Citing legal costs, APV hikes land owner fees

By Ken Jackson

Staff Writer

The 2018 budget the Association of Poinciana Villages’ Master Board ratified Tuesday includes a $24 hike, roughly 10 percent in residents’ annual association assessment.

In 2018, a Poinciana resident will pay the association $276 annually, or $23 monthly, up from $252.

In the 30-page document obtained by the News-Gazette, APV notes the increase is the first in six years, and is “primarily driven by three main areas of expense and revenue … bad debt recovery, future amenities enhancements and, most significant, costs associated with APV’s ongoing legal defense.”

News has come out from that legal defense over the last few weeks. Village 7 resident Martin Negron has filed two complaints with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) over how APV conducted its elections this year for Board of Directors seats. Village residents vote for the five members that sit on their village boards; one of those five is then chosen to sit on the APV Master Board, which votes on general APV matters.

The major issue has been how AV Homes, Poinciana’s main developer, has been allowed to cast one vote per house it “could” build on land tracts it owns, despite if those tracts are currently swamp land or under water.

A DBPR arbitrator ruled in Negron’s favor in June, negating APV’s February elections and mandating a new one on Aug. 1. The results, however, came out largely the same thanks to thousands of developer “block” votes. So, Negron filed another DBPR complaint, alleging the second election was equally flawed. The agency dismissed it because AV Homes had filed a case in the 10th Circuit Court (Polk County) prior to the Aug. 1 re-election, stating it can cast votes based on the highest density allowed on those plots, whether or not they are buildable due to wetlands or other factors.

When the DBPR found out about the AV Homes filing — not from APV attorney Tom Slaten but from court documents after it was filed — arbitrator Terri Leigh Jones filed a complaint against Slaten to the Florida Bar Association.

The Bar rejected that complaint last week, citing “insufficient evidence” that Slaten violated any court rules on attorney discipline and closed the case.

“I am pleased to report that arbitrator Terri Leigh Jones’ unfounded Florida Bar complaint against me was quickly and summarily dismissed,” Slaten said in a statement.

Negron’s counsel has filed a motion to dismiss the circuit court case, which would to allow the DBPR complaint to go through, but it won’t be heard until at least Nov. 20.

“We can’t even deal with that for months,” attorney Jennifer Englert said. “(The HOA) lied to everyone, meanwhile they are pushing through new contracts and budgets.”

Negron, who attended a residents’ information meeting last week about the budget, said he asked there how a board improperly elected could pass a new budget.

“They said they’d seat the board based on the Aug. 1 results, and they’d vote on the budget, but how can directors illegally put in make those decisions?” he said. “Have they even had a chance to look at the budget? All we can do is wait for the November hearing we hope will shed some light on our case once the judge realizes what Slaten did.”

The APV budget document details those disputes and another filed by three other residents, which stated the developer (AV Homes) was supposed to surrender certain covenants back to the residents in 2015.

The document shows APV is doubling its legal budget for 2018 to $500,000. It also anticipates the association losing over $100,000 in bad debt, eating into a $1 million surplus.

APV projects having 26,620 billable lots. If all pay their $288 assessment, the association would collect $7.66 million.