1.3 – Why Consider Town Incorporation Now?
Massanutten citizens, over the years, have discussed the advantages and disadvantages of Massanutten incorporating into a town. These discussions seem to rise to a significant level roughly every ten (10) years such that formal studies are conducted. MPOA has formally studied the feasibility of town incorporation during the 1988-89 timeframe and then again 1998-99 timeframe. In May 2008, Great Eastern Resorts contracted with JMU faculty members to conduct a two (2) year incorporation feasibility study in lieu of a MPOA Long Range Committee study normally conducted during the 10 year cycle. However, as of May 2010, the Great Eastern Resorts study had been abandoned for unspecified reasons. So, a group of concerned Massanutten Village residents decided to undertake an effort to study the feasibility of incorporating Massanutten into a town with the 10 year study cycle being the initial impetus for the effort. It should be noted that the individuals that contributed to this study are all members of MPOA.
The history of Massanutten and developments over the last 10 years outside of Massanutten Village indicates that the Massanutten area is moving closer toward incorporation than previously studies suggested — in fact, their efforts had determined incorporation was not even feasible. Massanutten Village was originally envisioned as a private-gated residential community with its own privately owned and administered essential services. However, growth over the period from 2000 to 2010 in the area outside the physical and financial boundaries of Massanutten Village plus the focus on tourism as an important County revenue source has changed the face of the community, particularly for its full time residents. In general, it is believed that the town incorporation of the Massanutten area is becoming more attractive as commercial activities related to tourism increases and expands outside of Massanutten Village plus as the character of Massanutten Village as a private-gated residential community is being lost due to a greater daily influx of vehicles coming from the general public.
Specifically, it was discovered in 2010 that more than 70% of the financial burden for the Massanutten Village essential services of law enforcement and road maintenance was born by the individual property owners of MPOA. Yet, more than fifty-four percent (54%) of the 2.44 million vehicles entering into Massanutten Village in 2010 and benefiting from these essential services were not even related to the property owners of MPOA. These vehicles, not related to MPOA, were almost exclusively coming from the general public to patronize businesses located inside and adjacent to Massanutten Village — businesses that financially contribute modestly to offset the financial burden of MPOA essential services. The 2010 numbers can be readily compared to 1996 when 70% of the 1.2 million vehicles entering into Massanutten Village were directly related to the property owners of MPOA. In 1996, the balance between the financial burden for and the benefit from essential services were more fairly balanced between individual property owners and businesses. If Massanutten were to incorporate into a town, it would have the ability to more fairly balance the financial burden of essential services on businesses and individuals thru various taxes plus it would have access to state and federal funding to help offset the overall financial burden for essential services. Additionally, a town of Massanutten would have the ability for its own local citizens to determine future growth affecting their quality of life — they could maintain or even improve the quality of life via control of town planning and ordinances. A property owners association has fewer options to require that businesses contribute toward the funding of essential services, cannot accept state and federal funding to help offset the overall financial burden, and has almost no control over growth and associated loss in quality of life. And, a county has a broader scope to consider when trading off an increase in revenues from additional growth which lowers the tax burden on all its citizens with the impact to the quality of life for only a limited number of its citizens.
This report examines in significant detail the feasibility of incorporating Massanutten into a town — that is, answering the question as to whether Massanutten could incorporate into a town. The feasibility details form the next seven major sections of the report. The last and eighth section of the report examines the considerations as to whether Massanutten should be incorporated into a town at this time. Ultimately, it is up to the citizens to determine whether incorporation is in their collective best interest and for the good of the community. It is our hope that this study will assist citizens in making an informed decision.
The following highlights the seven major sections of the report which deal with the feasibility of incorporation.
- Incorporation Process — Virginia law delineates the requirements and considerations for incorporating a community into a town. The Massanutten Area meets all requirements and considerations. If the citizens of the Community were to decide to move forward on incorporation, the process could be completed within a two year period of time.
- Community — The Massanutten Area has expanded to include much more than the original Residential Planned Community District of Massanutten Village. The Area now includes the Residential Planned Community District of Woodstone Meadows and the Planned Commercial Development Districts of Village Festival and Massanutten Station. What is often referred to as «Massanutten» includes all of these areas with a population of both citizens and visitors that readily flow between these areas on daily basis. Since the community has outgrown the original boundaries of Massanutten Village and spread into adjacent areas, citizens could benefit from town incorporation by bringing these areas together for a greater sense of community with a greater sense of shared responsibility and shared burden.
