Tellico Village’s new chief executive officer took the blame Feb. 27 for what he characterized as missteps during his first town hall meeting with residents.
Chet Pillsbury, who took the helm of the community late last year following the retirement of Winston Blazer, recently came under criticism for soliciting the help of state Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, before residents were made aware of pending legislation that would directly impact the Village.
House Bill 1116, introduced Jan. 31 by Russell, would amend state law to allow Tellico Village to collect an infrastructure fee from incoming residents.
Described by Pillsbury as an initiation fee or “buy-in,” the Tellico Village Property Owners Association would use the $2,500 levied on each property bought by new residents to build reserve funds.
“I’m just a hired hand, and I’m trying to do my job,” Pillsbury told the packed house on the lower level of the Yacht Club in Tellico Village. “… My goal is to achieve a level where you believe what I say to you, when I say everything I do, everything — whether it’s sending out emails, writing a letter, standing in front of you right now, putting a bill before the Senate — is always in the direction of your best interests.
“I get nothing out of it, but it is my job,” he added.
He said he was hired to not only make Tellico Village better but also to protect the community.
The goal of the legislation was to devise a way where incoming homeowners shielded current property owners from bearing some of the brunt of upcoming infrastructure costs, Pillsbury said, suggesting the fee would become part of closing costs.
Pillsbury readily admitted POA finances are in remarkable shape and the pattern is expected to continue for several years.
But he also warned aging infrastructure will begin to alter the landscape in coming years.
“I have to prepare you for that,” he said. “I have to be sure that the association is looking forward, not just happy today.”
He also described how communities nearby such as WindRiver and Rarity Bay already have such a fee, but the proceeds go to the developer to help recoup their costs.
Citing the community’s first reserves study conducted last year to determine the value of Village assets, Pillsbury detailed future infrastructure needs for roads, water and sewer.
The study recommended the POA contribute at least $9 million annually to reserves to maintain current assets. A separate water and sewer study found the Village must spend $13 million-$19 million on water and sewer upgrades over the next 10 years.
“You care about the funding because the expenses of water and sewer and roads are never going away,” Pillsbury said, adding that he already is looking for ways to defer those costs but has yet to find an answer.
He said he wants to avoid the possibility of a special assessment in the future.
“I’d much rather be up here taking the heat right now than standing up with you and half the community out of water and sewer and saying I need X number of millions — possibly $10,000 apiece from you — and that is a position that I hate to tell you I’ve been in before,” Pillsbury said.
He has held a leadership role in other communities similar to Tellico Village.
After his opening comments, which included a brief update on the Tanasi Golf Course clubhouse and a quick rundown of amenities, Pillsbury opened the floor for questions. Nearly 20 residents lined up to speak.
Brian Wethington, a resident since 2013, said he was concerned that it seemed Villagers were circumvented in the process of introducing legislation for the initiation fee.
“It was never my intent to circumvent anybody,” Pillsbury said. “It was my ignorance that it turned out the way it did.”
He said the intent was that he would discuss the legislative bill during the town hall, which had been scheduled in advance. Unfortunately, the timing changed when the bill began to speed through the docket process in Nashville.
However, HB 1116 has not emerged from the Property and Planning Subcommittee and there is no guarantee it will reach the House floor this year for a vote. After some negative social media posts and community chatter, Pillsbury said the bill has been placed “on hold” by Russell.
Pillsbury reiterated the fee is best for the future of the Village but isn’t sure whether there will be a decision in this year’s legislative session.
Don Hart, a resident of Chota Village, said he appreciated Pillsbury’s willingness for interaction with residents, characterizing the town hall as “a great first step.”
Hart also brought up the ongoing negotiations with Republic Services, which provides garbage pickup in the community. There have been numerous complaints to POA board members and Loudon County commissioners in the last year about poor service.
Hart said he would like more transparency regarding negotiations with Republic.
Pillsbury said he understood the need for information but urged that he and the board be given time to develop a solution.
Toward the end of the meeting, Pillsbury asked for a show of hands of those in attendance who would support the initiation fee in theory. Nearly two-thirds of the audience raised their hands and several applauded.