Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to accept the Resource Recovery Development Authority’s recommendation in favor of a lease purchase from Sugar Hill-based Cowart Mulch Products for the property, which has been costing Cherokee taxpayers $100,000 a month in lease payments.
Commissioner Harry Johnston was the lone vote against accepting the offer for the closed recycling facility formerly run by Jimmy Bobo, because Johnston thought the county should hold out for more money.
Minutes after the vote, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the resignation of the three RRDA members who recommended taking the offer just Monday night.
RRDA members Jeff Duncan, who had been chairman, John Konop and Tom Ware all submitted their resignation after recommending the deal with Cowart. Konop and Ware said they didn’t want to be the ones to sign on the dotted line.
The resignations left Robert Morrison as the only resident on the board originally populated by the five county commissioners, as Troy Welker had already resigned. The Board of Commissioners created the RRDA in 2006 to guarantee $18.1 million in debt to relocate Bobo’s operation from county-owned property on Blalock Road to its final spot on Highway 5.
With Duncan, Konop and Ware gone, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens, Commissioners Ray Gunnin, Jason Nelms and Johnston to temporarily fill the vacant seats so the initial agreements with Cowart could be executed. A called meeting was scheduled for that purpose Friday at 8 a.m.
The closing date on the final agreement with Cowart is set for July 1, at which point the buyer would pay the county $100,000 as prepayment for the first five months of rent beginning March 15, 2015, according to the initial agreement.
According to County Manager Jerry Cooper, the total value to the county of the 25-year lease purchase will be $6 million in principal plus interest. The site was appraised about two years ago for $6-8 million.
Johnston said he thought the county could get more than Cowart’s $4.2 million if more time was taken finding an operator for the site, on which the county has been responsible for lease payments since Bobo’s business went under.
“I know we’re not going to get full loan value,” Johnston said. “Even if it took us five years to get just $1 million more, we’d be better off.”
Johnston added the deal with Cowart wouldn’t stop county taxpayers from footing the bill for the $100,000 a month in lease payments on the property. Instead, the deal would reduce the payments by $20,000 a month. Johnston said he also didn’t like that payments wouldn’t start by Cowart until 2015.
For the other commissioners, the savings of $20,000 a month was enough to sway them in favor of the deal, which they said would at least lessen the burden on the taxpayers.
“This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination,” said Nelms during the meeting. “I think it’s foolish for anyone to think that the county could become whole. It’s moving this county and this board in the right direction.”
Commissioner Brian Poole, a vocal critic of the county’s deal with Bobo, said Cowart’s offer was probably as good as it would get.
“It’s a $6 million facility at best—at best,” Poole said after the meeting, adding he wanted a law enforcement investigation underway to answer how the county got obligated to $18 million on a plant that had been appraised recently at $6-to-8 million. “The plant’s been sitting there with nothing going on (for almost three years). We were never going to be whole.”
Poole was the one commissioner left out of joining the RRDA to execute the documents for Cowart’s lease purchase, but he said it was his idea to be left off. He said he didn’t want to be on the RRDA, even for a little while, because a grand jury which investigated the situation recommended only residents be on the board.
“When the grand jury speaks, we need to listen,” Poole said, though he did vote to appoint the other commissioners, because someone had to execute the documents.