RAD opponents fall short in close vote
The Pocahontas County Commission held a special meeting Saturday morning to count votes from Snowshoe property owners on a proposed resort area district (RAD), which would encompass Snowshoe Mountain and Silver Creek resorts. RAD opponents hoped to muster 458 votes against the proposal – representing 25 percent of qualified voters – to block the process for one year. But the final tally showed just 443 votes (24.2 percent) from RAD opponents, allowing the commission to move forward with approval or disapproval of the new district.
Snowshoe Mountain, Inc., filed a petition with the commission to create a RAD on April 15. The corporation mailed signature cards to all property owners in the proposed district, requesting their vote on the issue. Only property owners inside the proposed district were allowed to vote. The corporation hired Certified Public Accountant Michael Griffith to collect and certify ballots from property owners. Griffith reported approximately 200 votes in favor of the RAD, although “yes” votes are irrelevant in the RAD petition process.
The commission agreed to consider and act on the RAD petition during its meeting on August 19 at 5:30 p.m.
During a public comment period, 10 affected property owners spoke against the RAD and two spoke in favor of the RAD.
David Litsey, who waged a letter-writing campaign against the RAD, said RAD provisions dealing with voting, indebtedness, and existing contracts violate the West Virginia and U.S. constitutions. Litsey noted that several property owners had not been notified of the vote, and that the law requires notification of all owners.
Griffith confirmed that he had been unable to contact 42 of the 1,829 qualified voters.
Mike Pancione said Snowshoe CEO Frank DeBerry had been very cooperative during preliminary planning, but that he opposes a RAD for two reasons. Pancione said the RAD should be divided into three districts to provide equal representation on the governing board, and that the RAD charter should include a dissolution clause.
Neal Rehberg said he voted against the RAD because of concerns that corporation management would have too much power. Rehberg said the RAD could be a “win-win” for the corporation and property owners if better checks and balances are incorporated into the charter.
Bruce Wessell said he supports the RAD because it gives property owners more control over community management than they currently enjoy. Wessell described a former homeowners association as a “watchdog without teeth,” and said owners would have greater power, even in the minority on an elected RAD board.
Under the proposed RAD framework, residential property owners would elect three members of a seven-member RAD board. Corporation management would have an initial majority of four board members, which would only change in the event of major shifts in non-residential property ownership.
Sam Gibson stated his opinion that taxpayer money should not be used to fund corporate projects. Gibson said Snowshoe Mountain should find a way to fund necessary improvement projects, without creation of a corporate special tax district.
If a RAD is created, it will have the power to collect a “retail transaction fee,” and collect property assessments to fund public works projects.
Richard Marker said he opposed the current RAD proposal due to the lack of a dissolution clause. Marker suggested a provision that would allow dissolution by a majority vote, following a petition by 25 percent of property owners.
In response to concerns about proposed RAD bylaws, Snowshoe Mountain CEO Frank DeBerry said that preliminary bylaws, prepared by a founding committee, are “a skeleton,” and that final bylaws would be drafted and approved by elected board members.
Commissioner David Fleming praised Snowshoe’s work on the RAD initiative.
“The process that has unfolded before us is as good as it gets,” he said.
Fleming said judging the constitutionality of the RAD statute is not the Commission’s role.
“Our role is to make our best shot and pass this or not,” he said. “As far as problems with constitutionality, we’re not the Circuit Court, we’re certainly not the Supreme Court. I think the role of the County Commission is to either pass it or not and make sure our concerns are met.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker said he is concerned that persons who do not own property in the district – therefore ineligible to vote in RAD elections – could serve as board members.
“It concerns me a little bit that you can actually have a seat on the board, but cannot vote for yourself,” he said. “If you’re a representative, you should be able to vote for yourself.”
Walker said he needed more assurance that a RAD would not affect county hotel occupancy tax collection, and said he favors a dissolution clause, but is uncertain whether the Commission has the authority to insert such a clause into the RAD charter.
Commissioner William Beard said several people had asked him about a RAD’s impact on county revenue.
“I got a lot of phone calls and I received a lot of comments from various people I’ve run into in the last couple weeks,” he said. “A lot of people do not understand it and they’re concerned. They’re concerned, like Mr. Walker, about the hotel/motel tax. There’s also concern about going back to the Legislature and changing the law and taking a portion of the property taxes, and whether that is a possibility.”
“As three members on the Commission, we need to look into some of these issues,” Beard added.
The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 7, at 8:30 a.m. The Commission will consider and act on the RAD petition during its regular meeting on August 19 at 5:30 p.m.