Opinion: Independent Progressive: New RA Motto — ‘Ya Gotta Spend Money To Make Money’

Opinion: Independent Progressive: New RA Motto — ‘Ya Gotta Spend Money To Make Money’

On Thursday, Oct. 24, Reston Association will hold the hearing on its proposed 2020 budget. This is an opportunity to hear RA’s CEO and his sidekick, the Board President, sing their theme song, “Ya gotta spend money to make a little money,” and an opportunity to ask questions needing asking.

As you know dear reader, I am not a tight-fisted fiscal conservative. But I do insist that spending be justified based on need and competitive cost, and subject to strict accountability. Just three years ago, RA spending went out of control — remember the Tetra-Lake House scandal? Over $3 million burned on its purchase ($2.7 million) and a lavish rehab ($650,000). Work was done with single- source contracts or none at all. Management and financial controls collapsed. Results included departure of the CFO and dispirited Controller staff.

This Board seems intent on reversing all the progress that had been made by the Board that followed the debacle.

For starters, the CEO proposes another $160,000 for “repurposing” the Lake House as a profit center for corporate meetings and big-ticket weddings. You might remember how RA sold Lake House to us: to serve community needs — e.g., camps for kids, a meeting place for community groups? No more. In fact, the CEO proposes buying a canvas yurt ($25K) to accommodate young campers to be displaced from Lake House by high-end users. They may also need a swan boat or two and a dock. How else will brides and grooms be able to cross Lake Newport coming to, going from their weddings? Presumably RA will reveal other profit-making schemes Oct. 24. The CEO also mentions perhaps offering tour boat excursions on Reston lakes and having food trucks nearby to serve visitors on the lakes or attending other entertainment possibly offered on Reston lakes or at tot lots. More ideas might emerge from a recent “branding survey” contracted by RA. Survey results are not public- that is, not available to those of us who paid for it nor to the Fiscal Advisory Committee whose mission is to advise the Board on RA finances, financial management and accountability. In fact, the Fiscal Committee was also barred, until a few days ago, from seeing a contracted compensation study with major cost implications. At the last minute, the Committee got a heavily redacted version of it.

Transparency is not a feature of RA’s new leadership.

So, what is driving this profit making as RA’s top priority, with service to its members in second place? The big cost drivers are a sizeable increase in staff and an across-the-board bump in staff salaries and benefits. A net increase of ten positions is proposed, four of whom will be social marketers in Communications, in addition to covenants enforcement staff. The sorely needed Chief Financial Officer position will be dropped. While salary increases at mid-lower pay levels may be justified, others are questionable, like six top dogs over $125,000/year in our homeowners’ association. The increases plus “investments” in new profit centers mean another assessment increase and dipping into cash reserves in 2020 and 2021. Surely there are some questions for Oct. 24 in this area.

One last little item. There are other costs staring Reston in the face in the future. Depending on which estimates you believe, we are going to have 30,000 to 50,000 more Reston residents using many of our community facilities in years to come — those living in high density developments in the rail corridor. There is no guarantee that any of these folks will be paying RA assessments. To date, only a couple of projects have agreed to some future assessment payments at a fraction of what we all pay. At present there is no RA policy, much less a priority, requiring pursuit of assessments from the tens of thousands of residents to come. Instead, RA is focused on weddings and swan boats. Hope to see all Thursday, Oct. 24!