|Wayne Crawford||Jay Goldman||Rick Williams|
|PHOTOS BY JIM FRANCIS|
Big Canoe POA candidates support growth in the community
At the Oct. 6 Squires & Stags breakfast at The Big Canoe Clubhouse at Lake Sconti, Property Owners Association (POA) candidates Wayne Crawford, Jay Goldman and Rick Williams spoke at the first of six such meetings arranged by the election committee between now and Nov. 14. A schedule of the meetings can be found on page 3A in the October issue of Smoke Signals.
Ballots for the POA board election will be mailed to property owners beginning Nov. 17 to be returned no later than midnight Nov. 29. Election results will be announced at the Dec. 2 annual meeting.
More information about the candidates’ backgrounds and qualifications can be found starting on page 3A of the September issue of Smoke Signals. The candidates answered additional questions in the October issue starting on page 3A.
Candidate answers below are unedited transcriptions from the October 6 event.
Questions from the Squires & Stags audience:
1. What is your position on where we are today in respect to the internet vs. the water utility.
Rick Williams: Internet for the future of Big Canoe is a must. It interacts with all of our healthcare, business transactions, and education. It is a must that we have a reliable top-notch service. My personal belief is that we should not own the water company. We would have to hire a company or organization to operate it. The best thing that could happen for us is if an outside utility purchased it and has the availability of government funds.
Jay Goldman: About water, I agree with Rick that it’s the priority in the community. We need to get resolution of it. I hope that the best solution will be that there will be a public utility that would be willing to take this over. There will have to be some legal and financial engineering take place to make that happen. As opposed to today the public utility would be regulated by the State of Georgia so that rates would have to be set and approved and that any grievances we may have there would be an audience for it, situations that we don’t have today. I agree that the internet is a must. The world is changing from a communications standpoint. There are so many things that are moving toward the internet. Today we have the opportunity to stream entertainment over the internet. Commercial enterprises use the internet. The telephone service uses the internet. There is much belief that cable systems will certainly be replaced by it. Everything will be coming through the internet so we have to have the capability to deal with that because the future of Big Canoe and the next generation of buyers have expectations that they may not have had when we were younger. People view this as a utility.
Wayne Crawford: I think the water situation is the number one challenge. I firmly believe the need for high speed internet. We just got two more proposals and we have to decide what criteria we want to select one. I am not pleased that at this late moment that both Windstream and TDS have now come back to the table when it looks like they might lose business. We will have to look at both cost analysis, the maintenance and logistics behind it. I never have been particularly happy with the response of TDS for repairs so I think we have to come up with comprehensive selection criteria. I would have voted to go ahead with the internet but would hold off on the decision when we would do the contract because we have a larger challenge in that we had a water situation emerge. We know we have been having a water problem since the early 70s. Every five years we have water trouble. I feel there is a great deal of neglect on the part of the [water company] owners. I think there is also concern about Potts Mountain. Etowah [water and sewer utilities of Dawsonville] is looking at it right now. If I were them I would be very concerned about how much repair work we would buy in to. We know already that it’s about $250,000 to put generators in the pumping stations. We don’t want to pay for that but that is part of the challenge. I do hope it’s a utility and Etowah is probably the best choice. We have a rate increase coming up in February so we have to get some kind of closure on this soon.
2. We have about 4,750 plats that could be developed in Big Canoe. There are 2,700 lots that have been sold. That’s 2,000 more that could be a tremendous strain on our current amenities. Maybe there would be ways to keep the status quo or try to grow it to the 4,750 lots. Given the opportunity, would you be more pro growth or status quo?
Jay Goldman: There are about 800 lots to be built on this side of Steve Tate. If we sell Potts Mountain and its approximately 1,400 lots we are dealing with probably nominal growth if that scenario is correct. We would benefit from having developed lots that would create additional assessments for Big Canoe. If that doesn’t happen, we need to think how are we going to operate the property financially to make sure we have sufficient funds to be able to do the things we all would like to see done here as well as maintain the property as it is. That may require us to think about how we are going to use the assets that we have. Are we going to possibly open the gates further to outside groups? Should we be more aggressive in getting small business meetings here to attract potential buyers? Do we need to build a community center?
