By Robert Bumgarner
“People commit to that which they have a hand in creating.”
In his recent article, “The Care and Feeding of Our Parks and Amenities,” Gordon Pelton accurately described the effects of the zero sum game at work in Lake Wildwood budgeting processes. It’s a game that pits various interest groups in a competition for limited capital improvement funds where one group’s gain comes at the expense of others. This process generates hard feelings among those left with less funding than they sought and produces political pressures that tend to stymie Board decision-making and action.
As a result, some proposed projects have been on hold for years, including updates to our tired old Clubhouse, renovations to the golf course, enhancement to boating facilities at Meadow Park, a proper home for our pickleball enthusiasts, an exercise facility, and a second toilet for the North Gate tennis facility. Why do you suppose we have such difficulty acting to improve facilities that enhance the value of all our properties?
Like tigers crouched in jungle foliage, false assumptions lie behind such inaction. For example, the Board’s guidelines for budget development this year stipulate that a key financial criterion will be to, “Strive to keep the Annual Assessment flat year-over-year.” Since we have not set aside reserves to renovate or replace the Clubhouse or golf course greenscape, this policy will not provide the money we need or to accomplish these goals. And you can forget pickleball or a toilet for tennis.
I know of no poll or policy that requires the Board to avoid increases in the annual assessment. Indeed, a poll last year by Alex Alexander found that 78% of our members favor “affordable progress,” which undoubtedly would come at some additional cost. Alex also noted that about 7% of our members are living on a tight budget. But instead of allowing that fact to impede necessary or desirable amenity updates and additions, why not grant reasonable assessment exemptions to low-income members?
As to “affordable progress,” how is the Board to know what that means and in which direction to point “progress”? Of course, our Master Plan should guide the hand of the Board in this regard but the Board has not adopted an update to the plan in several years. Perhaps uncertainties regarding the wishes of the membership, the cost of improvements under consideration, and annual changes to the Board have combined to impede acceptance?
To help build a consensus regarding the meaning of affordable progress, all members should be surveyed and asked to identify their preferences regarding alternative approaches to existing and proposed amenities, to define their priorities, and to indicate how they would prefer to pay for improvements. For example, should the Clubhouse be rebuilt on the same site or simply remodeled to better accommodate golf (and maybe an exercise facility)? Should we then move our primary dining service to a new lakefront restaurant near the Community Center, thus making food service available at this underutilized gathering place? And shouldn’t the chosen approach enable us to improve operating results at the restaurant, perhaps by allowing public dining? Without input on such issues, the Board will be unable to divine a plan that reflects our collective preferences and to which the membership will be willing to commit substantial sums of money.
Now comes the tough part: How can we generate enough votes to approve the assessments needed to fund improvements that will enable Lake Wildwood to remain competitive? For example, more than 1,500 members did not vote in the recent Board of Directors election.
First, we must convince members who do not normally vote that their participation will make a difference. Sincerely inviting them to help shape the nature and priority of planned improvements is an excellent first step.
Next, we must set aside false assumptions like “my vote won’t make any difference,” “we can rebuild functionally obsolete amenities like the Clubhouse without increasing the annual assessment,” and “the Board can do it without our help.”
Finally, we must transform our view of dated amenities as problems to be solved and, instead, envision a set of possibilities for the future that are consistent with the wishes of most members and which will garner the votes needed to approve necessary funding.
In this way, we can create our future together.