An Update on the HFFA Transition

It’s been just over a month now since a new company began managing Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics (“HFFA”). The Swim Club Management Group (“SCMG”) based in Huntersville was awarded the HFFA management contract by the town board this summer after the prior management group had managed the facility since 2002. I wanted to see how the transition was going so I reached out to SCMG CEO Brian Sheehan to get his thoughts.

Eric


– What are some of the immediate changes SCM has implemented at HFFA over the past month?

We have made a number of changes, many of which members will begin to fully enjoy over the next 30-60 days. For example, we immediately closed down the outdated Café and signed an agreement with Summit Coffee to have them renovate and operate the Café and kitchen. We see an opportunity with this arrangement to increase our member service by offering a more diverse, healthy menu to our members. The arrangement should also be a boast to overall profitability. We have also signed agreements to purchase new fitness equipment. Members will soon see new equipment and repurposed spaces that will allow for bootcamp style classes and other specialized group exercise classes. 

We are also working with an outside firm to perform a membership survey at no additional cost to members or the taxpayers. We will receive their presentation on the results later this week and we expect to implement additional changes based on membership feedback. 

– How have HFFA members reacted to some of these immediate changes?

The response has been terrific. Some of the changes have been small. For example, we added complimentary fruit infused water at the entrance, dedicated a room to cycle/spin classes and created a classroom more conducive for the yoga classes. These changes cost very little but have made for a much better member experience. 

– Do you have any social media or marketing plans to attract new members to HFFA?

Yes, we identified this as an opportunity for improvement early on. We have enhanced our presence on social media and plan to do a better job of engaging our members through social media moving forward. In addition, we signed an agreement recently to have the HFFA website redesigned. The current website is outdated and unengaging. I believe the last time they updated the Current Events Section was 2015. Our members can expect a more functional and dynamic website within a few weeks.

– What are some of the short-term goals SCMG is focusing on at HFFA?

Our immediate focus has been on improving the members experience. We believe the best way to attract new members is to offer our current members a great experience. We have also put a heavy emphasis over the past 30 days on cleaning up a few risk management issues. Part of having a positive member experience is keeping our members and their children safe. This is a responsibility we take very serious and we are moving quickly to make certain all areas of the facility are operating at industry best-practice. 

– How do you see HFFA benefiting from or complementing the town’s new rec center still under construction across the street on Verhoeff?

We have quickly established a great working relationship with Parks & Recreation and we are excited to create synergies with their new space. They have offered all HFFA members free access to the facility which provides a great value proposition for our members. 

– Can you briefly explain how HFFA is funded – including how taxpayers contribute.

HFFA is funded, in part, by Tourism (Hotel/Motel) Taxes, along with other revenue sources like membership fees. Our goal is to reduce the reliance on taxpayer funds at HFFA. 

Within our first week we identified that there were numerous members with past due balances. In fact, the total dollar amount was in excess of $12,000. Our team worked diligently on this matter and within our first 30 days we have collected over $10,000 in past due fees. In most cases the issue was simply a member that had obtained a new credit card and forgot to update us. Making all those phone calls was certainly not the most fun job in the building during the first 30 days, but it was necessary to properly operate the business. We understand the fiduciary responsibility we have to the taxpayers to be good stewards of their money and the people of Huntersville can expect us to operate accordingly.   

– What message do you have for those who were opposed to the decision to make a change in management at HFFA?

Whether you advocated for a change in management or opposed a change in management, we welcome you as a member at HFFA.  I have lived here most of my life and I know the people of Huntersville are fair and open-minded. I hope everyone will take the time to stop into the facility over the next 60 days and see the positive changes we’re making. 

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Dan Boone

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville over a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Commissioner Dan Boone for responding – even if slightly past the deadline. I’ll continue to post additional responses prior to the election if other candidates wish to respond.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: One specific agenda item I want to work on is working with our new Huntersville Ordinance Advisory Board in their efforts to review and overhaul our town’s ordinances and regulations to eliminate those that are unnecessary and overburden our citizens and businesses.

