While the RRDA discussed potential operators who have expressed interest taking over the property, board members say there are no firm offers to do so.
Since operator Jimmy Bobo filed for bankruptcy and cleared off the land in 2012, the county has been left holding the bill for the property. The RRDA was formed in 2006 to guarantee debt on $18 million used for the construction of the new home for Bobo’s facility.
In 2012, a grand jury investigation began in their
dealings with Bobo.
Tuesday’s meeting was a joint meeting with the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners and counts as the first since November and the first with three new members.
New members Tom Ware, Jeff Duncan and Troy Welker are private citizens who’ve come on to fill vacancies on the five-member board, which was originally populated in full by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.
Now, Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens and Commissioner Harry Johnston are the two remaining commission members on the RRDA.
Ahrens said the county plans to have his and Johnston’s seats filled by non-commissioners by July 1.
Ahrens and Johnston led the discussion for the most part, laying out for the new members what is expected of them and what the broad purposes of the board are.
Goal One, Johnston offered, is to find someone to take the financial burden of payments on the property off Cherokee County. But he warned of potential loses the county could suffer if and when this operator is found.
“One of the hard decisions this board will have to make is — when we do get an offer we think is acceptable — if it’s less than 100 cents on the dollar, deciding what’s good enough,” he said of the potential financial hit.
Johnston said, though the county has no current offers, they do have “some interest” from potential operators.
“We have some people who we hope might make an offer,” he said.
New addition Ware spoke up mentioning that he’s already met at the site with a potential operator from Ohio.
Another visit with an operator was scheduled for this Wednesday and another for next week, Ahrens said.
Of all interested parties so far, Ahrens said, each of them have different ideas for the property ranging from production of wood pellets for export as fuel to Europe to the processing of sewage for specialty fertilizers.
Public turnout for the controversial board’s meeting Tuesday was light, but one citizen in attendance, Dave Konwick, did sign up to pose questions to the RRDA and county commission.
“Where are we at with the forensic audit of the RRDA,” Konwick asked, referring to a review of the board’s dealings with Bobo put in motion by the grand jury.
County Manager Jerry Cooper said the county was meeting with a representative of the firm contracted by the county to perform the audit, which has still not been completed, on Wednesday. The results of the forensic audit, Cooper said, will eventually be published in full.
The meeting with the financial firm, Ahrens said Wednesday, was a status update on the ongoing forensic audit.
During the meeting Tuesday, Ahrens brought up the possibility of refinancing the taxable portion of the $18 million debt, which now has a rate of 4.9 percent interest. This, Ahrens said, would lower the county’s monthly payments on the property.
This method, which Cooper referred to as the “scoop and toss” method, would however add total cost to the debt. And Ahrens said that’s the reason the county hasn’t as of yet refinanced.
“The reason we really haven’t done it is not knowing who the end operator is going to be, who might have a situation where they can take us out (of the situation) completely,” he said, referring to potential operators who may wish to purchase the property in full.
“Unlikely,” Ahrens said, but, because additional cost on the property would make it look less attractive to buyers, the possibility should be considered.
An hour and a half into its meeting, the RRDA voted to go into an executive session around 5:30 p.m. to discuss further their plans to find a new operator for the Ball Ground Recycling property. Because this is a real estate matter, some discussions can legally be discussed in closed meetings.
Johnston said Wednesday that a more in-depth discussion on potential operators was had during the closed meeting.