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One more OPA budget hearing, this Saturday

Ocean Pines directors, from left, Frank Daly, Doug Parks and Steve Tuttle discuss the fiscal 2020 budget during a regular board meeting last Saturday. A follow-up meeting was scheduled this Saturday in the community center to finalize the budget.

Parks confident board will finalize budget on Saturday

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Feb. 21, 2019) The Ocean Pines Board on Saturday failed to pass a fiscal 2020 budget, despite a self-imposed deadline to do so.

However, after a grueling budget schedule that officially began on Aug. 22, Association President Doug Parks on Monday said the directors are closing in on final adoption.

Budget discussion took up the majority of a nearly five-hour board meeting that began Saturday morning. Several additional hours of a closed session reportedly stretched into the early part of the evening.

According to Parks, the directors are currently eyeing a $977 assessment, which represents a drastic reduction to the $1,078 charge presented to membership last month.

The fiscal 2019 assessment was $951.

“It could be plus or minus [a few dollars], based on whether one or the other options that we’re looking at gain traction,” Parks said. “Basically, what we told the GM is to take all of this information that you found out in a meeting here on Saturday, and go back and have an updated budget for us with these changes by Wednesday, so that we’ll have enough time on Wednesday/Thursday to go back and forth on these.”

Parks said that would likely be done via email.

A special board meeting to finalize the budget is scheduled this Saturday, Feb. 23 at 9 a.m. in the Marlin Room of the community center on 235 Ocean Parkway.

By then, Parks said, the majority of the sticking points should be ironed out.

“The process at this point is basically just, let’s go through this information again. We discussed these things in public and we’ve got to get one more iteration. And I think it’s well worth it,” Parks said.

He said the directors agreed to remove road depreciation from the budget, saving about $47 per homeowner. Also likely a done deal is removing the $19 per-homeowner bulkhead charge, while leaving in the $465 waterfront differential.

“I, for one, made a point that I would prefer to leave the $19 in, but will defer to the majority,” Parks said. “Because we can no longer use the swim and racquet club as a staging area, the [bulkhead] price per linear foot has gone up to 25 or more percent. That just translates into cost.”

Still in play is the deficit repayment duration.

Parks and the budget and finance committee favors a three-year payment schedule, totaling about $333,333 each year, but he said a majority now leans toward a four-year repayment plan.

“We’re talking about $8 [per homeowner] or something along those lines,” he said of the additional year. “Me, personally … I want to look at the more important factors that we definitely want to do that have a solid number, versus the deficit.

“You’re very fluid there, so you’ve got a little bit of a sliding scale that you can work with,” Parks continued. “I made it pretty clear in our meetings that I’d like to get it paid back in three years, but I’m certainly willing to have it go a little bit longer, based on some other things that are maybe a little bit more important in the budget to get done.”

He said a $128,000 payroll increase based on an in-house pay study was no longer in the budget, while a “merit pool” for bonuses would remain in. Parks, in a previous meeting, said the merit pool represented 2 percent of the total payroll, or $72,791.

“There was a suggestion that you put a cap on it and the GM should not give anybody more than 2 percent,” Parks said, adding he was “pretty vocal” in his opposition to that.

“That’s not how a merit pool works,” he said. “You’ve got an ‘x’ amount of dollars and you, as the chief administrative officer, distribute it as you see fit, based on whether you’ve got a high performer, an OK employee, or a low performer,” he continued. “I’m very, very adamant about the board not getting into that level of operations … it’s not what we should be doing as a board.”

Parks said health benefits would be lowered to an 80/20 rate, with employees paying for 20 percent of costs. He added board members were “still wrestling with the concept of some kind of offset,” or a lump-sum payment for those impacted by the reduction from 100-percent coverage.

“To me, it’s still an open issue and I think it’s one of the areas probably all of us are focused on – how to translate that into something that satisfies the short-term wants and the long-term goals,” he said.

Parks said he’s confident the board will be deliver a final budget on Saturday.

“I think we’re pretty close,” he said. “I think the biggest one is the 80/20, and if we do anything at all regarding a lump-sum payout or some way to ‘true’ something up. There’s a couple of suggestions out there and I think we just have to agree and come to some consensus on the best way to move forward.

“I know that everybody wants to get this done and the goal is to get it done by Saturday,” Parks added.

He acknowledged the board spent several hours in closed session last Saturday, but would not comment on the reasons for or the nature of the discussion.

The published agenda listed two topics: discussing personnel matters, and to consult with staff and advisors about pending or potential litigation.

“There’s reasons for closed sessions – and we’ll just take it from there,” Parks said. “I can’t say anything about the discussions that were had during the closed session.”

Asked if any of the closed session was related to the budget, Parks replied, “I can’t say anything about the conversation we had during closed session.”