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WCA Workshop Draft Budget Sets Assessment at $320

After two hours of combing through their spending plan, Westchase Voting Members and WCA Directors have pitched a draft budget that, if approved, cuts the Westchase HOA assessment by $2 in 2015.

Westchase Voting Members’ (VMs), along with members of the Westchase Community Association (WCA) Board of Directors, convened at roughly 8 p.m. following VMs’ monthly meeting on Aug. 19. They heard Community Association Manager Debbie Sainz offer a review of her proposed spending plan for 2015.

While the plan initially pitched a budget that would have kept WCA assessment at last year’s $322 rate, a handful of adjustments to the draft shaved $2.

The proposed budget, which can be viewed by clicking here, contains a number of increases and decreases. Some highlighted by the management team prior to the budget workshop included:

  • A 20 percent increase in postage costs from $23,279 to 28,027 for an increase in violation notices mailed along with a slight increase in postage costs
  • A 119 percent increase in Web site/e-mail hosting costs from $1,480 to $3,248 due to the association’s push for e-mail contact system for residents
  • An 8 percent increase in audit fees, from $6,000 to $6,500 (this amount was decreased from $7,500 in the originally released budget draft)
  • A 30 percent increase in overall legal fees from $53,174 to $68,930
  • While budget amounts for general liability insurance have declined approximately two percent ($920), property insurance coverage due to the new Tennis Cabana has increased 29 percent from $10,619 to 13,690.
  • A 139 percent increase in pool equipment from $5,724 to 13,655 for the purchase of a chemical controller for the West Park Village pool and the purchase of new pool heater coils
  • Due to a 2014 overestimate for staffing needed for the West Park pools, 2015 payroll decreases 3.8 percent from $332,540 to $320,035.
  • An 11 percent decrease in pool chemical costs from $57,520 to $50,960 due to the new chemical controller
  • Capital improvements have been budgeted for a 25.4 percent increase, from $25,000 to $31,342. (The initially released draft had improvements pegged at $28,462; due to changes in the USTA grant requirements for the proposed Tennis Cabana, additional funds were later added). According to Association Manager Debbie Sainz, the capital improvement line consists of $13,342 in construction costs associated with the Tennis Cabana and tennis court work. That line also budgets $12,000 for an additional stationery pool awning and $6,000 for a shade awning over the children’s pool at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. However, the draft contains a second capital improvements line, called “Future Capital Improvements,” on which an additional $7,500 is budgeted for structural repairs to the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center’s storage room. Totaled, budgeted capital improvements thus equal $38,842, an increase of 55.3 percent over amounts budgeted last year.
  • Reserves (funds set aside for replacement and maintenance of big-ticket items) decrease by almost $28,000, or 18 percent, from $154,409 to $126,568. For 2015 Sainz zeroed out roughly $8,500 for resurfacing tennis courts every six years (they will be resurfaced during upcoming tennis court renovations). In addition, all funds needed to pay insurance deductibles have been fully reserved, cutting roughly $20,000 from the reserve line.

While budget workshop participants examined each line of the budget, only a handful triggered discussion and fewer prompted an actual change to the draft. Sainz, as mentioned, pointed out that a change in the USTA grant prompted an upward adjustment to the capital improvement line of just under $3,000 from the previously distributed draft to cover that portion of the tennis construction projects not yet funded; funds budgeted for the audit also went down $1,000.

Citing lower than expected income from vending machines, VM Kathy Carlsen (Glenfield) wondered if their use should be reconsidered. Sainz, however, stated that while the 2014 budget included costs for hiring a company to handle the purchase of vending machine supplies, she’s handled their purchase herself, saving those funds. Thus, the income from the machines, while not covering their original purchase cost, is still covering their current operating costs.

While Carlsen also expressed concern over the doubling of the association’s budgeted e-mail and web costs from $1,480 to $3,248, the budgeted number remained.

Citing the presence of free board training opportunities elsewhere, VM Carlos Quiros encouraged the board to remove its own training costs (board training is now mandated by state law), particularly costs associated with having the association’s attorney attend. Quiros stated that Westchase management company, Greenacre Properties, Inc., hosts a free board member training that was superior to the WCA’s. The line was left as is, however, after Director Ken Blair said that GPI’s training did not offer everything that the one led by the WCA’s attorney did.

