Pines Group Begins Budget Review

OCEAN PINES – An Ocean Pines committee began its annual review of the proposed 2024-2025 budget this week.

On Wednesday, General Manager John Viola presented members of the Ocean Pines Budget and Finance Committee with the coming year’s proposed spending plan, which reflects total revenues and operating expenses of $15,313,061, bulkhead replacement expenses of $1,117,212 and capital expenditures of $2,076,916.

Viola noted that the proposed budget also included a $36 assessment reduction.

“When I look at it, total revenues are up over last year’s budget in this budget, what we’re projecting,” he said. “Total expenditures by this association, by our departments, are higher than the last budget. Our replacement costs are higher. And the assessment decreased $36. Obviously for that to happen, we are operating on all cylinders.”

Viola told committee members the preliminary budget also includes salary increases resulting from statutory wage increases and inflation. He said there are no planned increases in full-time employees.

“It’s not that we’re increasing FTEs,” he said. “We are now filling positions that we talked about in public works that we struggled with for several years, like everyone else. And we do have the lifeguards, and we are hearing good things about this year. So we are filling all the positions. You might see a slight increase in seasonal because of the hours … but it’s not an increase in headcount.”

Committee members last week met with representatives from each of the association’s departments to review spending plans for the coming fiscal year. Viola said the association has budgeted a 5% increase in salaries. He noted, however, that that increase was an average across all departments.

“It will not be 4% or 5% across the board,” he said. “It will be a range. Hopefully 2 to 6%.”

Under the general maintenance budget, Public Works Director Eddie wells presented a budget that was 5% more than the current fiscal year.

“We didn’t change our budget a whole lot from last year, we just had a couple things go up and down because of the way the economy is,” he said. “We tried to keep it as tight as we could and produce like we always have.”

Committee Chair Doug Parks noted the general maintenance budget included $212,000 for repairs and maintenance of association facilities. He said it was a reduction from the current fiscal year.

“There was some mention of some repairs to the beach club,” he said. “I would assume you have scaled that appropriately and that there’s enough money for any planned repairs to the beach club.”

Viola said he believed the line item to be sufficient. He noted improvements at the beach club would be completed in-house.

“We believe we’re comfortable with that,” he said. “If not, during the course of the year, we’ll come forward.”

During the committee’s review of the police department budget, Chief Tim Robinson presented the department’s plans for updating its policies and procedures and hiring a part-time property evidence technician. When asked about staffing, officials noted the department had seven openings.

“It’s tough to hire when I’m competing against all these police departments …,” Robinson said. “Were trying to make ourselves competitive in the marketplace.”

Viola noted that the department has implemented salary adjustments, retirement benefits and a take-home car policy in an effort to compete with other agencies.

“We are now in the ballpark,” he said.

Committee members also met with representatives from the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department and the Ocean Pines Golf Club. Viola noted that “golf is the economic engine driving this budget.”

Viola noted a $100 increase in the golf club’s membership fees. Committee member Colette Horn, however, questioned the rationale behind that decision.

“Given that this amenity is the economic engine and its covering maintenance, operations and nearly all depreciation, what is the rationale in that modest increase?” she asked.

Viola noted that the Ocean Pines Golf Club had the lowest membership fees in the area.

“We are way cheaper than everyone around us,” he said.

Following a review of each department’s budget, association leadership presented committee members with a summary of general replacement reserves and capital projects. Officials noted the capital budget included funding for golf course irrigation and two new police vehicles and $84,000 for electronic signs, among other things.

“The $84,000 on the signs includes what’s already been approved and what’s going to happen this year, probably in about five or six weeks, the sign at the north gate, priced at about $21,000 …,” he explained. “This isn’t approved but it was put in there based upon what we heard at board meetings, that possibly there could be another four signs.”

Following a four-hour-long meeting, Parks applauded association staff for their efforts.

“The fact we did this in a day is a testament to their good work,” he said.

A budget review by the Ocean Pines Board of Directors is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 11-12. 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.