent or more, according to projections in the draft agenda.

“Total pool use will be down significantly… based o near of infection even when use of pools is authorized,” the agenda states.

A $150,000 shortfall is also projected from sponsorship revenues this year.

The association will determine how many pools will open depending on the number of staff that can complete a water rescue test, which cannot be completed online. RA hopes to have enough qualified and certified staff by July 1 to ensure that a minimum of four pools are fully staffed and operational.

It’s also unclear when tennis courts will be open. Depending on when social distancing requirements are relaxed in Northern Virginia, some tennis courts would be open in June. Projected tennis revenue is expected to decrease by 57 percent. 

The meeting begins online at 6:30 p.m.

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Reston Association says that its internal controls and processes have come a long way since the botched purchase of the Lake House at nearly double its assessed value five years ago.

At a Thursday meeting, RA’s Board of Directors reviewed progress on fifteen recommendations suggested by global advisory firm StoneTurn Group in a $45,000 independent review of the controversial purchase.

Eric Carr, the board’s treasurer and chair of a committee formed to review the purchase, said RA was “not equipped to handle an undertaking and purchase like this.”

“This is why I ran and it was my goal above all other goals to make sure this never happened in the association ever again,” Carr told the board at the meeting. “I think we’re in a good place for that and I think we’ve done largely what the StoneTurn report requested us to do.”

RA purchased the Lake House property from Tetra in 2015. Renovations to transform the property into a community building cost three times more than expected, resulting in requests for independent audits and reviews.

The report found that RA’s governing documents had no defined process to ensure that internal controls and processes were being followed. The group also suggested that RA adopt a policy to improve transparency on items that are discussed in closed sessions without compromising its interests. At the time, RA did not have controls in place to prevent the contracting of an amount in excess of the budget.

Carr said that all but two of the company’s recommendations are either completed or already exist.

One glaring gap — establishing an ethics code — remains. Discussions on establishing the code, which has been underway for nearly two years, are expected to formalize at the board’s meeting in March.

Highlights of steps undertaken in response to recommendations are below:

  • General Counsel will continue to review policies as necessary and as directed by the board
  • Although staff indicated recommendations to establish “owners of the internal processes” were vague, RA has a resolution governing internal financial controls
  • Greater transparency in executive sessions will be pursued so long as it does not contradict POAA rules
  • Establishing processes where capital expenditure maximums are calculated and included in the budget
  • Clarification of policy to provide guidance if a project exceeds the budget or if the budget estimate is found to be impractical or incorrect
  • Preparation of a long-term capital improvement plan that is updated on an annual basis
  • Written policies and procedures to evaluate and management capita projects that emphasize key assumptions and estimates
  • Ensuring purchase orders and contracts are not issued unless funds are available and allocated within the approved budget

A complete breakdown of StoneTurn’s recommendations and progress made is available online. Board vice president Julie Bitzer requested the progress update.

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr; YouTube

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Reston Association member assessments will increase by 2.2 percent next year after the organization’s board adopted next year’s budget last night (Thursday).

The board voted to increase the annual assessment fee from $693 to $708 — a major departure from the nearly five percent increase initially proposed in September. The budget includes across-the-board increases in staff compensation and a net increase of five positions, including staff for social media, covenants administration, IT, and business engagement and sales.

Board director Ven Iyer was the only board member to vote against the budget, which he said grants RA’s staff everything on their wishlist and exhibits the board’s failure to exercise due diligence.

Iyer said the board “failed miserably” by making budgetary decisions that will be called into question in the future.

Board director John Mooney pushed back against Iyer’s comments, noting that he and other board members have worked with staff extensively to finalize the budget.

“It is very sad that that amount of work on all our parts is being called into question,” Mooney said.

This year’s budget accounts for expenses like a $418,000 increase in computer support expenses over last, a $77,000 increase in aquatics, and additional expenses for staff training and development, according to RA’s CEO Hank Lynch.

