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WCA Draft Budget Sees Proposed $21 Cut in HOA Assessment

Meeting on Aug. 11, nearly two dozen Westchase Voting Members (VMs) and Westchase Community Association Board of Directors reviewed and shaped a draft of the association’s 2016 budget.

The roughly two-hour session was held immediately following the VMs’ monthly meeting.

If adopted without change at the Thursday, Aug. 13 meeting of the WCA Board, Westchase homeowners will see a $21 decrease (a 6.7 percent decline) in their HOA dues to $298 in 2016. The homeowner’s assessment covers costs associated with the swim and tennis centers and enforcement of the community’s rules. The 2015 HOA assessment, due last January, was $319.

Click here to view the final version of the draft budget that emerged from the workshop.

Opening the session, Community Association Manager Debbie Sainz presented her draft budget, which initially pitched an assessment of $316 before the group suggested changes.

Reviewing the budget’s line items, Sainz pointed to a significant decrease in the association’s insurance costs, which are projected to decline nearly $35,000. Budgeted write-offs for uncollectable debts and fines also decreased $15,000. Those decreases, however, were entirely offset by a budgeted $5,000 increase to the line for the swim and tennis center’s program supplies and a $45,000 increase to the association’s reserves, funds annually set aside for the repair and replacement of expensive assets to avoid special assessments. That amount represented a 37 percent increase to amounts budgeted for reserves in 2015.

The workshop’s main points of discussion and debate hinged on a handful of issues. First, both Sainz and WCA President Joaquin Arrillaga observed that the association should budget for a document review and amendment process; the previous one was completed in 2014. Amounts of $9,400 for printing and mailing to homeowners and $15,000 for legal review were added to the draft, initially raising the proposed assessment $7 per home to $323.

Seeing some debate, however, was $2,000 initially budgeted for karate class supplies for the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. Karate classes are held at the center and offered by a private contractor. VM Don Costello (Stamford) and WCA Director Dyan Pithers called for its removal from the budget, arguing that the private contractor should provide his own equipment. While Operations Manager Kelly Shires stated budgeting for pads and other karate class supplies was no different than budgeting for swim and tennis teams’ supplies such as kickboards and tennis balls, he made no headway and Sainz removed the $2,000.

Glenfield VM Patrick O’Brien followed by observing that over $700,000 of the association’s $1.6 million was spent on swim and tennis programs and he questioned how many residents actually used them. Pithers, however, came to the programs’ defense, stating that the programs’ fee structures are designed to ensure that the programs pay their own costs. Further, she added, many of the costs behind the $700,000 were for maintenance and operational costs of the pools and tennis courts, which would exist regardless of the programs.

Receiving the greatest scrutiny were budgeted funds for capital improvements. That number included $10,000 for interior pool fencing that would allow West Park Village tennis players access to the bathrooms there; all present appeared to agree that expenditure should be maintained. The capital improvements line, however, included an additional $83,000 and Sainz’s budget notes stated it would be spent on improvements to a recently cleared area between the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center courts and the fire station. Noted improvements included light poles, landscaping and the construction of a gazebo with a concrete base. WCA President Joaquin Arrillaga stated these reflected the recommendations of the Swim and Tennis Committee. While some, including O’Brien and WCA Director Ruben Collazo, indicated support for the project, Pithers and WCA Director Brian Ross both emphasized that the potential improvements for the site had not been finalized and wanted to consider other options.

The draft budget was then changed to remove the notations while keeping the $83,000 in funds intact. Those funds, however, were later removed after WOW’s reporter offered some further budget information.

WOW Publisher Chris Barrett stated he had sat down that morning with Sainz and Arrillaga for a broader look at the association’s financials. Barrett stated that while the group effectively set various line items each year, budget workshop discussion tended to overlook the overall performance of the budget in prior years. He indicated that the 2014 budget year ended with a $150,000 surplus and in 2013 the WCA had a $200,000 surplus. He added that despite spending more than $70,000 more than budgeted this year for capital improvements, after the first six months of this year, the association was already running a $43,000 surplus. This he attributed in part to the WCA’s regular underestimation of capital contributions made by new home buyers. He concluded by also encouraging discussion about appropriate levels for the association’s retained earnings (or fund balance), which are surplus funds the association holds in addition to its designated reserves for large assets. Currently over $800,000, the WCA’s retained earnings, observed WCA Treasurer Dyan Pithers at the workshop, could adequately cover six to seven months of operating expenses.

While Arrillaga had previously recalled the WCA auditor as recommending retention of three months’ operating expenses, Pithers, however, recalled the recommendation as being three to six months. Ross echoed support for keeping the larger amount. Discussion eventually produced a decision to budget only $20,000 for capital improvements, funding the West Park Village fence and a safety fence around the cleared parcel near the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center. Any further development of the cleared parcel beside the tennis courts would be funded with this year’s running surplus and, if need be, a portion of retained earnings.

The budget workshop concluded with Sainz announcing she would make the requested updates and forward the completed draft budget the following morning. That draft ultimately showed an increase of $14,000 to the projected revenue line for capital contributions from new home buyers. When it was combined with the removal of the capital improvement funds and other tweaks, the finalized draft budget suggested a homeowner’s assessment of $298 for 2016. The cut in assessments represents a total of $73,038 across all Westchase homes.

If approved without change at the WCA Board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13, the draft will become the official spending plan of the association if VMs do not formally reject it within 10 days. In previous years, however, the board has made occasional minor changes to the workshop draft prior to approval.

The WCA Board meets at 7 p.m. at the WCA Office Building on Parley Drive.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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