Triggering the greatest VM discussion were the lines associated with the WCA’s legal costs. The budget breaks out projected fees paid to Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick for its various services, with $12,500 budgeted for collection of delinquent HOA assessments, up from $10,000 in 2014; $7,200 for collection of deed restriction violation fees, the same as 2014; and $49,230 for general legal work, such as board advice, up from $35,974. VMs focused on this increase in general legal expenses with Carlsen pointing out it represented a 37 percent increase over last year.

VM Don Costello (Stamford) added that the increase was on top of another big increase between 2013 and 2014. Between those years, budgeted general legal expenses rose $7,654, an increase of 27 percent. Thus, in two years, the association’s budgeted general legal expenses have risen from $28,320 to $60,766, an increase of $32,466 or 115 percent. Costello pointed out that last year VMs were told the $7,654 increase was necessary to complete this past summer’s amendments to Westchase’s governing documents. He inquired why those funds hadn’t been subsequently removed from the 2015 budget.

Sainz responded that she’d estimated general legal expenses by running an 18-month average after removing the actual costs associated with the document amendments. She cited the increase as being caused by the board’s need for legal assistance during their Costco development negotiations and a recent increase in the attorney’s fees, which she said was either 10 or 12 percent.

When Costello asked why the general legal number couldn’t be lowered now that the Costco negotiations were complete, WCA President Sells stated the increase was needed by the association because of its efforts to lobby the county for funding of the Citrus Park Drive extension. In recent months, the board voted to use the attorney to make introductions between WCA directors and Hillsborough County Commissioners. Citing this decision, Costello asked if board members didn’t just consider calling the commissioners themselves.

Sells and Directors Joaquin Arrillaga and Joe Odda, however, defended the budgeted legal funds as necessary for successful political lobbying, with Odda adding he would need the attorney’s assistance to draft a petition supporting the funding of the road.

Costello, however, expressed his opposition to the new use of the attorney for lobbying, stating a previous board had defeated county plans to widen Linebaugh Avenue by rallying the community and “printing a few buttons.”

Returning to the attorney’s increase in fees, Carlsen pointed to growing competition in the legal market and asked if it was time to look for a better price. When another VM inquired when the last time the association had bid the association’s legal work, Sainz responded, “Oh, a couple of years ago, I think.”

WOW’s reporter weighed in. “It was actually more than a couple of years,” he stated.

“It was four or five years ago,” Director Dyan Pithers said.

“That’s a long time not to bid a major service provider,” the WOW reporter responded.

“In your opinion,” Pithers said.

Checked later, WOW’s records indicated that the association last competitively bid its legal work more than six years ago, in July of 2008.

Carlsen continued, arguing that the assessments could be dropped two dollars per home simply by keeping budgeted legal expenses the same from 2014 to 2015. (Note: The resulting decrease would be closer to $4 per home.) Carlsen argued it would be an important symbolic gesture given the expected significant increase in CDD assessments.

“At what cost?” Pithers countered. “What if something blindsides us?”

After more VM comments, Carlsen stated that there was no use continuing the discussion because it was clear the board was not going to budge on lowering the spending line for legal fees. The remark, however, triggered Sells to say that the budget workshop was meant to let everyone weigh in. After VM Eric Holt (Radcliffe) called for a vote, the only straw poll of the evening was taken. VMs and board members voted 10-6 to leave the legal amount budgeted as is. The informal vote, however, showed a difference of opinion between the groups. While all board members present and voting cast their straw votes in favor of maintaining the line, the majority of VMs still present and voting, however, cast theirs in opposition. (While the original VM meeting saw 20 VMs and all seven board members present, approximately 10 VMs trickled out during the budget workshop.)

Concluding major discussion, VM Costello pointed to projected Westchase Summer Camp costs and observed that they were higher than budgeted camp revenues. He added it had been the association’s policy that the summer program had to pay for itself. Sainz then removed one of the budgeted camp counselors, shaving nearly $5,500 in costs.

The adjustment ultimately dropped the projected assessment from $322 to $320. “There’s your two dollars in savings,” she observed.

The WCA Board will hold its monthly meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4, when they will consider and possibly accept the budget that emerged from the workshop. If it is approved, VMs then have ten days to reject the spending plan. If no action is taken, the budget becomes the official 2015 spending plan for the association.

By Chris Barrett

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