Opinion: Independent Progressive: New Direction for Reston Association

Opinion: Independent Progressive: New Direction for Reston Association

Last Thursday, curiosity drove me to the Reston Association to hear an initial discussion of next year’s RA budget, the first to be prepared and managed by Hank Lynch who took the reins as RA’s CEO in January 2019. Lynch was to introduce his vision for RA’s future and the resources needed to take us there.

Before the Board of Directors and Fiscal Advisory Committee members could get to the agenda, however, about 25 residents demanded to speak about the “rumor” that RA was going to close Lake Thoreau swimming pool. It seems the RA South Lakes Director, in a monumental gaffe, let it slip the Board was considering doing so. For over an hour, the group demanded the pool be saved, tearing into RA’s evil plan and various past sins as well — despite being assured by the Board President that no such decision had been made. Most were unconvinced.

Welcome to Reston, Mr. Lynch. Please begin your presentation.

Lynch smoothly used the community upset to segway into his plans to repair the “obviously damaged” RA brand. He reported that Brand Consultancy is already surveying our region to develop a basis for repairing the brand. This six-figure contract is an initial step towards Lynch’s two new goals for RA: 1) striving for 100 percent customer satisfaction; and, 2) striving to increase the value of all Reston properties. He sees RA in years ahead as having two fundamental roles — a profit-making business and member customer service. Profit-making will be essential to help fund the budget growth needed to achieve the stated goals because, as he rightly pointed out, it is unlikely that assessment increases at the funding levels he wants will be feasible. He sees the budget reaching stable levels in 3-4 years, after which increases will be needed only to cover inflation, i.e., 2 to 3 percent per annum. David Kerr, Chairman of the Fiscal Committee, challenged Lynch’s underlying budgetary constraint premise. Kerr pointed out that for the last five years, RA had in fact ended every budget year with uncommitted balances between $300,000 and $800,000. Lynch said he could be counted on to spend every bit of approved budgets.

He said the Lake House was an excellent acquisition, an example of an asset that could pull in corporate bucks, after some redesign and improvements. He suggested staff morale is a problem, perhaps pay related. When a Fiscal Committee member countered that he thought staff was well paid (e.g., generous health plan and six folks making over $120K?), Lynch said he has a compensation study in process “which says the opposite.” Besides increases in pay and benefits, growth is planned in new personnel, e.g. corporate relations and social marketing as well as capital costs for profit-making infrastructure. To start, a net of 10 new staff are proposed next year, enough to pose a space problem in RA HQ.

“You have to spend money to make money,” said President Baum, more than once. What potential new money-making activities are under consideration? Here are some intended to bring in money from visitors, not just residents: tour boats to take visitors around Reston lakes, more boat rentals on lakes, concession stands by lakes and other facilities; tour bikes or electric scooter rentals; airport shuttles; wellness center with spa and massage, meditation classes, state-of-the-art fitness center; adventure park w/climbing ropes, upscale water park, outdoor theatre like Shakespeare in the woods; “Celebrate Reston” events around lakes with food trucks, music, booths. These are preliminary ideas only, reminded Lynch.

By evening’s end, I had a lot of new material to process, including some promising ideas from Lynch. I, too, think we might want to consider new recreational infrastructure, facilities. And, it may be time for Pickleball courts.

However, I was troubled by some of his premises. I agree with Kerr and Iyer that he has not demonstrated there is a structural shortfall in the budget. While I applaud his customer service satisfaction goal, I was disappointed that there was no mention of the totally depleted support to Reston’s 150 or so cluster and condo associations, and for welcoming/introducing the many thousands of newcomers in our future. Perhaps Lynch should expand his introductory listening tour beyond the narrow confines of the RA HQ.

What do you think? Send comments/letters to editors@connectionnnewspapers.com