The budget also anticipates more than $200,000 in revenue from communications initiatives, led in part by the new business engagement and sales manager. RA also hopes that enhancing existing activities like pickleball and Lake Anne Plaza will generate $275,000 in non-assessment revenue. The Walker Nature Center is also expected to grow revenue by 25 percent by offering more educational programs.

Photo via YouTube/Reston Association

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The Reston Association is set to hold a final public hearing for the Reston 2020-2021 budget next week.

The meeting will take place at RA Head Quarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) beginning at 6:30 p.m. next Thursday (Nov. 21) and will be a chance for community members to share their concerns and grievances with the RA Board of Directors before they vote on the budget.

In 2020, Reston is expected to roughly raise $19 million in revenue with the operating budget, and operating costs are only expected to add up to $16 million, leaving a $3 million surplus, according to RA documents.

“Through these meetings, the board identifies revenues and expenses that should be added or eliminated based on the association’s strategic goals,” according to the RA website.

Photo via Reston Association

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Reston Association’s Board of Directors has shaved $10 off the expected member dues increase for next year. In the latest draft proposal, the assessment would by 3.6 percent from $693 to $718.

This year, RA is considering increasing staff salaries across the board in order to ensure employees receive competitive, market-rate benefits and compensation packages, according to RA leadership.

RA CEO Hank Lynch said his staff “literally went line by line by line” through the organization’s revenues and expenses to reach the new proposed member assessment amount. The previous draft budget proposed a five percent increase.

Lynch said the latest draft proposal represents hovers around a four percent increase in the average annual assessment increases in the last ten budgets.

Member assessments have increased by 34 percent between 2010 and 2018.

A handful of RA members who testified at last night’s public meeting raised concerns about RA’s latest budget draft.

Some said they were worried RA’s financial controls were slipping — once again referencing the organization’s $2.6 million purchase of The Lake House at double its assessed value in 2015.

“There are signs that controls are slipping again,” said John Lovaas, an RA member. Lovaas also said he was troubled by the “shaky assumption” that RA’s staff are due to inadequate compensation.

Critical financial oversight should be conducted by RA’s fiscal committee, others said.

“I’m concerned that the fiscal committee is not being consulted and shown everything,”  said Tammi Petrine.

Mike Leone, RA’s spokesman, told Reston Now that the change in the proposed assessment was the result of direction and input from RA’s board and the committee.

In comments to the board, RA’s fiscal committee raised concerns about the overall budget.

“Having a one-year change in overall spending of about $3.3 million seems very aggressive and may be too hard to manage successfully,” according to documents submitted by the committee.

Here’s more from the committee:

It seems like we are trying to do everything in a very short amount of time. While the operating expense line says we’re growing $1.2M, it is net of reducing Facility Rent and eliminating Credit Card Fees (a total of about $600K). In other words, it does not count an extra $600K that we gained from the Facility Rent and adjustment to credit card fees. Nor does it count the one-time studies done in 2019 (e.g., the Branding Study, and the Compensation Study) that will not be needed in 2020. So the actual annual spending increase proposed is more like $2M. The same situation is on the Capital side. The reserve study calls for 2020 spending to be $2,954K and the budget is asking for $4,453K. Understanding that RA has a continual backlog and that it is being addressed is laudable, however, with no increase in staff on the capital side, and a mammoth increase in their budget, it is difficult to predict whether the full amount requested will be spent in 2020.

RA Board President Cathy Baum said she appreciated members for testifying at the hearing.

“Listening to comments can be challenging for both the board and staff, but it’s really nice to see members be engaged,” Baum said.

