Pool and food service dominate Lake candidate forum

Questions about the community pool and food service dominated a candidates’ forum hosted by the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association (LMOA) Wednesday night (May 17) at the new Fairway Clubhouse.

LMOA Board President Rich Barringer, Secretary Tom Braithwaite, and Director Bing Spitler are running unopposed for new three-year terms. 

Barringer voiced "extreme disappointment" that "we couldn't get three people together to run for the Board." Their reelection bids were rooted primarily in ongoing projects they want to see through to completion.

"I think the last two or three years have been pretty exciting years here," said Barringer. 

With the clubhouse renovations now complete, each candidate listed off multiple goals for the next three years and beyond: walking trails, changes to the marina, continued upgrades to the playground and beaches, expansion of the dredging program, and reviews of staffing procedures and safety protocols.   

"And I've always wanted a zip-line," Spitler joked, "but I've been told not to bring it up."

Moderator Ron Krauss posed questions submitted by community members that focused heavily on the recent decision to privately run the Fairway and Ashlawn dining facilities.

Asked why no outside vendors stepped forward, Braithwaite said the Board of Directors had “heard some lame excuses" about rent, staffing, and the restrictions posed by the gates. "Bottom line: They didn't want to take the risk." 

A consultant brought in after no qualified bids emerged earlier this year told the directors LMOA has “a gold mine here," said Braithwaite. Given that a previous attempt to self-manage the dining facilities often resulted in deficits, the candidates felt the consultant was offering them a clear management plan. "We were making money even in his worst-case scenario."

Braithwaite said that the new director of food services has been hired and has just started working this week. More than 40 people applied for the position, but "this person is going to knock your socks off," said Spitler.

"I don't see how we can't make this a success," said Braithwaite.

If all three candidates were enthusiastic about the dining facilities, they were slightly defensive on the issue of the pool. 

With the 40-year-old pool on the brink of failure, the Board called for its replacement earlier this year. They believe the project will cost around $900,000. After a community survey, they have called for a one-time assessment of $100 per household, with another $436,000 coming out of the Emergency Reserve Account (ERA). The membership will vote on the assessment in June. 

Some in the community have questioned how the directors could come up with a budget when they haven't yet called for bids. Others wonder how they can vote on a pool when they can't visualize the final design. 

"This is a unique situation," said Spitler. "The Board can't just go write checks. The money has to be approved by the residents. Then we can get plans going."   

Barringer said comments from the community that “‘You guys have made your decision already’ are just not accurate.” If the ballot issue is approved, they plan to hold surveys and town halls for community input.

Other issues touched on during the hour-long forum were the conditions of the marina building and the main gatehouse, safety issues surrounding the gates at Monish and Riverside, and the upkeep of rental homes within the community.

Ballots for the June election will go out to residents by the end of May. The annual meeting is scheduled for Saturday, June 24.