The pasture fence is back on the agenda of the Seven Lakes Landowners Association [SLLA] Board of Directors, with a vote on the $40,000 - $45,000 project scheduled for the Association's Thursday, May 28 Open Meeting.
President Chuck Leach put the proposal on the table during the Board's Thursday, May 14 Work Session.
The same proposal for a four-and-one-half foot fence with round posts and three round rails failed in a tie vote of the previous Board in March, with opposition from Directors Steve Ritter, Bob Racine, and Mary Farley. Leach, Sandy Sackmann, and Dave Hill voted for the proposal. [Ritter and Hill's term on the Board have since expired.]
Leach said the fence was needed to protect the Association from the liability, if a horse escaped the pasture, as happened a couple of times in 2014.
Leach said that two fence contractors contacted for bids on the job "said that this is the worst fence they have ever seen along a main road to contain horses."
Once the need to address the aging pasture fence was raised last year, he explained, the facilities committee researched the issue, visiting local horse farms, the NC State Equine Center, the NC Cooperative Extension Service, and a company that manufactures horse fences.
The veterinarian who services the Seven Lakes Stables recommended putting up the "strongest fence you can afford" along Seven Lakes Drive and East Shenandoah Drive, Leach said. Fencing contractors recommended the round post fence with three round rails.
In order to make the cost of the project easier for the Association to digest, Leach recommended having the work done in two phases, splitting the cost over two fiscal years. Community Manager Ray Sohl said the price offered by the lowest bidder a few months ago had increased by five percent.
Once Leach opened the floor for comments from the Board and members in attendance, the debate lurched back and forth between the need for the fence and the need for the stables.
No escapes lately
Noting that he was initially against building a new fence, Racine said he heard that one of the ponies had managed to squirm under the existing fence. On the other hand, he noted that, once some maintenance was done on the existing fence, no other horses have escaped, despite the fact that the fence is only about thirty inches high.
"I am bewildered as to yes or no," Racine said. "If it were maintained, do we need a new fence?"
Former Director Ritter made much the same point.
"How many horses have escaped since the Board last voted on this?" he asked. "$40,000 is a lot to spend on something that is already consuming ten percent of our budget. It's not an appropriate use of money."
Noting that some of the harshest criticism of the existing fence had come from fence contractors, Ritter said, "People are telling us how terrible the fence is because they want to sell us $40,000 worth of fencing."
Director Greg Lishawa said maintaining the existing fence is not without its own costs. He said both posts and rails have to be specially milled. Posts cost $12 each; the Association spent $1000 on posts last year. In addition, maintaining the fence consumes maintenance crew man-hours.
"We could wind up spending $60,000-$70,000 fixing this thing, when we could put up a new fence and not have to worry about it for thirty years, hopefully," Lishawa said. "We are spending a lot of money on it right now."
"There is a known issue with the height," Community Manager Ray Sohl said. "It is so far below standards it represents a real safety issue and a liability issue. Knowing that you have a hole in your parking lot and you don't fill it, there is a lot of exposure for you."
Ritter noted that photos of a round-post-round-rail horse fence that Leach had distributed showed an electric fence wire running near the top post.
"Why aren't we spending $4,000 or $5,000 to upgrade the wire on our existing fence?" Ritter asked. "Why not put in two strands of electric wire, one high and one low -- that can't be near as expensive -- and see if that works. If it doesn't, then you can revisit the issue."
"That's what we started out with," Recreation Director Mary Farley said, "to replace the bad rails and fix the electric fence. I still believe that we should fix what we have."
Do we need the stables?
"Why do we have so many horses?" Resident Al Hann asked, adding that he never sees anyone riding them. Acknowledging that ridership is tracked by stables personnel, Hann said, "I don't believe the numbers."
"I can't see spending $100,000 on the horses every year and driving on dirt roads," he said. "And that's what I'm afraid is going to happen. I think we're using our money in the wrong places."
Randy Teske urged the Board to conduct a member survey to see how many people use and how many are in favor of keeping each amenity. The survey, he said, should include the cost of each amenity.
"I'm not saying 'Get rid of the horses,' but perhaps some changes need to be made," he said.
"We have an ethical and moral responsibility to keep those horses," Director Joy Smith said, because when we bought in here, we knew the horses were there. Those horses are used . . . All the camps are filled."
"Those horses are used every single day," Director Farley agreed.
"When I bought in here I knew that I would never use those horses," resident Jane Leach said. "We all bought in here and that was our contract."
"I'm proud of our community that we are supporting those organizations like Prancing Horse," she added, referring to the use of the stables by a local therapeutic riding organization that serves children and adults with physical and mental challenges, as well as wounded veterans.
On the agenda
Leach eventually called for a brief recess; when the Board returned, he moved that the fence proposal be brought to the Open Meeting on Thursday, May 28, with the proviso that two additional bids would be obtained prior to the meeting and the proposal would be reviewed by the Financial Committee.
That motion was approved in a five-to-two vote, with Racine and Mark Gyure opposed.