OPA Budget Approved With $13 Assessment Reduction

OCEAN PINES – Officials in Ocean Pines last week voted to approve a budget that features a $13 assessment reduction.

Last Saturday, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors voted 5-2, with Directors Frank Daly and Colette Horn opposed, to approve the budget for fiscal year 2023-2024. The spending plan – which reflects total revenues and operating expenses of $14.4 million, bulkhead replacement expenses of $1.1 million and capital expenditures of $1million – also features a base assessment of $883, reflecting a $13 reduction from the current year’s fee.

“The budget was modified following a presentation to the membership at the public hearing on February 1, 2023 …,” said Director Monica Rakowski, treasurer. “Approval of the motion will allow us to use the funds, as noted, for operating and capital expenses associated with general operations of the association.”

Added to last Saturday’s agenda, the approval of the budget did not come without extensive debate over the aquatics department, which is projecting a $100,000 operating loss in the coming year. Horn noted that while the original budget featured an increase in membership fees, the one proposed last week did not.

“I want to point out to the membership this is not the original budget that was proposed by the operations team and vetted by B&F,” she said. “The originally proposed budget recommended some modest increases in amenity use and membership fees, and projected no subsidy for racquet sports operations, but some subsidy for aquatics.”

Horn added that the aquatics fees also features a new membership for couples.

“I want an explanation to the membership about how many couples memberships will be sold and how that will affect aquatics revenue and how that will affect the total subsidy for aquatics if we approve this proposal,” she said.

General Manager John Viola explained that the budget included a subsidy for aquatics. And while the new couples membership would reduce projected revenues by $12,000, he said officials were able to reduce the assessment by making adjustments in other departments, particularly police and public works.

“Our governing documents require that our amenities be run so that they pay for their own operation,” Horn said. “So I’m concerned about anything that reduces revenue projections while we’re still subsidizing our amenities.”

She added that responses from the community’s strategic plan prioritized public safety.

“The fire department, we’re being told it will have to move to an all-paid force. And then we also talked about our benefits package in our police service to try to be able to recruit and retain officers,” she said. “Those are very high-dollar items. I’m concerned about using any of our retained earnings to support our amenities when the membership has told us the priority of our spending is public safety.”

Director Stuart Lakernick argued keeping amenity fees flat, while introducing a new couples membership, would benefit association members.

“Folks, we’re in an inflationary period where our members are getting squeezed …,” he said. “They are on fixed budgets. This is important. We have a surplus. We can do this.”

Director Steve Jacobs said that while he would support the budget, he wanted officials to review financials and pricing structures at a later date.

Daly, however, said he would not support the proposed spending plan, as the projected shortfall in aquatics added $5 to the assessment, which is paid for by all association members, including those who do not use the community’s pools.

“I’m opposed to subsiding aquatics because we have tangible evidence that it’s penalizing just as many people as it’s helping …,” he said. “You can’t deny not everybody in Ocean Pines uses our aquatics. Every single person that’s not using it is getting saddled with $5 extra, which is counterproductive to what we’re trying to do.”

Horn agreed.

“We need to cover the cost of aquatics …,” she said. “I see that as not only taking out of the pockets of non-users of the pool, but it’s also taking money away from public safety, which is our primary concern.”

While he noted the importance of covering amenity costs, Association President Doug Parks said the budget met the community’s needs and residents’ desires for a lower assessment.

“At the end of the day, I agree we have to run the amenities in a business-like manner,” he said. “However, at the end of the day, we’re looking at all these categories, and what’s the bottom line? The $883 assessment allowed us to be not in the red.”

Director Rick Farr agreed.

“Where we’re at right now, the cost of living is affecting people in Ocean Pines …,” he said. “I think this is the right thing to do, taking care of our association members at this particular time. I will support this budget moving forward.”

After further discussion, the board voted 5-2 to approve the budget. The association’s fiscal year begins on May 1 of each year and ends on April 30 of the next calendar year.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.