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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Annual orientation brings new, old OPA directors together

(Sept. 24, 2015) What does it take to be a board member in Ocean Pines? Technically, only a few thousand votes and ownership of at least one property in the community.
It’s often a thankless job, with long hours and no pay, as well as being under the microscope of 8,452 homes and the local media.
Recently one of the criticisms of the board was that its members seemed unable to get along, but that wasn’t the case as the new board, including freshman directors Cheryl Jacobs and Tom Herrick, gathered at the Beach Club in Ocean City during a two-day orientation.
The session included presentations by General Manager Bob Thompson, Attorney Joe Moore, Auditor Chris Hall and Assistant Treasurer Pete Gomsak.
This year’s meeting took place in the large, open second deck dining area, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the beach. Previously, these sessions took the Assateague Room, or the cramped quarters of the administrative building meeting space.
Thompson, who led off the meeting, said the change of scenery was intentional.
“The whole goal for the two days … is creating a team environment,” he said.
Moore, who has represented the association for 32 years, waded through the governing documents, including the state’s Homeowner’s Association Act and Ocean Pines’ own bylaws and declarations of restrictions.
He noted that each meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners and Berlin Mayor and Council begins with a closed session, something rarely done in Ocean Pines.
“There are very real, important reasons while you all would need a closed-door session,” he said, citing examples including contract negotiations and personnel and legal issues. “Sunlight on your actions is good, but not always does that … actually benefit the association.”
Moore said the Ocean Pines board was similar to and has many of the same powers as a town’s mayor and council – with some exceptions.
“In many instances, I’ve been called upon by lawyers to tell the association that you have some kind of constitutional obligation in the nature of a municipality, and I refuse to do so because you’re not a municipality,” he said. “You do not have to, for instance, have a constitutional obligation for free speech and all that kind of stuff.
“You’re a homeowner’s association and [you’re] a private corporation with members,” Moore continued. “You’re not stuck with all of the obligations that the constitution places on a governmental entity.”
Several side discussions branched out of that topic, as new directors wondered aloud what constitutes trespassing in an HOA, and whether the community’s declarations of restrictions superseded county law in traffic matters (they don’t).
Moore briefly touched on the role of the board’s attorney, an issue that came up after the last election when two directors asked for advice on a matter that wasn’t immediately shared with the others members.
He suggested it was the impetus of the individual board member to share any such advice and that his private conversations are rarely put into writing – unless requested.
“We need transparency amongst ourselves,” Director Dave Stevens said. “We need to know who’s asking Joe [what questions].”
Jacobs seemed to agree and suggested the board set a precedent at some point.
“You either have a policy or you don’t,” she said. “We all collectively need to have an understanding.
“Words are very important,” Jacobs added. “I think funneling matters through a single point of contact is a good way to do business.”
Gomsak closed out the first day of the meetings with a two-plus hour presentation, going into great detail on financial statements, budget process, board responsibilities and his philosophy behind reserves.
The former director also encouraged the board to sit in during the Budget and Finance Committee’s annual weeklong budget review in January.
One of the challenges the new board will face, according to Gomsak, is that reserves have never funded for road depreciation, instead focusing on replacement of major facilities and capital assets.  
Gomsak said Ocean Pines has more than $40 million in depreciable assets and only $21.7 collected in accumulated depreciation, hinting that the community would likely face a major shortfall in the near future.
While Gomsak said inflation was an issue affecting the shortfall, Ocean Pines also has a history of putting money into its reserve account based on the original cost of assets, while replacement costs were generally much higher. The old community hall, for example, cost $364,000, while its replacement ran $1.75 million.
In 2008, the board voted a one-time rolling assessment increase of $150 in an attempt to catch up on shortfalls. Gomsak said that money was quickly spent, however, leading to the creation of the “five-year funding plan” in 2010, which added an additional $130 to assessments in increments over a five-year period.
Today that $130 adds up to roughly $1.1 million each year, which Gomsak suggested, on the surface, could be used to fund several new expenditures, including a new country club, aquatics center, police administration building and several bridges over the next five years.
Another difficulty Gomsak said the board could face is the “lack of understanding within the community.”
“The community has a lot of misinformation,” he said, including the notion that all of the reserves went into “one pot.”
Still, at the end of the day many of the directors were left smiling, and the few, brief disagreements that came up seemed to have melted away in an atmosphere of general optimism.
Herrick said the meeting was “very valuable” and informative.
Jacobs, although she had already taken the time to meet with Gomsak during the campaign, said she still found plenty of new information during the day.
“I may have had a head start on it, but [the orientation] was absolutely helpful,” she said.  
On the following day, the board regrouped in the morning to discuss the different departments in Ocean Pines, as well as the expectations and code of conduct for directors. Several board members also took part in a tour of Ocean Pines facilities.
The next regular board meeting, the first for the new directors, will be held Thursday at 9 a.m. in the slightly less beachy Assateague Room in the Ocean Pines Community Center.