The Cherokee Resource Recovery Development Authority voted unanimously Friday morning to indefinitely table the offer from Sugar Hill-based Cowart Mulch Products for the inactive facility, which has been costing Cherokee taxpayers $100,000 a month in lease payments.
Members of the RRDA, who are now four of the five county commissioners, said they wanted more time to review the offer after the company sent in changes late Thursday night.
“We haven’t had time to digest them,” Commissioner Jason Nelms said after the meeting. “We just got them last night at 11:30. Going through it pretty
briefly, there’s some pretty major changes in there that I’m not comfortable with and I don’t think my colleagues are comfortable with.”
Nelms added two other companies have expressed interest in the property since the news broke that Cowart Mulch had made a formal offer on the facility, which the county still owes more than $16 million on. The RRDA was created in 2006 to guarantee $18.1 million in bond debt to move the business run by Jimmy Bobo from Blalock Road to Highway 5. The taxpayers were stuck with the bill after the company failed.
With so much taxpayer money on the line, Nelms said the county had to be careful and weigh Cowart Mulch’s offer against those that are expected to come in from the other companies interested.
County Manager Jerry Cooper said Friday he had not yet had time to review all of the changes submitted by Cowart Mulch, but the $4.2 million price hadn’t changed. The final price of principal plus interest over the 25-year lease purchase, however, went down about $25,000 from $6 million, Cooper said.
Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said Friday there were concerns about proposed changes that could disqualify a portion of the county’s debt from being tax-exempt. But he said it wasn’t yet known exactly how substantial the changes truly were.
“We’re going to sit down and look at it and ask lawyers,” he said. “We purposely did not set a timeline.”
The Board of Commissioners approved accepting Cowart’s offer Tuesday night and appointed all commissioners but Brian Poole to the RRDA to replace three members who resigned suddenly. The resigning members had voted to recommend approval of the offer Monday, but they said they didn’t want to be the ones to sign any documents, which is required by the RRDA, because the authority owns the Ball Ground facility.
The meeting Friday morning was planned for the purpose of signing the documents, but Ahrens said the company’s changes threw commissioners off.
Commissioner Harry Johnston, the lone commissioner against accepting the offer Tuesday night, said he still hadn’t digested the changes, but so far he thought they made the deal worse.
“Of course, I was not in favor before and as far as I can understand the changes, they don’t move in the direction that would make me more likely to approve,” Johnston said after the meeting. “They’d make me even less likely. It suits me fine to postpone and see if maybe we can improve this deal, or maybe see if these other people who are inquiring have something better to offer.”
Johnston has said he voted against Cowart’s offer because it was so far short of the more than $16 million still owed on the property.
Like Johnston and Nelms, Commissioner Ray Gunnin said he had concerns about the changes the company submitted.
“I’m going to try my best not to approve or sign off on anything that I am not clear on what it means,” Gunnin said after the meeting. “Getting that at 11:30 at night with a meeting at 8 the next morning is not really the best.”
Nelms said he’d also heard from residents who were worried about the deal in general.
“The citizens that I’m speaking with are very concerned about this. Rightfully so,” he said. “We’ve got to do the very best we can and I’ve assured them we will.”
Chris Cowart, Cowart Mulch owner, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.