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Noncontroversial OP budget works way through process

Building at the end of the driving range in Ocean Pines is set to be rehabbed to provide a place for winter lessons, storage and office space.

Board wary of increasing slip fees up to 15 percent in draft document proposal

By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer

(Jan. 18, 2024) The Ocean Pines Board of Directors met last Thursday to review the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 24-25, and it continues to appear that most Ocean Pines residents will see another decrease in their lot assessments this year.

The board heard from General Manager John Viola and his financial team as well as directors of the various departments during discussions of various price increases, capital expenses and priorities.

In the proposed budget, marina boat slip fees would increase 15 percent, but  Directors Jeff Heavener and John Latham both agreed that would be too steep. Another way to increase revenue might be to add boat slips, Director Steve Jacobs suggested.

During the public comment period, resident Don Walski suggested that dockmaster Ron Fisher look at other residential marinas for price comparisons and not OC Fishing Center, which accommodates larger fishing vessels.

The marina boat slip fees have not been increased in three to four years. Fisher said he had proposed a five percent increase last year, but the board turned that down. Since then, he told the board, insurance and labor costs have gone up.

“It’s an amenity and probably the best price in town,” Viola said, adding that any price change is a board decision at this point.

Increased costs, including credit card fees, are having an effect on the marina and other amenities. Board Director Stuart Lackernick suggested they switch to Square to process credit cards. He said he has done that with his business and it has saved him a great deal of money. Viola said they would look into it. During public comments, resident Amy Peck suggested a minimum charge of $10 for credit cards to encourage the use of cash and save on credit card fees.

Elsewhere in the budget, aquatics prices and the proposal to reopen the snack bar at the swim and racquet club triggered extensive discussion. There is currently a $75,000 deficit in the aquatics program.

No increase in daily or weekly fees have been proposed this year. The board discussed a nominal increase in the rate to cover the deficit and avoid larger increases later. There was also discussion about increasing nonresident rates, which amounts to 10 percent of users.

Linda Martin clarified that outside food would be allowed at the pool if they open the snack bar at the swim and racquet club. Opening the snack bar is not expected to be a revenue enhancer, but to improve the customer experience.

During public comments, Peck also said lifeguards should be paid more than $15 an hour, since that is the current minimum wage.

A three percent increase in beach parking has been proposed. A typo on the budget documents caused some confusion in that regard, as the increase for day parking is proposed at $50, not $75.

 The Rec and Parks Department will be raising fees across the board, including charges for the dog park, farmers market, leagues, classes and camps.

There was discussion on the flooring in the community center gymnasium. A committee is being assembled to look at the entire building and make recommendations, Viola said.  There was also talk of providing a few ADA compliant playground pieces in Bainbridge Park and creating a fully inclusive playground in another location.

The racquet sports are looking towards a banner year, according to Director Tim Johnson.  He expects to run more programs and tournaments this year. He is working with local schools to get junior programs off the ground.

There was debate on the membership rate for Pickleball, with the board wondering if the fee should increase due to its popularity. Johnson had said some people think that might thin the herd and address the issue of overcrowding. There was also the suggestion that the courts at the swim and racquet club be turned into Pickleball courts. Options are being considered but Pickleball players like to gather together at the racquet complex, according to Johnson.

There is a softer market for the other racquet sports, apparently, so there was concern about raising those fees.

Fencing is an issue at the complex, with people jumping over the current fences to play on the courts for free. Viola is looking at pricing for fencing similar to the golf course wrought iron fencing.

Renovations of the current building will provide everything needed for the employees and the community, including more bathrooms, a pro shop, storage, and office space, according to Johnson.

The revenue king for Ocean Pines is the golf course. The installation of the new irrigation system will be a four- to five-year process.  Justin Hartsborne, the director of golf maintenance, said he is not too concerned about the impact on golfers. The work will be conducted from November through March each year with minimal disruption to the course, he said.

“We will just close the hole we are working on,” Justin said, adding that the course has a 19th hole, so this will allow golfers to play 18 holes, even with one hole closed.

The big driver for revenue is the package play, resident play and membership.

There are plans to enhance the building at the end of the driving range to provide lessons during the winter, storage and office space. It is expected that this renovation will be complete before the summer.

Matt Ortt joined the board for a discussion of the beach, yacht and golf club venues.

He believes he has a 95 percent chance of hitting his numbers for all of these venues.

He reported seeing an influx of banquets and he is pushing smaller banquets to the clubhouse. He is also getting substantial money back with rebate programs with vendors, by consolidating orders for all three venues. This keeps costs down and the rebates come in March, during the off season, he said.

He did caution that the holiday season was a little down for most area venues. People are watching their spending these days, Ortt said.

“I am trying to give you numbers with certainty. Our goal is to always exceed these numbers,” he said.

The proposed budget includes $1.5 million on capital expenses. The majority of that is for the golf course, including $850,000 for the irrigation project, $20,000 for driving range renovations, and additional funding for vehicles for the golf course.

The police department is requesting two Ford Explorers for $110,000.

The aquatics department has requested $40,000 to renovate the splash pad at the Swim and Racquet pool. Director Elaine Brady wondered if the costs were worth that amount and whether it would be better to put in a kiddy pool. It would  cost more than $100,000 for a new kiddy pool, according to Viola.  Other cost items included pool furniture repair and replacement, sand filters at the swim and racquet club and other miscellaneous items.

Two other larger items were the electric signs at $84,000 and a new heat pump at the community center for $58,000

The board will vote on the budget at its Feb. 17 board meeting. Prior to that, it will host a town hall meeting to hear comments from residents on the budget.

Note: this article has been corrected. Resident Amy Peck was present and spoke at the board meeting during public comment, not Sherrie Clifford.