- Infrastructure — Massanutten Village consists of roughly fifty-two (52) lane miles of roads privately constructed during the 1970’s and currently maintained by MPOA. Massanutten Village is made up of greater than 25% green space which is largely maintained by MPOA. Maintenance of this infrastructure is almost entirely funded by the property owners of MPOA. Yet, over half of the vehicles entering into Massanutten Village are not associated with MPOA and, correspondingly, the usage of most of this infrastructure is largely by people who are not paying for them. Therefore, the Massanutten Area could benefit from town incorporation providing citizens with maintenance services that could be funded via taxation on a shared basis by town citizens and businesses as well as by its visitors augmented by state and federal funding, similar to other towns in Rockingham County. Additionally, the Massanutten area is served by a private water and sewer company. Over the last five (5) years, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) has granted this private company two rate increases which cumulatively doubled the cost for the average homeowner and escalated rates to more than twice that seen in most western Virginia communities. The Massanutten Area could benefit from town incorporation providing citizens with duly elected government officials recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia including its state run commissions like the SCC to argue against such excessive water and sewer rates to include the impact on town citizens and businesses.
- Law Enforcement — MPOA has a private law enforcement agency with Court authority and associated civil liabilities to enforce laws as «Special Conservatives of the Peace» within the boundaries of Massanutten Village. This MPOA law enforcement agency is actually larger than any town law enforcement agency in Rockingham County and annually responds to more 9-1-1 calls. It is solely funded by the property owners of MPOA. Yet, more than half of the vehicles entering into Massanutten are not associated with MPOA. If one assumes that this large number of vehicles and corresponding occupants cause a proportional share of law enforcement issues, they should pay a proportional share of the law enforcement services — but, currently they do not. Therefore, the Massanutten Area could benefit from town incorporation providing citizens with a Town Police Force with the authority to protect and serve the citizens and the full capacity to uphold the laws of the town, Virginia, and the United States as an integral part of the national law enforcement community. The Town Police Force could be funded via taxation on a shared basis by town citizens and businesses as well as by the visitors to the Massanutten area augmented by state and federal funding, similar to other towns in Rockingham County.
- Parks & Recreation — Massanutten Village has many parks and recreational facilities — some of which are owned by MPOA. The MPOA Parks are all privately funded and operated. Yet, these parks are enjoyed by many to include some individuals from the general public. The Massanutten Area could benefit from town incorporation providing citizens and visitors with town parks which would be eligible for state and federal funding for maintenance and improvements, similar to other towns in Rockingham County.
- Government — Massanutten Village is governed by Rules & Regulations that are based on the Covenants of sixteen different subdivisions. These Rules & Regulations along with limited means of civil enforcement and associated liabilities are determined by a Property Owners Association Board that serves in the best interests of property owners who include local citizens and out-of-town owners. Additionally, Massanutten Village and its three adjacent zoning districts were created under the Rockingham County Ordinance guided by its Comprehensive Plan. Over the last 40 years, numerous amendments have been made to these districts controlled by the County Supervisors acting in the best interest of all County citizens to include promoting tourism. Overall, the citizens of Massanutten have only a small fractional per capita voice in the present and future course of their own community. Therefore, the Massanutten Area could benefit from town incorporation providing a legally organized government body made up of local citizens with authority to act in the best interest of the immediate community with regards to health, safety, and general welfare along with the legal power to address problems and emergencies. Citizens of the local community could elect officials who could establish a Town Ordinance and its proper enforcement, as well as to rezone properties pursuant to its own Town Comprehensive Plan.
- Budget — The Massanutten Property Owners Association currently has a budget that is larger than most towns in Rockingham County. However, unlike towns, MPOA cannot levy taxes or fees on businesses, nor receive state or federal funding to help fund the essential services of law enforcement and road maintenance. Currently, the residential property owners pay for a disproportionate share of the Massanutten Village essential services for a make-up of individuals that includes more than half coming from the general public patronizing community businesses. In order to have a more balanced share of the burden to fund essential community services, the Massanutten area could benefit from town incorporation which would have the power to levy taxes on property owners, citizens, businesses and visitors. Rather than a disproportionate share of revenues coming from residential property owners to fund essential services, the town could balance revenues more fairly between property owners & citizens, businesses & visitors, and state & federal grants. An incorporated town of Massanutten could replace MPOA by providing essential services to the citizens and visitors of Massanutten Village, as well as provide these same essential services to the citizens, businesses and visitors of the entire Massanutten area. Correspondingly, town taxes could replace MPOA fees to pay for these essential services augmented by funding from state and federal funding sources as well as from vehicle license, transient occupancy, food & beverage, and sales & use taxes currently being paid to Rockingham County.