Lakers question proposed dues increase

Ponder $50 yearly restaurant subsidy

By Heather Michon, correspondent

With weeks to go before the final votes are cast, Lake Monticello residents met with members of the Board of Directors to discuss proposed dues increases in the second of two town halls at the Fairway Clubhouse on Thursday (May 16).

About 30 people attended the meeting, where directors Tom Braithwaite, Marlene Weaver and Mike Harrison made their pitch for the two proposals on this year’s ballot: a $180 dues increase to be phased in over three years, and a $50-per-household annual restaurant fee.

Paying the piper

The directors argued that previous boards failed to adequately build up cash reserves for the future. “We are at an all-time low,” Treasurer Marlene Weaver told the audience.

By their projections, major funds like major repair and renovation (MR&R) and the roads reserve are approaching critical levels. By one projection, Weaver said the MR&R fund could be “busted” within the next two years at the current dues rate of $861 a year.

Under state law, homeowners’ associations (HOAs) are required to conduct a “reserve study” every five years. Outside analysts look at everything held and maintained by an HOA and projects what the community might need in funding over the next 30 years.

The 2019 reserve study recommended a dues increase of $404 annually.

When asked by Sunset Court resident Steve Smith why they chose to ask for $180 rather than the recommended $400, Weaver explained that they didn’t have the completed reserve study when they were debating the issue over the winter – and hinted that they wouldn’t have asked for such a steep increase even if they had had the figures. “We want this [increase] to pass,” she said.

Braithwaite added that strategic reserve studies include hypothetical expenses based on standard depreciation and usage.

He gave the example of the new community pool: The 2019 survey anticipates that the HOA will need to spend several thousand dollars to replaster the pool in about eight years, but since it’s a brand new facility, that may turn out to be unnecessary, freeing up those dollars to use elsewhere.

The cost of fine dining

Many of the residents’ questions and comments focused on The Pub and the Lakeside Restaurant. Both have struggled to increase traffic, despite changes in management, menus and price points.

The proposed $50 a year fee would provide an estimated $225,000 in funding to support the two facilities. Each household would receive a card or voucher for $50, redeemable at either restaurant.

Several people questioned why the community should support restaurants that can’t turn a profit on their own.

Looking at the figures, they seem “more like an albatross than an amenity,” said one Jefferson Drive resident.

The directors argued that residents were clear during the renovation of the clubhouses that they wanted fine dining as an amenity, so funding had to be provided to keep them afloat and to encourage more residents to use them.

A Chestnut Court resident who attended the planning sessions for the development of a new strategic plan said the potentially closing Lakeside Restaurant had been such a major topic of conversation that she had come away “under the mistaken impression that it would be put on the ballot in June.”

Harrison said the board would be voting on that element of the strategic plan at an upcoming meeting, and all three directors said that Lakeside might eventually have to shift its focus to catering and special events.

At the beginning of the meeting, Weaver answered a question asked at the previous town hall: Why do people living in $600,000 lakeside homes pay the same rate as someone in a $150,000 home? She explained that the community’s 50-year-old articles of incorporation explicitly prohibit tiered dues. Everyone has to pay the same rates.

The votes on both ballot issues and two new members for the Board of Directors will be decided at the June 29 annual meeting.

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