[For incumbents] Any vote over the last two years you would change and why – or, if none, any item you would have accomplished and why: My only regret is that we did not pass term limits for members of volunteer town boards.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: North Carolina is a Dillon Rule state which means the role of Huntersville’s town government (and the role of all town governments in NC) and what town government can use taxpayer dollars for is already defined and limited by state law. We may only take on the roles and powers and perform tasks expressly granted to us by state law or “fairly implied by the expressed power in the statute.” Key roles granted to municipalities include public safety (police and fire protection, etc.), providing certain services to citizens such as trash pick-up, building and maintaining town streets and roads, planning and zoning, enacting local ordinances to protect the public good as long as they do not conflict with state law, providing parks and recreational opportunities for residents, and the ability to levy certain taxes and fees on citizens to pay for the roles we fill. I believe that we should closely adhere to Dillon’s rule and to state law. It is a much needed limitation on the powers of local government.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: I personally strongly dislike tax incentives and wish that no one is allowed to use them. However, as long as other towns, cities, counties and states have the option to offer tax incentives then offering them must remain an option for Huntersville. I believe that the use of incentives should be evaluated closely on a case by case basis and that we should use incentives very sparingly on projects that will have a very significant impact on our town and our region’s economy. Any time that we decide to offer incentives they must include aggressive clawbacks designed to guarantee that if a company does not create the amount jobs and/or invest as much in our local economy as they agreed to do that incentives must be repaid along with interest and other penalties.

I also believe that we should focus just as much on creating a business-friendly atmosphere that encourages our existing businesses to expand, grow and create jobs as we do on recruiting new business to town. We can do this by continuing to eliminate overly burdensome regulations, keeping our tax rate low, tackling the traffic challenges we face, keeping our community safe, and ensuring the infrastructure is in place to support their growth and expansion. 

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: I support the town’s current policy and guidelines for allocating grants to not-for-profit corporations.

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): I believe that I was elected to represent the citizens of Huntersville and that I work for them. They are my bosses. Whenever the will of the people is not in conflict with my conscience then I will vote the will of the people. When the will of the people conflicts with my conscience I will explain to our citizens the concerns I have and work to try to come up with a solution or compromise that can reconcile the will of the people with my conscience. If that is not possible then I will follow my conscience and do what I believe is right for our town and its citizens.

Your favorite US president: Ronald Reagan. I admire President Reagan for his leadership, his courage, his willingness to speak his mind, his love for our country and its citizens, and his optimism for the future of America.  His vision of America as “a Shining City on a Hill” still inspires me to this day.  

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: Frederic Bastiat for his developing the concept of opportunity cost, for his pamphlet The Law, and for providing the economic beliefs and theories that serve as the foundation for the Austrian school of economics.

How can readers find out more about your campaign? 

booneforhuntersville.com

facebook.com/danboonehuntersville

– email: danboonenc @ aol.com

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Charles Guignard

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Commissioner Charles Guignard for responding – even if slightly past the deadline.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: To continue to work with the state legislatures to help make Huntersville be on equal footing with Charlotte/Mecklenburg County with regards hotel/motel tax, prepared food tax, schools ABC monies and many other issues because we are severely lacking and not being treated appropriately in those areas currently.

[For incumbents] Any vote over the last two years you would change and why – or, if none, any item you would have accomplished and why: If I were King for a day I would take Flouride out of regions water because it is a known toxic waste and we only can begin to know what harm it is causing our society.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: The town should continue to provide everything from appropriate, realistic police and fire protection to efficient waste pickup as well as the planning and infrastructure services the town currently provides. So there is and always should be a limit with some being perceived and some being real as well as those dictated by Mother Charlotte.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: As a small business owner of over 40 years, I have always struggled with subsidies especially those the previous administration gave to Wal-Mart. However, I approach each of these as they are presented to us and base a decision on long-term benefit to the community.

