OCEAN PINES – Concerns about proposed spending dominated a public hearing on the Ocean Pines Association’s recommended budget.
On Saturday, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) hosted a public hearing for the proposed budget, which would increase dues by $127, setting the coming year’s assessment at $1,078. Residents asked board members to reconsider unnecessary expenses.
“I think we need to quit digging,” resident Anne O’Connell said. “We need to resolve unfinished business before we undertake anything new.”
At the start of Saturday’s hearing, General Manager John Bailey explained that the budget had gone through various iterations in the last three months. He acknowledged that the proposed $127 had generated some feedback from the community.
“There is one thing I know we can all agree on,” he said. “I certainly got your attention.”
Bailey said that while the association was operating in the black this fiscal year, an increase in funding was still needed if the community wanted to pursue certain projects.
“If we are doing well to budget this year why do we need such a large increase for next year?” he said. “Well ultimately that depends on what we, and when I say we I mean all of us — the general membership, the board, the committees, the general manager and the staff — really want to accomplish.”
He said funding was needed to address pay gaps for employees, drainage problems, deferred maintenance and new capital projects such as an addition at the police department and the Sports Core Pool.
Residents, however, expressed significant concern regarding the increased spending. Resident Mary Wilson said she had concerns with the overall budget process and the lack of detail provided to homeowners.
“The whole situation is fraught with rush rush rush,” she said.
Resident Marty Clarke, a former board member, said the proposed increase was the second highest in OPA history. He said the budget had been altered significantly since it was initially proposed. Clarke said one of his chief concerns with the most recent draft was the payroll spending, which was set to increase $600,000.
“The federal government ain’t giving out that kind of money,” he said. “That’s nuts.”
Clarke said the association had a cash position of $14 million.
“Somebody’s got to tell me why we need an increase,” he said.
Another resident brought up the proposed addition to the Sport Core Pool, which was proposed to provide revenue through after-school programming. The project is $200,000 and would be funded with a bank loan.
“It makes no sense…,” Carol Fritz said. “We don’t need that right now.”
Longtime resident Joe Reynolds said that in 30 years of watching OPA budgeting, he’d never seen a process as convoluted as this year’s had been. He pointed out that a portion of the proposed assessment increase would fund road improvements. Because the board wanted to make roads a depreciable item, he said that increase would not go away once it was implemented.
“If this passes as it is, we will be paying $400,000 or so in the assessment every year from here to eternity,” he said.
Reynolds was also critical of the plan to borrow money to build an addition at the Sports Core for children’s activities.
“Essentially we’re starting a new business…,” he said. “With our record in business, we ought to stay away from any new businesses. We ought to take care of our old ones.”
Resident Gerry Garey said the association needed to separate its needs from its wants. He said drainage improvements and an addition to the police station were the association’s true needs.
“Our chief has been holding us together with duct tape and string,” Garey said. “We need to take care of the people that take care of us.”
Resident Faith Stanley also advocated for only necessary spending. She said a $127 increase would be difficult for some people to handle, particularly those on fixed incomes.
“I find that it’s really a difficult situation and a hardship for a lot of the older people,” she said.
Resident Tom Terry, a former board member, spoke in support of the current board’s efforts. He stressed the board was trying to address the deficit created in 2016 and 2017.
“Folks, these people sitting up here are trying to find a way out of a mess, out of a slump,” he said.
Following public comments, board member Ted Moroney encouraged those interested to attend a meeting of the Ocean Pines Budget and Finance Advisory Committee.
“It’s a little more complicated than saying you have ‘x’ number of dollars in the bank,” he said. “You’ve really got to look at where is the money being spent.”
He added that the board would continue to review the budget in the coming days.
“I have no problem cutting it but remember every time we cut something — and we’re going to make some changes to this budget — it affects services,” he said.
Doug Parks, president of the board, agreed changes would be made before the budget was approved Feb. 16.
“We’ve still got some more work to do,” he said.