If passed by the WCA Board on Sept. 12, the association’s draft budget will increase homeowners’ assessments by $15. Click here to view the draft.
The Westchase Community Association’s (WCA) annual budget workshop saw the largest crowd in years on Tuesday, Aug. 28 at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. Over 30 members of the association – roughly 17 Voting Members and WCA Board Members and about 15 residents – attended. Participants listened and weighed in as WCA Manager Debbie Sainz walked them through the association’s budget by line item, with tennis court maintenance, a new budget line for socials and expanded morning pool hours winning participants’ support.
One of three significant additions to the budget was an additional $15,000 for socials. While Westchase previously had a Social Committee and a budget line for community celebrations and gatherings, that line was zeroed out after the committee went defunct a number of years ago. Referring to recent informal polling and feedback from residents, WCA President Ruben Collazo said, “It’s one of the things people have been asking for.”
Sainz and Collazo stated the amount budgeted also included funds for more tennis socials, requested by Westchase’s tennis community. VM Eric Holt (Radcliffe) expressed some concerns about budgeting for a segment of the community. “It would be my expectation that it would be community-wide,” he stated.
With no significant opposition from those present, the line remained in the draft budget.
Also facing significant discussion was the incorporation of additional morning pool hours from 7-10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The addition was the result of a request by Harbor Links/The Estates’ resident Yelena Maloney, who posted an informal poll on Westchase Neighborhood News and had 170 responses in support of the idea. The additional cost for the added hours in the budget is $18,720 to open just the pool at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. It won the endorsement of Harbor Links/The Estates resident Carolyn Hardy, who was present. “I do think this is much needed,” Hardy said, pointing out that the pool is currently closed while many residents prefer to exercise prior to work. The additional hours, she said, would allow lap swimmers not to have to complete for lane space in the afternoons with the swim team.
The proposal, however, saw some pushback. “I think we need to have discussion on this,” said VM Holt of Radcliffe. VM Rick Goldstein added that the increase it would cause to assessments would be burden to some of his Woodbridge residents. VM Deb Guerino (WPV Villas) questioned relying on a poll that could have a lot of non-resident participation and which represented only a small percent of homeowners.
VM Forrest Baumhover (Kingsford) argued the expansion could be tried for a while if there was a lack of participation, the hours could be scaled back again.
“If there are not 170 people in the pool, we might have to reevaluate it,” quipped WCA Treasurer Yesner.
WCA Director Ashley Wait argued for the new hours, stating that, in her work as a title officer, she regularly sees HOA assessments and Westchase’s were “nothing” in comparison to them. Wait repeated the assertion to some folks’ laughter a few more times during the workshop.
Hardy, however, stated she could vouch for the resident status of most of the people who weighed in on the poll. WOW’s reporter, who administers Westchase Neighborhood News, stated that Maloney (who was unable to attend the workshop due to travel) was asked by the board to illustrate resident support for the idea and, given that the WCA has not formally surveyed residents about their facility preferences, the informal social media survey approach was the best available option. He encouraged the WCA to do a formal survey of all homeowners to pinpoint actual resident support for such changes rather than second-guessing informal results. He further emphasized the importance of the board insisting the WCA staff do a better job of promoting the new hours and existing programs via social media and WOW so that any lack of participation isn’t merely the result of a lack of resident awareness.
Later in the meeting, Sainz pitched a way to defray some of the additional cost’s impact on the annual assessment. She stated that funds currently in reserve for the replacement of the now defunct facility hand-scanning system could be used to lower assessments. WCA Treasurer Shawn Yesner also pointed out that funds being reserved for the pool’s diving blocks might also be redirected. He argued that the new swim team structure and relationship with Pipeline should make either the vendor or the Swim Team Booster Club responsible for the equipment’s eventual replacement given that the team is only permitted to use them. These funds were also applied to the current budget when Yesner’s suggestion met with widespread acceptance.
Following the meeting, WCA President Ruben Collazo stated the updated proposed 2020 assessment would be $289.
Near the meeting’s conclusion, WOW’s reporter inquired about the current carried balance the association has and whether a surplus was run last year. Sainz responded that a $5,000 deficit was run in 2018 and the current balance the association holds outside of its designated reserves is $178,000 above its traditionally held six months of operating revenues. Addressing that balance, Director Joaquin Arrillaga encouraged the board to maintain it because a new Master Plan Committee will soon begin its work and it may identify capital improvement projects on which it could be spent.
In other changes:
Funds budgeted for the Welcome Committee’s greeting bags for new homeowners, costing roughly $35, were increased to $10,080 from $7,000 to account for the average annual number of expected home closings.
WCA President Collazo stated he had just received back an RFP for the community’s transition to electronic voting and the single bid was twice what the draft budget had allocated. Arguing that electronic voting would increase participation by 80 to 90 percent, Collazo stated, “It will be worth it.” After the workshop, Collazo announced that $8,000 was placed into the budge, under the 4041 line for Other Committees, to fund electronic voting.
Participants also inquired about the high level of legal fees—$60,000—for board consultation with their attorney. Treasurer Shawn Yesner stated it was running that amount this year, adding that it had been at least $60,000 annually for a number of years. The amount budgeted, roughly $66,400, covers board consultations with the attorney on questions and personnel matters. Legal fees associated with late assessment collections ($5,074) and violation fine collection ($2,625) are far lower and captured in separate budget lines. According to WCA directors at the workshop, both the board and the WCA president are empowered to contact the attorney for opinions on topics of their choice. WCA President Collazo, who pegged reducing legal fees as one of his main goals in his board reelection bid last year, said during the budget workshop that he only consults WCA Attorney Jon Ellis for significant matters. Yesner concluded, stating, “I asked Jon to send me the bills and I looked at them and they all seem reasonable to me.”
The draft budget will now go before the WCA Board of Directors for approval at their Sept. 5 meeting [Note: This is a correction of the incorrect date of Sept. 12 announced in the original article]. Its approval there will trigger a 10-day review period by Westchase Voting Members. If the VMs do not take action to reject the budget, it will become the official 2020 budget.
By Chris Barrett, Publisher
NOTE: This article has been edited to correct the date of the board meeting at which WCA directors will approve their budget. This article originally reported the budget approval meeting as Sept. 12. It is Sept. 5. The board will meet on Sept. 12, but simply to select the board’s officers. WOW regrets the error.