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: I abide by and will continue to abide by the policy the board has in place for such contributions.

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): I will approach each vote on individual merit and always vote with the long-term benefit to the community in mind.

Your favorite US president: Dwight D. Eisenhower because of the road system he created. 

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme, except for the Dunkin Donuts maple donut.

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: I am French and don’t know one.

How can readers find out more about your campaign? [no answer provided – and don’t bother searching for Commissioner Guignard’s social media accounts, your best bet is to reach him by phone.]

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Mark Gibbons

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Commissioner Mark Gibbons for responding – even if slightly past the deadline.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: As long as the issues we have already worked on (ETJ, Dispatch, roads, HFFA) continue to progress as I hope, I would like to focus on getting a fairer distribution of ABC money for Huntersville, and continue to look for ways to save money for the taxpayers. I continue to be active in trying to get a better solution to the HOT lanes on I77 which includes lobbying our elected reps at state and federal level to change the voting structure at CRTPO.

[For incumbents] Any vote over the last two years you would change and why – or, if none, any item you would have accomplished and why: I stand by all of my votes. With that said, I may have voted differently on a tax incentive plan having more knowledge of the subject. I try to educate myself on the issues we face and make the best decision based on what I feel is best for Huntersville overall. I think this board has been deliberate and sound in our decisions.  That is not to say everyone agrees with them.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: Municipal government should provide safety services (police and fire), other public health services (trash pickup and ordnances that protect all), planning of development and infrastructure, local road maintenance and building new local roads as required, and some recreational amenities.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: No. I did vote to give tax incentives and alluded to that above. As for picking or discriminating, it is never presented as giving company A something and giving company B nothing. What each company brings to the local area is considered (# of jobs and salary range, capital investment value, and their commitment to Huntersville). I lean towards minimal incentives, but cannot say I would never vote for an incentive package.

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: I was one of the board members who pushed our new town policy on charitable contributions. [Note – you can review the policy in question at a prior post on this issue here.] I feel that giving taxpayer money to charities we (town board) choose is wrong.  Charity is not, by definition, government taking your money and giving it to someone else. I want to be very clear, there are many local charities that serve Huntersville residents and are deserving of charitable donations, just not from government.

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): This is a no win question. I say I am elected to represent the people of Huntersville (even those who do not vote for me), but I find that my conscience usually leads me to that vote. If it feels wrong to me, it is probably wrong for Huntersville.

Your favorite US president: Teddy Roosevelt

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Dunkin, but sure glad to have a new donut shop in town, Duck Donuts.

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: I was going to say Comte (tic), but since you are asking the question, Bastiat all the way.

How can readers find out more about your campaign?

electmarkgibbons.com

– email: electmarkgibbons @ gmail.com

facebook.com/electmarkgibbons

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Brian Hines

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Brian Hines for responding – even if slightly past the deadline.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: Roads-Have been talking about some of the same road projects since the time I served on the Planning Board in the mid 2000’s. No reason we cannot move these projects forward quicker.

[For challengers] One specific vote over the last two years you disagreed with and why: [no answer provided]

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: Protect citizens and oversee and steward their tax dollars

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: We need to encourage Economic Development in our town as it is critical for our tax base.

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: [no answer provided]

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): [no answer provided]

Your favorite US president: Ronald Reagan

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: I do not follow enough to have a favorite. [Frederic Bastiat would have been an acceptable answer.]

How can readers find out more about your campaign?

electbrianhines.com

– facebook.com/electbrianhines/

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Lance Munger

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Only one candidate returned the questionnaire by yesterday’s deadline, Lance Munger. 

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: Revisit the Huntersville 2030 Plan, place a better emphasis on green building, specifically by 1) encouraging the preservation of tree canopy, 2) Incentivizing the use of alternative energy in new and existing developments, 3) Create incentive programs for LEED certified buildings and 4) Address the issue of growth and explore options to achieve a more sustainable growth rate.

