Commentary: Budgeting Issues for Both RA and RCC

Commentary: Budgeting Issues for Both RA and RCC

Budget issues have surfaced at both Reston Association (RA) and the Reston Community Center (RCC). At RA, issues arose as the Board began consideration of the 2019 portion of its biennial budget. In RCC, budget issues were raised by a candidate for RCC’s Board of Governors.

Unlike RA, RCC is part of the Fairfax County government.

I attended the special RA Board meeting convened Aug. 20 to receive the 2019 budget proposal from the RA CEO (Acting) and staff. Normally, the RA Board triggers budget preparation by giving the CEO and staff its guidance for a new biennial budget, i.e., goals and principles set by the Board. The 2019 budget was prepared for the review and ultimate approval by a Board with different leadership than the one that gave staff guidance for the two-year (2018-19) budget a year ago.

As someone familiar with 2018 budget process and now observing the 2019 process begin, I noticed obvious disconnects between the reviews of the two. The 2018 budget review was chaired by Sherri Hebert along with Treasurer Sridhar Ganesan. The Fiscal Committee (community volunteers of longstanding) played a minor role only. This year there is a new President, Andy Sigle, elected by the new Board in a hard-fought vote. However, the Fiscal Committee which advises the Board is a new team appointed by the former Board.

Last year, the Board’s guidance to staff for budget preparation set a new direction indeed, calling for greater budget discipline and tightening. As a result, the 2018 budget process resulted in the first reduction in homeowner assessments in RA history. Further, that Board planned continued trimming for years following 2018 as well. They used a surplus to pay off the mortgage on the scandal-plagued Tetra building. They also called for reduction in the employee health plan subsidy from 100 percent paid by assessment dollars to 95 percent in 2018, and 90 percent in 2019; and they foresaw future reductions in legal expenses, inter alia.

The staff, realizing that there was a new sheriff chairing this Board, proposed budget increases and an assessment increase initially of $37! President Sigle seemed to waiver. He asked that staff take a closer look, but did not press for reduction.

Interestingly, the new Fiscal Committee took a stand for real trimming of the proposal. The Committee’s Board Liaison, who is getting known as somewhat of a Dr. No, backed them. In my view, the RA budget had gotten too plush. The discipline initiated by the prior leadership was needed, overdue even. Let’s hope their principles prevail. We shall see.

The case of the Community Center is quite different. The preponderance of Community Center funds come from a surcharge on all Reston Fairfax County property taxes. The RCC budget has a tidy surplus at present. And, there is the prospect of substantial growth in future revenues as several major residential and commercial developments come on line with new taxpaying owners in tax district # 5 chipping in to the RCC budget. At the same time, RCC will be expected to provide services to new arrivals, mostly in the rail corridor, as they do for the rest of us. That will likely mean adding modest service facilities in the Wiehle station area, for example.

Dick Stillson a candidate for the RCC Board of Governors with exceptional foresight has analyzed the likely new growth. He believes that RCC can extend the necessary services and still have a surplus sufficient to suggest it is time to examine the possibility of reducing the District #5 tax rate. His judgment is based on long experience, including 20 years with the International Monetary Fund. He would be a great addition to the RCC Board.