The Cherokee Resource Recovery Development Authority on Monday unanimously recommended the county accept a $4.2 million lease purchase to Sugar Hill-based Cowart Mulch Products for the facility, on which Cherokee still owes more than $16 million.
The Board of Commissioners is set Tuesday at 6 p.m. to consider the offer. If approved, it would bring taxpayers’ monthly burden on the now-closed facility down $20,000 from the about $100,000 being paid now, County Manager Jerry Cooper said.
Cooper said the total value to the county of the 25-year lease purchase would be $6 million in principal plus interest. The site was appraised about two years ago for between $6-to-8 million, Cooper said. He added the county hoped for opportunities to make up more of the loss in others ways, potentially through bio solids produced on the site.
The closing date of the sale set under the proposed agreement is July 1.
Cooper, members of the RRDA and commissioners alike say the offer might be the best option Cherokee has to relieve some of the pressure of the county’s debt on the facility.
County taxpayers have been responsible for $100,000 a month in lease payments since Bobo stopped making them around early 2012. The Board of Commissioners created the RRDA, originally populated by the five county commissioners, in 2006 to guarantee $18.1 million in debt to relocate Bobo’s operation from Blalock Road to its final spot on Highway 5.
RRDA Chairman Jeff Duncan said he and the rest of the board felt the offer on the table was the best chance “to stop some of the bleeding.”
“It’s hard to walk away from this feeling good. It’s hard to,” said Duncan, who along with the other sitting RRDA members replaced commissioners in 2013.
“But I think you come to a point where you have to cut your loss and do your very best with what I think are realistic values.”
RRDA member John Konop agreed, saying the county obligated itself to $18 million on a site that is only worth about a third of that.
“I think this is as good as it gets,” Konop said.
The feeling is the same for Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens.
“Sure it’s a big loss. We don’t have a better alternative at this point,” Ahrens said when asked of the loss after the RRDA meeting.
According to Ahrens, the county will be on the hook until 2037 for the rest of the amount owned on the facility. Like the county manager, Ahrens said he’s hoping for other opportunities to make up the loss from the deal. Ahrens said he hoped that if the sale was approved that Cowart’s presence on the property could spur similar development nearby.
“I believe that,” he said.
Commissioner Harry Johnston, a member of the Board of Commissioners when the deal with Bobo was struck, said there were no two ways about it; the situation has been bad for a while “and this is just more bad.”
“(There’s) not a good spin I could really put on it,” he said after the meeting Monday, adding he couldn’t say how he’d vote Tuesday. “I really wanted to get a lot more (money for the facility). It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to happen. I still had hoped to get more than this.”
Duncan said from the original agreement between the county and Bobo in 2005, the deal had been doomed, and the sitting RRDA was hoping to keep such a mess from happening again.
“The anatomy of the original deal was upside down. You don’t have to be a Harvard financier to understand that,” he said. “We have some commissioners who’ve inherited the mess and some who were there when it was going on. The bottom line right now is everybody’s just trying to get past it.”
In an effort to help prevent a similar situation, the RRDA is working on a list of “best practices,” which Duncan and Konop say could have changed everything in 2006.
“Had they followed our best practices that we put together, would this deal have happened (in 2006)?” Konop asked. “No way.”
The RRDA asked the county manager to consider those practices in the agreement with Cowart.
Duncan and Konop said they also wanted the state Legislature to act and effectively close a loophole in the law that allowed the RRDA to obligate the county to Bobo’s debt, a request that Ahrens has made to legislators for two years running.