[For challengers] One specific vote over the last two years you disagreed with and why: The extension of the closure deadline of LCID landfills. 1) The original wording of the ordinance indicated that “In No Event” would the deadline be extended, when questioned the general response from town officials was that those were just words. 2) Not a single resident spoke out in favor of this extension. 3) The Staff recommendation was to oppose this extension and force LCID to go down the Special Usage Permit (SUP) path, which would involve a full public hearing where all residents would need to be notified and have the opportunity speak. 4) The Planning Board recommended denial by a vote of 5-1 and also supported the (SUP) path.  Despite all of this, the motion carried 5-1.  To me this is a clear case of our elected officials failing to listen to their constituents.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: To promote our town as a safe and friendly place to live. To encourage sustainable growth, job expansion and deliver quality services, while ensuring a minimal environmental impact.  I do believe there are limits to what taxpayer dollars should be used for, if you have specific items that you would like me to address, I would be happy to do so.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: I understand the importance of this question and acknowledge that as an elected official, I would never want to create losers in a business environment within our town by creating more favorable conditions for some businesses over others.  With that being said, I don’t think that there is a blanket yes or no answer to this question.  I believe that every situation should be evaluated to determine what would be most beneficial to all of our residents. My focus would be on attracting larger companies to our business areas such as The Park.  The goal in doing this would be that we bring new higher paying jobs to the community without displacing any of our existing businesses.

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: I am very open minded on this subject, I don’t have a specific agenda in regards to most of the non-profit/charitable organizations that Huntersville currently does or possibly could fund.  The one exception is that I would like to see us continue to support the Arts & Science Council (ASC).

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): Will of the people.

Your favorite US president: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme, but really Duck Donuts destroys them both.

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: Antoine Augustin Cournot

How can readers find out more about your campaign?

votelancemunger.org

facebook.com/voteforlancemunger

 

HFFA Transition Costs – Severance Pay

The town board voted well over a month ago on July 11 to change management companies at HFFA. As a consequence of that decision, pursuant to section 8.(c) of the current management contract between the town and the current management company, Health & Sports Works, if the contract is terminated without cause the town is required to pay a termination fee equal to 6 mos. base management fees AND 8 WEEKS SEVERANCE FOR DEPARTMENT HEADS. Interestingly, this line about severance was only added to the current contract that the prior board rushed through less than a month before the 2015 elections – approved 4-2  by Commissioners Julian, McAulay, Neely, and Bales (yes, the same Melinda Bales running for re-election this year).

In all three prior management contracts in 2002, 2006, and 2011, the termination language limited the town’s exposure to 6 mos. base management fees – of course, if the town had taken the reasonable position that the contract was being terminated for cause, taxpayers wouldn’t have had to pay any additional monies to terminate the contract. Why the town would ever agree to such unfavorable terms is a topic for another post.

Would you expect current employees at HFFA to receive “severance pay” if they maintain employment under the new management company? Dictionary.com tells me that severance pay is paid because of a lack of work. So if the new management company decides to hire employees of HSW and keep them employed in their same or similar positions, how will they be without work? Doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s the position HSW is taking according to emails sent to the town. Seems to me the town never intended to pay “severance” to people who maintain consistent work. Too bad the current contract doesn’t have a definitions section so any disagreements over terms could be easily resolved. Good thing the town has top notch legal counsel advising them on how to resolve disputes over easily understood terms like severance.

So, how much are taxpayers in Huntersville going to have to pay the current management company to stop managing HFFA? At present, the demand for severance appears to be $95,287.29 related to nine, YES NINE, department heads. Just to put that in context, the town only has six department heads, eight if you include the town attorney and town manager. Don’t bother trying to find information about each department at the HFFA website, it’s not there. Will the current town board and current town manager just agree to whatever amount HSW  demands in severance without negotiating? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Eric