Hearing set March 10 on HI incorporation
By Scott Loftis
Almost two years after a bid to incorporate Holiday Island as a town was rejected by Carroll County Judge Sam Barr, proponents of the change are trying again and are optimistic that they’ll be successful.
A hearing on the issue is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 10, in the courtroom of the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville. If Barr approves a petition signed by more than 25 percent of the registered voters in the area to be incorporated, the issue will be on the ballot for the November general election.
Dan Kees, a member of the Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District Board of Commissioners and a supporter of incorporation, said the next step would be a series of public events to educate voters on the issue.
“If Judge Barr approves the petition this time around, which we certainly hope he will, then our committee that’s spearheading this will schedule a series of informational forums for the people of Holiday Island and give people an opportunity to hear the pros and cons of incorporation, get the facts straight,” Kees said. “Because, as you’d expect in something major like this, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. So we’ll have as many public forums as necessary to get the people properly informed and take it up to the election.”
Kees said incorporation is the best way to ensure the future financial viability of Holiday Island. As a suburban improvement district, Holiday Island generates approximately 50 percent of its revenue from assessments billed to property owners. But as the SID spends money to provide services, the principle in its assessed benefit slowly declines. Interest on that assessed benefit is capped at 6 percent.
“That assessed benefit works similar to a mortgage in that it’s a declining balance,” Kees said. “If we spend more than 6 percent, then part of what we assess is covered from the interest and the rest of it comes off the principle. Eventually, then, that principle will be reduced to zero, and at that point we would no longer be able to provide all the services that we do now. We would project that to be somewhere around 2032. So, it’s not imminent but it’s not that far down the road when we would exhaust that assessed benefit.”
If Holiday Island does incorporate, it would be eligible to receive state turnback funds and would have more potential sources of revenue.
“We have 70 miles of road out here that we have to maintain,” he said. “If we were city we would get our share of the turnback money to help maintain our roads.”
The major reason Barr cited in rejecting an incorporation bid in 2018 was a state law that prohibited the incorporation of a municipality within three miles of an existing municipal corporation. The town of Beaver lies within three miles of a portion of the area proposed for incorporation. Kees said supporters of incorporation worked with State Sen. Bob Ballinger of Berryville and State Rep. Harlan Breaux of Holiday Island to initiate a change in state law that would eliminate that hurdle.
Unlike the 2018 incorporation bid, which would have gone directly from petition to incorporation, the current effort instead seeks to have the issue placed on the ballot for a vote of the people.
“The first time we had I think 900-and-some signatures,” Kees said. “This time we didn’t need as many because we were petitioning to have it put on the ballot, so we only needed 25 percent of the registered voters’ signatures on the petition, whereas the first time around we were going to go directly from the petition to incorporated where we would have needed 50 percent.
“There’s ample support to where we have had no problems whatsoever getting signatures on the petition,” he said. “There are pockets of resistance, I would say — people that think that becoming a city is just going to mean more and more taxes. We keep trying to assure them that a city government doesn’t have the authority. To raise any tax over a five-mill property tax would have to be approved by the voters. So it’s not like a city has free rein to impose taxes.”
Kees said incorporation would also allow Holiday Island to write its own ordinances for issues such as code enforcement. Currently, he said there are no laws requiring that property be kept up.
“If there’s no county ordinance against it, then we have no ordinance against it,” he said. “If we were a city, we could have ordinances and we could have a code enforcement officer.”
The HISID Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution at a special called meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6, supporting a public vote on the incorporation issue.