During a special meeting of the Pocahontas County Commission on Monday afternoon, Snowshoe Mountain CEO Frank DeBerry said opponents of a proposed resort area district (RAD) appear to have enough signatures to block the creation of the quasi-municipality.
During the past two months, resort management has collected postcard votes on the RAD from Snowshoe property owners. DeBerry said the last official count was two weeks ago.
“The last total, that I saw two weeks ago, that I had verified and validated, there were 238 petitions against, at the time, and about 185 petitions for,” he said.
DeBerry said much opposition had been generated by a letter campaign by Silver Creek resident and RAD opponent David Litsey.
“Several of the petitions against came from Mr. Litsey’s version of the signatory card that he distributed,” said DeBerry. “I certainly believe the statements that Mr. Litsey made to be incredible at best and malicious at worst.”
Snowshoe Mountain submitted a petition to create a RAD to the County Commission on March 18. Under the state law authorizing the creation of RADs, passed last year, county commissions have the power to approve or disapprove RAD petitions. However, if 25 percent of property owners within a proposed district oppose the RAD, the petition dies and cannot be re-submitted for one year.
According to DeBerry, the latest unofficial count puts opponents over their threshold.
“The unofficial count, that I received this afternoon from the auditor, is that we have 521 signatures against,” he said. “The threshold of 25 percent is 471, therefore, the unofficial count is that we may have enough petition signatures against the RAD that it can’t move forward.”
During the meeting, eight Snowshoe property owners spoke against the RAD; two spoke in favor of the RAD; and one said she is undecided.
Bill McHenry said he holds a master’s degree in public policy and a doctorate degree in organizational planning. McHenry said the Legislature passed the RAD legislation without input from property owners.
“This piece of legislation was introduced at the state level, crafted without any input from the homeowners,” he said. “It was done by a corporation, a for-profit corporation.”
McHenry said research had proven that a RAD would not benefit homeowners.
“There’s a foundation of academically-sound, peer reviewed knowledge that tells us that special tax districts are not good for homeowners,” he said. “They are good for corporations.”
With deed conditions, Snowshoe Mountain currently collects an assessment from property owners known as the Mountain Top Assessment, or MTA. The annual MTA cannot exceed 1.5 percent of the property value.
Ed Grunwald said he opposes the RAD because it would be “a new level of taxation.” Grunwald said his property value had decreased in recent years, while his MTA had increased.
Dave Dragan said he supports the RAD because “the MTA system is broken.” Dragan said property owners have a vested interest in the success of Snowshoe Mountain.
“Homeowners have zero without Snowshoe being a success,” he said.
Camp Four condominium association president Don Miller said he opposes the RAD because there is an insufficient level of trust between homeowners and resort management. Miller said he spent years and thousands of dollars fighting management to make repairs at Camp Four.
Snowshoe property owner and employee Elisa Colpitt said she supports the RAD because it would help improve roads and other infrastructure at the resort.
Former House of Delegates Member Julia Elbon opposed the RAD petition on several points. She said Snowshoe Mountain’s parent company, Intrawest, had pushed RAD legislation through the Legislature with little concern for its constitutionality.
“This legislation was prepared by Intrawest for their purpose of raising money on the assets of property owners at Snowshoe, without giving the property owners equal protection of the law or protection entitled to by purchase contracts,” she said.
Katherine Long said she is still undecided, but was concerned that the RAD could be a burden on property owners. Long compared a RAD to a tourniquet.
“The tourniquet aspect of it is, we are potentially signing onto something that we’re not allowed to take off,” she said. “Once it goes on, it stays on.”
Litsey said the RAD enabling legislation violates the state constitution by allowing unlimited RAD indebtedness, by allowing only property owners to vote for representatives, and by interfering with existing contracts.
Sam Gibson said he opposes the RAD petition because resort guests would end up paying more for visits and vacations. Gibson said Snowshoe Mountain and Intrawest should have planned better for development and should fund their own repairs.
Norman Melton said he opposes the RAD because, with the construction of a new Snowshoe sewage plant, homeowners will be paying very high rates and could not bear the additional financial burden of RAD assessments.
The County Commission will hold a final public meeting on Saturday, July 19 at 10 a.m. DeBerry said he would provide a verified vote count at that time. If the official count shows at least 471 property owners opposed to the RAD, the commission can take no action. If the opposition count is less than 471, the Commission will consider and act on the RAD petition.
If a RAD is created, it becomes a public corporation, governed by a seven-member board. Residential property owners would elect three board members; resort management would appoint two representatives; commercial business property owners would elect one representative; and unimproved property owners would elect one representative. Under that framework and with current ownership, Snowshoe Mountain is guaranteed a majority of four board members.
The RAD would have power to collect retail resort service fees up to five percent. Although not authorized to collect property taxes, the RAD would have power to collect property value-based assessments for public infrastructure and public safety projects. The RAD would have the power to create and operate a police force, known as “resort area rangers.”