Trail system a hot topic at meeting
The regular meeting of the POA’s Board of Directors was moved to Riordan Hall in October and about 400 members attended. Once again, the topic that seemed to interest the members was the trail system.
At least 20 members spoke during the open forum. Speakers included the owner of a Bentonville bike shop, the coach of a mountain bike team in Pea Ridge and a researcher from University of Arkansas. According to POA guidelines, only members can speak during the open forum and a few speakers identified themselves as non-resident owners of unimproved lots.
Becky Neal, the owner of the bike shop, said they live in Bella Vista because they love the privacy afforded by the common property, but they also love the bike trails that go through the common property.
Randy Ham said he walks on the trail four or five times a week without any issues. He pointed out that some of the beauty of Bella Vista was inaccessible before the Back 40 Trails were developed through the wooded areas on the east side.
One member, Rick McInnis, suggested that the POA can profit from trails by issuing stickers for bicycles similar to boat stickers.
Staff attorney Doug McCash explained that as long as the trails are a free recreational amenity, the POA is covered by a state recreational use statue that limits liability.
After listening to several residents praise the trails, Leslie Lampo said the real issue is the fact that the POA board made the decision to allow the public onto common property without a vote by the membership.
“They’re not a gift to us,” she said, about the trails, “They’re a gift to everyone who doesn’t live here because we’re paying for it.”
McCash said that the licensing agreement approved by the POA board does not transfer ownership so no vote was required.
But the licensing agreement changes the use of the property, member Mary Schillaci argued and that requires a vote.
“The board has torn the community apart,” Schillaci said.
Some members wanted to speak on other topics. Robert Stack said golf is too expensive in Bella Vista and the board should close some courses to make it profitable.
Theron Donnell asked why the board borrowed funds from the water department recently.
Treasurer Dwain Mitchell said he knew when the 2018 budget was approved that the loan would be necessary for cash flow. Since the POA owns the water department, it’s not unusual to borrow from that account, but it will be paid back with interest, he said.
During the regular meeting, the board took up another controversial topic when they discussed the 600 POA owned lots and the right to vote them.
Each lot in the POA has one vote during elections as long as the lot is in good standing — meaning the monthly assessment fee is paid. In 2016, the board used the 600 votes to support an assessment proposal. Although, the POA doesn’t pay itself an assessment fee for the lots they own, the board decided the lots were in good standing because there was no fee owed. The assessment election was very close, but the proposal did not pass.
Earlier this year an assessment election was postponed. Some members complained about the board’s plan to vote the lots and in response the board considered two alternatives.
One alternative was not to vote the lots at all but that leaves the possibility that an assessment election might not reach the quorum requirement. At least 50 percent of the lots must be voted to make the election valid and historically that doesn’t always happen.
The board considered a second alternative to vote the lots according to the percentages of the community votes. Those percentages would have to be calculated after the membership votes were counted, but it could be done by the company that runs the election. The second alternative would not change the results of the election but it might solve the quorum issue.
While the board seemed to accept that members don’t want the votes used, the cost of the election was a consideration. Board member Pat Laury said it might be more responsible to use the votes than to waste the $38,000 in costs for an election that doesn’t meet the quorum.
After discussion, the board voted to not use the lots in an assessment election in 2019.
Speaking during the open forum of the POA Board of Directors meeting, member Theron Donnell asks for a show of hands of people who support the trail system. He said critics of the trail system are upset about the fact that the trails are open to the public, not the trails themselves.