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Snowshoe property owners discuss RAD

Two Pocahontas County commissioners attended a Snowshoe homeowner meeting on Saturday to hear a discussion about a proposed resort area district (RAD). Homeowners on both sides of the issue expressed their opinions during the meeting. In the photo, left to right: Commissioner Jamie Walker, Commissioner David McLaughlin, Snowshoe property owner Bill McHenry and Snowshoe Mountain President Frank DeBerry.
Two Pocahontas County commissioners attended a Snowshoe homeowner meeting on Saturday to hear a discussion about a proposed resort area district (RAD). Homeowners on both sides of the issue expressed their opinions during the meeting. In the photo, left to right: Commissioner Jamie Walker, Commissioner David McLaughlin, Snowshoe property owner Bill McHenry and Snowshoe Mountain President Frank DeBerry.

As the West Virginia Legislature took action on a revised resort area district (RAD) statute, Snowshoe property owners, including several homeowner association presidents, held a meeting at Mountain Lodge on Saturday to discuss a proposed Snowshoe RAD.

The Pocahontas County Commission is the approval authority for a RAD and Commissioners Jamie Walker and David McLaughlin attended the meeting.

Snowshoe President Frank DeBerry first promoted the RAD concept in West Virginia, claiming a RAD is necessary to fund improvements to roads and other infrastructure at the resort. That work is currently funded by a “Mountaintop Assessment” (MTA), capped at 1.5 percent of property value.

A RAD would have the power to collect a “retail service fee” on certain retail transactions, up to five percent. A RAD also could levy real property and collect a “special assessment” from owners to fund specific projects.

“If I wanted to assess more, I could raise Mountaintop Assessments,” said DeBerry. “It would be a lot easier than all of this. But I don’t believe that is the way we should move forward. The cost of home ownership today, relative to value, is something that I’m trying to protect and that’s why I’m moving forward with this idea.”

“It’s the only alternative to actually raising assessments,” DeBerry added. “I’m not saying this as any kind of threat. I’m simply saying that’s why we started this conversation from the beginning. The very idea of the RAD was an extension of goodwill toward the homeowner community.”

The RAD statute restricts voting to property owners and guarantees a four-seat majority to resort management.

RAD opponent Bill McHenry said he had studied 14 other RADs and compared the applicable laws to West Virginia’s RAD statute.

“Rather than bench marking a bill and taking aspects from current RADs, like universal suffrage – everybody being allowed to vote – [West Virginia’s RAD statute] was written for one specific purpose, for one specific place, to the advantage of one specific corporation,” he said. “If we do the data analysis, if we go through and do the actual hard work of researching what are the unintended consequences of this bill, you will see unintended consequences that will emerge that will be absolutely devastating, not only here, but to the county – the continuing lowering of property values and the continuing lowering of money that flows into the county council from on top of the mountain.”

Snowshoe IT Manager George Murphy accused McHenry of misleading the community.

“What happens, sir, is you are mixing truth with fiction and you’re making it sound like it’s all true,” he said. “I can’t trust your word because of that.”

Snowshoe homeowner Bruce Wessell spoke in support of a RAD.

“The bylaws, when the committee is formed, are where the nuts and bolts and details will be ironed out,” he said. “Many of your questions and many of the questions throughout the room are things that need to be addressed in the bylaws. This law is a framework, from which any other body in the State can use this thing to their advantage and tailor it through their bylaws. That’s something that’s being overlooked.”

Wessell added that a RAD would give a vote in community decisions to property owners who currently have no control of resort management.

RAD opponent David Litsey said the law’s restriction of voting rights to property owners is indefensible. Litsey said he had spoken with high-ranking officials in the state executive branch, who gave their opinion that the RAD statute was unconstitutional on its face, due to its restriction of voting rights, but who said it was the Legislature’s right to act on the statute before other branches of government got involved.

“It is basically unconstitutional and it places an unusual financial burden on people who may not have the opportunity to express their viewpoint,” he said.

Silver Creek Homeowners President Dave Dragan spoke in favor of a RAD.

“We’ve been asking for years for some say in the way we could invest in the future of this mountain,” he said. “It’s the long range improvements that are needed. I don’t want Snowshoe determining which road gets paved. We, as a mountain, need to make those determinations. Whether we have three seats or four seats is irrelevant, because it takes six of seven to make those decisions. We can have a say so. It won’t be Snowshoe, as a corporation, making the decision.”

West Ridge Road Homeowners President Ira Maupin spoke against the RAD because of the potential for special assessments.

“I’ve got some serious concerns with this RAD,” he said. “I want a RAD, but what I want is the two-percent resort service fee. I don’t want any homeowner assessments and I don’t want a resort ranger program and I don’t want a RAD board who can go out and borrow money with collateral that’s anything but the two-percent resort service fee.”

Maupin said he had solicited opinions from the 91 owners at West Ridge Road. Of the 54 owners who responded, only six were in favor of a RAD and 48 were opposed.

Snowcrest Homeowners President David Roach spoke in favor of the RAD, as proposed.

“After discussion with the executive board and our homeowners, in some detail, we have offered our full support to the RAD,” he said. “I’m frankly very dismayed by the amount of misinformation, the nit-picking and the ‘chicken little’ scenarios that have surrounded this process. I think that a vast majority of homeowners on this mountain support the RAD, or at least haven’t researched it enough that they’re opposed to it.”

Roach said the RAD law is “not perfect, but an improvement.”

Prior to adjourning, DeBerry asked Commissioners Walker and McLaughlin if they had any questions or comments.

Walker asked who would pay an assessment for improvements in a limited area. DeBerry responded that homeowners directly benefitted by an improvement would pay the assessment for that project, and that all owners would pay for improvements to common areas.

McLaughlin said that he was concerned with the RAD board composition.

“I’ve always had a problem with the board, being defined the way it is,” he said. “The Legislature gave the operator two board seats, and you assume the other two because of the Snowshoe ownership. I’ve just had a problem with that from the beginning.”

Both commissioners asked county residents to contact them with any questions or comments about a proposed RAD. DeBerry said he plans to ask the County Commission to reconsider the RAD petition in the near future.

Snowshoe Mountain submitted an amendment to the original RAD statute to the West Virginia Legislature to address some – but not all – of RAD opponents’ concerns.

On February 24, Delegate Bill Hartman (D-43) sponsored a bill to ratify the amendment. On March 3, the House of Delegates passed the bill by a vote of 94-0. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on March 4 and the full Senate was scheduled to vote on the bill on Tuesday.

The amendment provides for more open voting formats for mail-in votes; eliminates any authority to levy special assessments or borrow without a majority vote of the membership; places a statutory cap on assessments equal to that of a municipality (five percent of assessed property value); and allows for member-induced dissolution of the RAD if it is seen to no longer be working to the public good.

The amendment does not address concerns with voting rights restrictions or RAD board composition.

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