HISID finalizes draft budget, opts for mediation in two suits, discusses amenities policies

Friday, October 26, 2012

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- The Holiday Island Board of Commissioners put the finishing touches on the 2013 budget at its Oct. 22 regular meeting. Commissioners also voted to pursue mediation in two lawsuits the district is involved in and discussed amending the district's amenities policies.

District Manager Gerald Hartley said he will incorporate commissioners' budget recommendations into a draft budget, which he will submit for a final vote at the board's next regular meeting, scheduled for Nov. 26.

He said the budget would remain essentially unchanged from what he presented to the board at their Oct. 15 work session. The major exception is that commissioners agreed Monday to return two golf course mowers to the budget.

Commissioners had removed them from an earlier version of the budget, but reconsidered after Golf Superintendent Mark Mowrey showed them photos of the existing equipment and explained the need for new machines.

Hartley said the mowers would be purchased with $60,000 from an equipment depreciation fund.

Also at Monday's meeting, commissioners directed district attorney Matt Bishop to file motions requesting mediation in two lawsuits the district is involved in.

The first case -- David Bischoff v. Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District -- began on Aug. 8, when Bischoff filed a complaint against the district. He contended that the Assessment of Benefits (AOB) process carried out last year failed to follow state code and used "an arbitrary formula" to calculate new assessments amounts, to be paid by property owners starting this year. The complaint asked for the court to invalidate the AOB and for the district to return to the 2011 assessment rate.

The second case, styled Table Rock Landing v. Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District and Holiday Island Development Corporation, was filed in November of last year. The suit requests $1.9 million in reimbursement for excess assessments levied on time share owners over a period of at least 12 years.

In reference to the decision to seek mediation, Commissioner Ken Ames said after the meeting that it was time "to move forward."

"We're all adults," he said. "I'm sure that not everyone will be happy with the result, but we need to move forward."

In other business, commissioners considered a number of changes to the district's amenities policies on Monday, including amendments to the campground and golf course fee schedules, the latter of which were extensive.

Hartley said his staff would be incorporating the changes into a regulation for commissioners to consider at their November meeting.

Among the changes, commissioners are considering selling weekly and monthly passes. Currently, only daily and yearly passes are sold.

Commissioners Linda Graves and Ken Brown said they thought the new options would appeal to the considerable number of people who only reside on the island for a short time each year.

In addition to offering weekly and monthly passes, commissioners are considering opening the course to non-residents.

Brown said non-residents had been able to purchase day passes before. Technically, they had to do so as guests of a resident. However, Brown said he did not believe this rule had been rigidly enforced.

"I don't think they ever turned anybody away," he said.

Brown said he ran for office on a promise to wring more revenue from the course. He noted that it is currently a money loser for the district, leaving residents who don't golf with the feeling that they are subsidizing someone else's hobby.

He said he hoped welcoming non-residents would increase the number of players -- and help the green produce a bit more green. He also noted that non-residents would continue to pay higher fees than residents.

Graves shared the sentiment. She said she hoped making the course more accessible to non-residents would allow the district to tap into the tourism market. She noted that the Holiday Island golf course was the closest course to the tourist haven of Eureka Springs.

"We want more tourists to come out and find out what's at Holiday Island," she said.

Besides the immediate infusion of revenue, Graves said visiting golfers might be persuaded to purchase property on the island.

Despite potential benefits, Graves said the changes might be hard for some to swallow.

"I'm sure there are those in the community who would rather we kept all the amenities perfectly private," she said. However, she also noted that the district was "in a different financial time."

"We need to utilize our golf course to provide additional income," she said. "... We need to be able to have the money to maintain the home values. ... We need all the money we can get."

Also Monday, commissioners gave conditional approval to a mutual aid agreement between the district and rural fire departments. If the agreement passes muster with the district attorney, it will provide for the sharing of equipment and personnel between the departments.

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