L-R Greg Saunders, POA Board Member Grant Grimes and POA President Jay Goldman chat at the Squires & Stags breakfast. Photo by Wayne Tidwell
New POA board president talks about the future of Big Canoe
Communications and transparency are important objectives of the new Big Canoe POA Board of Directors, new Board President Jay Goldman told the crowd at the December 7 Squires & Stags breakfast.
“There has been a lot of discussion about transparency, communicating what’s going on,” Goldman said.
He said that two things the new board wants to do is solicit input from homeowners at board work sessions and to have a dialog with the community about things on the horizon.
“This way we will get better input as we proceed with evaluating different alternatives and give the community a stronger voice in the board’s deliberations,” Goldman said.
Secondly, he said the board will explore the feasibility of setting up a community foundation at Big Canoe.
“The objective of it is hopefully to have people voluntarily upon leaving Big Canoe—after being here for a number of years and enjoying their life here in Big Canoe—to consider leaving funds to the foundation upon their passing. Those funds would be used by the community primarily for capital improvements,” Goldman explained.
Goldman said that what the board did in 2018 was important because it set the foundation for what the board wants to try to do in 2019. That included moving forward with the water company (UIG) and getting more involved as the two-year water rates expire and moving forward with the Windstream internet upgrade that should be complete by “the early part of the year.”
“They [Windstream] want to step up their marketing to get as many people as possible signed up which is to their benefit as well as the interests of the community,” Goldman said. “It is voluntary but we would urge everybody to take a hard look at it.”
Other endeavors by the board included getting the fire station completed and the land-use project that included the potential sale of the High Gap area and the roundabout property on Steve Tate Road. The land-use projects were tabled after town hall meetings.
“The current board understands that the objection to that was the perceived uncertainty that something down the road could be done to those properties that would change the natural beauty of those properties as they are today,” Goldman said. “We are going to continue to work on that. We think there are ways to get this done that will conserve the property as it is and provide some economic benefit to the community.”
He cited changes at the Clubhouse at Lake Sconti that happened in 2018, including the hiring of a new general manager, clubhouse manager, executive chef and head of the catering and special events function.
“We are going to work very hard with them and with our General Manager Jill Philmon to get the clubhouse to a point where people are very happy to go there and find it to be a good, consistent experience,” Goldman said.
What’s the board working on for 2019?
In 2019 Goldman pointed to new marketing efforts as the developer takes a less involved role.
“We think we can find ways to bring people here to take advantage of the fact that many of our amenities are underutilized, “ Goldman said. “We concluded that our targeting will be to bring people here who could be potential buyers. The data we have suggests that 20 percent of our sales comes from people who have attended weddings or special events at Big Canoe.”
He said plans were to reach out to “appropriately sized” business groups to have them come to Big Canoe for meetings and retreats.
“The final group that we will focus on is the golfing community because we have underutilized golf courses,” Goldman said.
He also touched on the idea of an intern program to control the payroll and meet labor needs in a competitive market and the need for a housing program for those that might come but would have long commutes.
He said conservation was one of the strategic objectives of the POA and that the board would look at all of the conservation groups at Big Canoe and see if they are working in concert with each other. He said he has asked new board member Lou Stevenson to head that up. He said there would be funds in the 2019 budget to deal with non-native plant species in Big Canoe.
Goldman said the evaluation of the Big Canoe Golf Course was well along. He said Bill Bergin, the contractor for establishing a potential master plan for the golf course.
“Bill talks about the fact that considering the golf course requires three attributes,” Goldman said. What are the mechanical aspects, that is what are the basic things that make sure that you have a golf course that functions properly. It includes things like the irrigation systems, the drainage and things like that which are important.
Goldman said half of property buyers in 2017 said that the golf course was important factor to them in making a decision to buy here in Big Canoe.
He said Bergin also said that from a golfers perspective he wanted to deal with the strategy of the golf course.
“His conclusion is that our golf course is a good golf course but it doesn’t necessarily have features that are really going to attract golfers who want to come and play here,” Goldman said.
He said that a lot of people will be involved in looking at this to get the most value out of all this effort for the least amount of money.
The second study, according to Goldman, is being done by the Chambers Company out of Baltimore working to determine what changes should be made to a “whole array of properties” in Big Canoe. He said that the “genesis” of that effort came about when the board last spring was inundated with a daunting list of capital improvements and changes.
“We said that instead of dealing with this piecemeal, we concluded that because of the age of the community and the Village Core and issues with the Fitness Center, the tennis community’s list of things they wanted and other things that have been discussed over the years, to try to get an objective opinion to create a baseline for the community to look at what professionals are telling us,” Goldman said.
Focus groups and other forms of input will be used to determine priorities, according to Goldman. Committees in the community will be looking at details and questioning estimates and there will be “many meetings” with the community, according to Goldman, and the community will be able to vote on large projects.
Expenses keep going up, Goldman pointed out and said the board and administration are working hard to keep them under control.
“The unfortunate thing is that the community is aging,” Goldman said. “The objective of this project is to sustain and increase property values. Hopefully our amenities will be in better condition and make for a more enjoyable experience. That’s the real objective of going through this exercise.
“We don’t have any financial mechanism in place today that provides for a self-regeneration of Big Canoe,” Goldman said. “The key to what we are looking at is how do we do it in a way that we can use other people’s money.”
He cited the proposed foundation, initiation fees for new residents and generating more cash out of the operations in the community as sources of funding. He said that the finance committee looked at similar communities and recommended initiation fees.
“When somebody moves into Big Canoe, on day one they move in and they have complete access to all of our amenities and they have paid nothing for that,” Goldman said. “That doesn’t appear to be fair to current residents.”
Asked if the POA board planned to use revenues from potential sales of High Gap or the roundabout properties to pay down existing debt, Goldman said the board would evaluate the best use of the money based on evaluation of capital plans, short term borrowing or money from the new sources that he talked about. He said the $25 that was added to the assessment in 2016 is used to pay down the debt that has been reduced to $8 million.
An audience member said he appreciated the comments about communication.
“The only negative event I have found in being here a year is Facebook and some of the miscommunication that happens on Facebook,” he said. “It’s sometimes disheartening.”
He made some recommendations including mailings to residents and a quarterly email that provides rationale for Board decisions. Goldman said he thought they were good ideas.
In response to another question, Goldman said efforts would be made to have Big Canoe’s fire exposure be evaluated, at no cost to Big Canoe, by the Georgia Forestry Commission and the University of Georgia Forestry Department to make sure we are managing our forests well, and will seek input from the community.
“We are not going to put our heads in the sand relative to that risk,” Goldman said.
The next meeting of the Squires & Stags will be February 1. George Fox will be the speaker and will talk about taxes.
Squires & Stags meets in the Mountains Grille at the Clubhouse at Lake Sconti. Coffee is ready at 7:45 a.m. followed by a buffet breakfast served at 8:00 a.m. Big Canoe residents and guests are invited to attend the meeting. The price of breakfast is $13 payable on your POA account or by cash at the door.
Reservations are required and must be received by Noon on Thursday before the Friday morning meeting. You may also call (706) 268-3346 to make reservations.