Morrow County Commissioners and other county officials met with the board of Hidden Lakes Campground on July 8 to discuss growing issues within the facility. Recent complaints of vandalism, year-round residency and unpaid fees prompted commissioners to set up the meeting to help plan how to improve conditions at the campground.
“What can we as a county do to assist things out at Hidden Lakes?,” Commissioner Tom Whiston asked. “We need to establish for people to understand what the purpose of Hidden Lakes is, how we can improve it and how we, as a public entity, can assist with that situation.”
The Hidden Lakes Board spokesman explained that there has been confusion over time between the term “year round use” and “permanent residence.” He explained that they do not believe in prohibiting access to property at any time during the year, however, they are seeing a growing trend of people making Hidden Lakes their ‘permanent residence.’ He explained that it is troublesome from a maintenance standpoint, but also then violates the license as a campground. There is a desire to garner support to help them turn that situation around.
In addition, there is a financial issue. The spokesman noted more and more people are not paying their assessments. The costs to maintain the campground are to be equally shared by all property owners based on the number of lots that they own. Assessments are due May 1 of each year. The assessment this year is $515 per lot owned and they expected to receive approx $378,000 in assessments. They were over $100,000 short. Each year there is a growing number of people not paying, which hampers their ability to maintain the roads, maintain the clubhouse and pool, mowing, maintenance. It is a growing problem.
“We do not want to see it deteriorate to the point that we have to shut it down,” explained the board spokesman.
County Treasurer Tom Griffith shared that there are also property owners at Hidden Lakes that have unpaid taxes and that issue will be pursued as well.
County Prosecutor Charles Howland advised that the non-payment of assessments was a civil issue and recommended that the board hire a collections attorney to file an action to collect assessment. They will obtain a judgment and, if they do not pay the judgment, then the board can levy on that to pursue the property. Once they get the property back, they can change the terms of the resale.
The board explained that there is a legal judgment against an individual who uses the campground as a permanent residence and that issue will be pursued as well.
Recently there have been vandalism issues. Hidden Lakes is a gated community and because they are an association, people that have paid their assessments have gate cards so they can come and go freely. If they are behind on their assessments, then one of the actions is to shut off the gate card. It is not an attempt to keep them from reaching their property. It is an attempt to be able to identify who is going in and out, the spokesman said. If they have their card shut off they are supposed to see the security guard, show their identity showing they are a property owner and the security guard will let them in. They are permitted to be on their own property but, due to non payment of the assessments, they are not to be on any other common ground. There are growing incidents of people crashing the gate down because the guard is out on patrol. There is a radio there that they can call to ask to come in. “Instead they crash the gate,” said a board member.
The crashing of the gates is a vandalism issue and will be pursued as such with cooperation with the Sheriff’s Office. Chief Dep. Troy Landon explained that calls are responded to in order of priority. Therefore, if the Hidden lakes Board wanted the sheriff’s office presence there, they would need to consider hiring special duty officers, and the board is willing to do so.
Commissioner Dick Miller asked would they (Hidden Lakes Board) consider shutting down the clubhouse for the winter and shutting off the water. The board responded, “We already do that. The people carry water in. There are no services offered except security at the gate.”
Whiston closed the meeting by stating, “We have reached an understanding and have better clarification of the issues that are there. Some are ongoing but I think from the standpoint of the pursuit of civil issues need to be pursued. You have our support from what we can do, because I don’t like the issue of what people refer to Hidden Lakes as. We will work as best we can with you on the social issues and the criminal issues.”
Angie Smith and Brian Bennick from the Health Dept. were also available to answer questions and offer suggestions.
The Campground is located at 5248 Township Road 108 outside Mt. Gilead.
Reach Donna Carver at 419-946-3010, ext. 1804 or on Twitter @MorrCoSentinel.