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DeBerry takes RAD trip to local communities

RADInfoMeeting3Sep14smThe Pocahontas County Commission voted down Snowshoe Mountain, Inc.’s petition to create a resort area district (RAD) on August 19. Commissioners Jamie Walker and William Beard cited the large number of questions they had received about the proposal when they objected to Commissioner David Fleming’s motion to approve the petition.

Both Walker and Beard said the RAD seems like a good idea, but that more time was needed for themselves and the general public to be clear on certain details. Foremost among their concerns is the impact that a RAD would have on the county at large.

The State Legislature authorized the formation of RADs last year, but none has been created in West Virginia. A RAD is a public corporation, governed by an elected seven-member board. The RAD board would be authorized to impose a “resort service fee” (RSF) as much as five percent on certain retail transactions. The RAD board would also have the power to borrow money and impose property assessments for public works projects within the district.

In order to inform the public about details of Snowshoe Mountain’s proposed RAD, CEO Frank DeBerry conducted public meetings in Linwood, Marlinton and Green Bank last week. The Marlinton meeting was held on September 3 at Snowshoe Career Center.

During the County Commission meeting a day earlier, Walker questioned if the Commission was required to wait a year before reconsidering the RAD petition. DeBerry responded to that question during the public meeting.

“The only thing the statute says about waiting a year is if you hit the protest threshold,” he said. “We didn’t hit the protest threshold, so they can handle it as they wish. At any point in time, they can decide to approve, continue to discuss or deny the petition.”

DeBerry said road repairs are a major issue that inspired the need for a RAD.

“Road care is the big one,” he said. “Right now, the extent of the road network that’s been built, there are not enough ongoing funds and there are no reserves in place to adequately care for those roads. For the past several years, we’ve been patching potholes where we can. I’ve had several owners ask me, ‘when are you going to pave our road?’ and I say, ‘based on MTA [Mountain Top Assessment] funds we have coming in – never.’”

The MTA is an assessment written into deeds of most Snowshoe properties, capped at 1.5 percent of property value. The resort collects $2.4 million from the MTA every year.

Another pressing need is greater law enforcement presence on the mountain.

“There’s a general feeling that public safety on the mountain needs to be enhanced with law enforcement,” said DeBerry. “I think, if this passes, the homeowners will elect board members who will decide how we should go about law enforcement. Should it be a district ranger program? Should it be enhanced cooperation with the State Police or additional cooperation with the County Sheriff? What’s the best way to make that happen? The easiest thing to do, right now, but also probably an expensive one, is to simply enhance the contract with the State Police.”

In order to help fund road repairs, law enforcement and other public needs at the resort, Snowshoe Mountain’s petition states that an initial RSF of two percent would be collected on lift ticket sales, food and beverage sales, retail sales, and equipment rentals – generating more than $500,000 annually. An elected RAD board could establish a different RSF rate at any time, but DeBerry has stated that a two-percent RSF is sufficient to meet current needs.

The Pocahontas County Commission receives between $1 million and $1.5 million in hotel/motel tax revenue every year, the great majority of which comes from Snowshoe. The Commission has questioned a RAD’s impact on county hotel/motel tax revenue. DeBerry reiterated that no law authorizes a RAD to receive any portion of a county’s hotel/motel tax revenue. The CEO has said that public works improvements completed by a RAD likely would increase Snowshoe tourism and, therefore, increase county tax revenue.

“Saying that we would be entitled to hotel/motel tax would be the same thing as saying the Public Service District is entitled to hotel/motel tax,” he said. “We’re both public corporations, but neither of is is a municipality or a county government.”

A RAD would not be a municipality, but would have the power to borrow money and apply for grants through the same state agencies – including the Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council – as local municipalities. This would place the RAD in competition with municipalities for limited no-interest loans, low-interest loans and public grant money. The resort currently has no access to those funds.

DeBerry responded to a question about the resort’s water system.

“Could it be turned over to the RAD?” he asked. “It’s certainly not in the plan. Snowshoe would somehow have to sell or donate it. It could be turned over to the Public Service District, as well. But Snowshoe could continue to maintain it. It generates a small amount of cash for us every year – a very small amount – but it does. I don’t know that the establishment of the RAD impacts what we do on the water treatment plant. But, theoretically, the RAD could take that on.”

Snowshoe homeowner Pat Stump said a RAD board would need to be in near-unanimous agreement to take on the water project.

“It takes six of seven votes for the RAD to decide even if it would want to take on the water system,” he said. “Because of the structure of the board, it’s going to have to be a decision that is made based on – is it a viable entity for the RAD to take on?”

DeBerry said the six vote requirement for major actions was written into the statute to protect all RAD constituent interests.

“The idea of the supermajority is to make sure that no one interest can railroad another interest,” he said. “Not only does it prevent Snowshoe from going out there with some sort of an assessment, but it protects Snowshoe from someone else going out there and saying, ‘let’s throw this down and put that burden on Snowshoe.’”

DeBerry invited any community member to contact him with questions on the RAD proposal.

“If any other questions do come up, just call or email, or if you want to get together, that’s great,” he said. “It’s been an open process from the start and I want it to continue to be an open process.”

DeBerry can be reached by calling Snowshoe Mountain Resort at 304-572-1000 or emailing fdeberry@snowshoemountain.com.

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