It is in the purview of those who own property in Big Canoe do what they want to do with those properties. I don’t think that the POA can control that. We do have amenities that we want to get more use of to reduce the costs of sustaining them for the property owners. A good example of how we can reduce costs of an amenity is what’s going on at the Marina. There is a move afoot to replace the pontoon boats there. I have learned that of the revenues generated there, approximately 60 percent is generated from guests not from property owners. If we can do things like that without limiting the use that property owners have, that might be a good economic answer.
Wayne Crawford: Am I in favor of pro growth? Absolutely. We also know that the same things that promote pro growth are the same strategies that we need to pursue in order to keep our amenities at their highest levels. You can see that a lot of our amenities in a number of places are starting to need repairs. In our current growth rate we are probably going to see in our next two years we could add 400 more homes that are occupied. We also have a lot of homes that are rented. I am very much in favor of a marketing director. I think that is critical for us to look outward. If you don’t look at the other communities like we are going outside of Atlanta, our competition for the future, they are offering things that perhaps we haven’t looked at. There are more opportunities that are being offered in these communities that appeal to people that are going to retire younger and want to work from home. I think we need to have a small group to look at what the potential there is.
Rick Williams: It would be counter intuitive not to let this beautiful community to continue to grow. But realizing the growth we will see in the future is going to put more stress on our infrastructure. Today is the time we need to start thinking about that. Whether it’s five years or 15 years, the infrastructure is going to be stressed to the max as it sets today. Major consideration needs to be made to handle this growth.
3. We continue to have financial challenges along the way. Sometimes things are planned, other times things are surprises to us. Do you fellows have any ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our fiscal disciplines and processes for moving us forward in a rationally, financially disciplined manner and not necessarily being confronted with surprises or strains?
Rick Williams: One of the statements I made in Smoke Signals last month was that I feel strongly about is that we should put a five percent surcharge on all monetary transactions by non-resident property owners. When visitors come in they should have a five percent surcharge tacked on to all their food and beverage bills and we put that in the general fund for reduction of our debt and infrastructure in the future. Also, I am very excited about continuous process improvement. If you don’t constantly look at what you are doing and question what you are doing, and why you are doing what you are doing, then improving upon them, you are not existing. I think we have a lot of low hanging fruit around here to control our internal costs and better use our existing labor in every aspect of this organization. All of these things combined together means you add to the bottom line.
Wayne Crawford: There are a couple of things we could do right away. When we purchased the land we incurred a loan that runs through 2025. As a part of that we have some land that we ought to sell. I recommend that we look real hard at selling High Gap. I also recommend that we sell the 14 acres around the turnabout on Steve Tate. I don’t think either one of them necessarily will sell easily so we ought to start now to get them on the market even if several years from now we do something with it, unless we have a remarkable idea what we would do with it. I think we could get something on the order of about $500,000 for the 14 acres if it’s done properly and even that could take some time to happen.
One of the things that I do with companies that are at risk is that we do some zero based budget analysis. The reason for doing that is that it forces us to look at everything we have and do we have the right people in the right place doing the right things. A good example is that recently the three of us [candidates] went through the Big Canoe actions program. We found out that we are using six different software programs and the question comes up that we need additional servers because we’re not in the Cloud, then you ask who is maintaining this? That is one small example of how there is probably some low hanging fruit. There are a number of things that we just need to pause and look at. The best time to do that is when the new general manager comes in.
Jay Goldman: We do need a plan for selling some of the property that we bought a year ago. Really not much has happened in that regard. It has been said that a logical buyer of High Gap would be some element of the State of Georgia. You don’t sell that type of property by putting up a “for sale” sign. You have to go lobby these people, deal with our legislators and get our own people on board. As Wayne said about the property at the roundabout, I think now we have the opportunity to determine how it can be marketed. It does have issues relative to getting utilities to that property for commercial purposes.
We don’t do a very good job planning for unusual expenses such as the storm cleanup. The rationale in the past has been we have sufficient cash to deal with what happens and we’ll just pay for them when they occur. We have done that and that means that something else we had planned to do is being deferred. We need to include in our budgeting process the recognition of the fact that where we live has a high potential for some type of weather event. We need to have a process to increase the capital reserve fund. It’s been a rather static fund that over time could be a funding source for capital improvements we want to make here on the property instead of being funded from the assessments we make each month. I think we need to rethink that.