Photo via YouTube

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Thursday Morning Notes

Reston Association Budget Hearing and Meeting is Tonight — RA’s Board of Directors will hold a special meeting today (Thursday). A draft of the budget and the meeting’s agenda — which includes information about RA’s conflict of interest policy and increases to member assessments — is available online. [Reston Association]

Author Hena Khan to Joint Girl Power! Book Club — Khan will discuss her new middle-grade novel, More to the Story, at Scrawl Books’ Girl Power! Book Club today at the bookstore. The discussion, which is open to all, starts at 7 p.m. [Scrawl Books]

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department Receives Homeland Security Grants — The department has been awarded $406,000 in competitive and noncompetitive grants. The funds will be used to improve the department’s emergency preparedness, security operations, training, and equipment. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]

Photo via Flickr/vantagehill

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Reston Association’s 2020-2021 budget, which would increase member assessments by five percent, will likely include across-the-board salaries increases for all staff. The move, which allocates $1 million over the next two years for salary and benefit increases, comes in response to unprecedented turnover last year and ongoing concerns related to staff recruitment and retention.

Last night (Thursday), RA’s Board of Directors also voted to approve reclassifying the positions of four staff members — whose names and salaries were not disclosed — because their positions were misclassified by RA. Board member Ven Iyer — who frequently challenged matters discussed by the board throughout the meeting — was the lone dissenting vote.

The board’s decisions were guided by a compensation study authorized by RA CEO Hank Lynch and conducted by Archer Company, a South-Carolina based firm that offers human resource management.

The study provided the basis for a one-time salary increase of 2.6 percent for all employees to “offset [the] recent below market merit pool,” as well as an increase in retirement match contributions and ensuring salaries are at or above the market rate within five years of service.

In 2020, the draft budget calls for nearly $227,594 in merit increases, $166,547 for a one-time salary increase, $132,277 to elevate salaries to the market midpoint, and $74,832 to match benchmarks by adjusting 401k matches. In 2021, roughly $445,960 in salary and benefits-related increases are also planned.

The board also expressed support for a documented compensation philosophy that aims to attract talent and offer salaries and benefits that are similar to comparable entities.

Board member John Mooney said the proposed compensation philosophy was “very balanced” and ensures RA is competitive with other similar employers, including the staff in municipal or county-level government positions in Fairfax and Arlington counties.

Iyer questioned if the comparison of RA to public entities with significantly larger budgets and resources was appropriate.

He also challenged the labeling of several documents received by the board with disclaimers like “RA board’s eyes only” and “extremely confidential” — a move that he said violates members’ trust because the materials were unrelated to contractual or business matters. RA declined to release the materials referenced by Iyer to Reston Now.

RA’s general counsel, Anthony Champ, said the documents were provided as background information to the board and their confidentiality could be assessed if an RA member requested the materials.

The organization’s fiscal committee was not consulted about the salary and benefits increases, Iyer, who is the board’s committee liaison, also stated.

The majority of the board, however, concurred with the need to increase salaries in accordance with the Archer study’s recommendations.

Board President Cathy Baum said the proposed salary and benefits increases were “logical” — challenging Iyer’s assertion that the board was acting based on emotion, not fact.

Iyer, however, said the Archer study was not prescriptive and instead pitched broad recommendations that were subject to the scrutiny of the board.

As the budget heads for adoption in November, Lynch said he hopes RA’s new outlook on compensation and benefits will provide market-based incentives to recruit and retain top talent.

Photo via YouTube/RA

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Friday Morning Notes

Reston Association to Hold Public Hearing on Budget — RA’s Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on the 2020-2021 biennial budget on Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at RA headquarters. The budget is set to be approved by the board in November. [Reston Association]

Mentoring Program at South Lakes High School Kicks Off — “DIAMONDS (Determined, Intelligent, Ambitious, Motivated, Original, Nifty, Dazzling, Strength) is a mentoring program for young minority women-led by Angel Scott and Lisa Girdy. The program’s mission is to inspire, transform, and educate young ladies on how to be successful in every area of life. DIAMONDS kicked off its second year with many returning students, some new students, volunteers from the community, and dedicated South Lakes staff members who serve as mentors.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Reston-based Company partners with Leading Cloud Security Company — “FireEye, a publicly traded cybersecurity company with an office in Reston, Virginia, is partnering with cloud security company iboss to provide a joint tech solution for cloud-based cyber threat protection.” [Technical.ly]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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