OCEAN PINES — The newest crop of would-be OPA directors made their cases for election this week as they prepare for for a month of campaigning for a three-year term on the association board.
The forum began with the candidates responding to questions composed by the elections committee. The first question addressed to each involved the changing dynamics in Ocean Pines as it moves from vacation destination to year-round community.
Terri Mohr said that although it is important to recognize all association members, the board of directors has to take seriously the fact that so many residents are full-time residents.
“I think we always have to keep in mind those people who are here full time,” she said.
Mohr praised the extension of hours in the pools and Community Center but stressed that many of the facilities are old and need work.
Bill Wentworth observed that that there were more children than there were elderly people living in the community and that the long-term needs of both should be considered.
“We own over $35 million of assets,” he said. “We just cannot continue to ignore the assets in the community that we need to repair.”
Les Purcell, a sitting director running for reelection, agreed that the priority should be to maintain and repair the aging facilities. As a director, he credited the work he and other directors had done in the recent past.
“The older people are getting older, but there’s not as many,” he said. “One third of all the children who go to school in Worcester County come from Ocean Pines.”
Dan Stachurski, who already served two terms as a board member said that rather than supposing at the demographics, the new board should wait for the pending census data and respond to that. He pointed out that the census data will likely change legislative district makeups and possibly even county commissioner representation. He said this change would be an opportunity for Ocean Pines to take a bigger role in the area.
He credited general manager Bob Thompson for pushing the revenue envelope and asserted the need to address North and South Gate traffic.
There has been an ongoing movement by a developer to widen the bridge at the North Gate to accommodate more traffic and the South Gate is a poor escape route in case of emergency.
Victor Taylor, a recent arrival in Ocean Pines, wondered if there was enough money in the reserves to do the kind of replacements needed. He said the age diversity of the homeowner association was one of its most appealing assets.
“I don’t think I’d want to go to a retirement home where everybody was my same age,” he said.
Richard Handelman, another sitting board member running for reelection, said the board has, so far, done a good job in addressing the needs of the community. He said the decision to allow Thompson to re-envision the Yacht Club as a coffee bar showed the kind of thinking that was needed to secure a future for Ocean Pines.
Regarding the budget and the budgeting process, the candidates separated themselves into two distinct camps when it came to building the reserves and continuing the automatic assessment increases to fund completely both debt and the reserves.
Wentworth talked about the need for better planning. While he was clear that he had no problems, per se, with the current plan to fund the reserves and major projects, he suggested the board would do well to see how other HOAs handle long-term capital investment to make sure the OPA is using the most efficient model.
Purcell pointed out how much different the process has become since he was first elected to the board. There is now more board involvement earlier in the process. As to the regular increases, the notion was something he fully supported.
“There were years where our dues didn’t move at all,” he said. “That got us into a lot of trouble.”
Stachurski said that in order to know whether the assessments were appropriate or not the association should know precisely what funds they need to spend. He also took the opportunity to suggest that rather than continuing to pre-fund the reserves to pay for projects in advance, large projects should be financed and the payments distributed over time to make sure that future residents are paying for the facilities they are using.
Finally, he suggested reducing the board of directors’ ability to tap the reserves. “Take the money pot away from the board and give it to people to vote on.” He said any major capital improvement should be capped at $500,000 so everyone would have a say.
In his response, Taylor said that specific funds should be dedicated to specific building projects.
Handelman strongly disagreed with Stachurski’s proposal, saying that $500,000 was too small a cap for the directors to work with. In his view, the key to proper budgeting would be to continue to cut costs — he suggested there was money to be saved in medical and insurance costs — and to improve the job the administration is already doing generating revenue.
For her part, Mohr was less worried about the specific repairs that might be required than she was in assessing how a building is used. She said that until a use was defined or residents’ commitment to an old use or interest in a different use were identified, a facility shouldn’t just be replaced for the sake of replacing it.
The follow-up question had to do with the way the directors ought to deal with building deterioration.
Purcell said the current course of action was both prudent and efficient. “We’re comfortable, there’s no danger for three years at the Yacht Club,” he said. “We know how long we have.”
Stachurski amplified his previous answer, reinforcing the notion that the community has to be behind a project to make it worth doing.
“We need to say, ‘This needs to be done, let’s do it,’” he said. He added that he was more interested in repairing the current buildings, because of their aesthetic value than replacing them.
Taylor said that the buildings should be taken care of as needed and that large expenses should be improved by the members.
Handelman said that the reserves should be maintained with an eye on continuing the restoration work the current board has started.
“We have aging amenities and nobody to pay for them except for us,” he said. “We’re the payers of everything.”
Mohr agreed with Stachurski’s comment about the aesthetic value of the current structures. She also amplified her previous answer that a plan had to take more into consideration than whether a building need to be repaired and whether those repairs could be afforded. The primary thing to discover before engaging in an expensive renovation was whether the building would be well used by community members.
Wentworth said that debate over what to do, when to do it and what it would be needed for has been an ongoing issue in Ocean Pines.
“I don’t hear that there’s a plan,” he said. “The recommendation of the structural engineers should be presented to the general manager who should present a plan to the board for discussion and execution.”
He criticized some of the boards on which his fellow candidates served, citing the missteps in the decision to cover the Sports Core Pool with too little information about maintenance costs and not enough commitment from the community.
He also criticized the board decision to cancel the fall banquets because of a planned Yacht Club closure but not doing the investigation needed to ensure it was the right decision. Wentworth claimed the Yacht Club would have made instead of lost money this year had the banquet business not been turned away.
Following a period during which the candidates asked questions of one another, they addressed questions composed by the audience and split evenly on the issue of whether the OPA should open a dog park for residents.
Taylor, who identified herself as a dog owner, worried about dogfights and cleanliness at the park.
Handelman, who is not a dog owner, said he supported the measure as long as those endorsing the park raised a fair amount of the needed funding. “They need a place they can run their dogs safely,” he said. “They need a place where they can meet other dog owners.”
Mohr was staunchly pro-dog park.
“Since we don’t have fences in Ocean Pines, we need a place where they can go to play,” she said. Mohr discarded the notion that there would be a cleanliness problem at the park. “People who care enough to take their dogs to the dog park, they’ll care enough to clean up after their dogs.”
Wentworth wasn’t against the park so much as he opposed the notion of spending unbudgeted funds on building one. He said that if the community wanted it, the board should include a dog park in the next budget.
Purcell said he had no dog and had never seen a dog park.
“I had a lot of questions about it,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for some time … it’s just a question now of how to implement it and how to fund it.”
Stachurski, whose home abuts Bainbridge Park, one of the proposed sites, said he was against having it there because of concerns about parking and already poor drainage. He supported the notion of having the dog park located in the Manklin Meadows area.
Ballots will be mailed Saturday, July 9 and the results will be announced 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at the annual membership meeting.