Both the Cherokee Resource Recovery Development Authority, which owns the property, and the Board of Commissioners voted in a joint meeting Tuesday to reject a revised $4.2 million offer from Sugar Hill-based Cowart Mulch Products.
Members of the RRDA, which includes resident Robert Morrison and all commissioners but Brian Poole, voted unanimously to reject Cowart’s amended offer for the 25-year lease purchase. Cowart Mulch proposed changes to letter of interest for the property hours before documents were to be executed Feb. 21, a move which worried commissioners and caused the county to delay. Both the RRDA and Board of Commissioners had approved the original offer earlier in February.
The Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to reject the revised offer, which Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens has said he worried might disqualify a portion of the county’s debt from being tax-exempt. Ahrens also says others have shown interest in the property since talks began with Cowart Mulch.
Poole, who has said he didn’t want anything to do with the controversial RRDA, was the lone commissioner to vote against denying Cowart’s proposal. He said after the meeting he disagreed with rejecting the offer after the county had already, in effect, agreed to do business with Cowart Mulch by approving the company’s original offer in late February.
“I just feel like they made an offer to us, we’ve accepted it, we should go with it,” Poole said. “They came forward before anybody else. You turn them down because other people came to the table after the fact and are interested?”
Poole said he didn’t believe any of the changes submitted by Cowart Mulch should have been deal-breakers.
County Manager Jerry Cooper has said the $4.2 million price hadn’t changed in the revised offer. The final price of principal plus interest over the 25-year lease purchase, however, went down about $25,000 from $6 million, Cooper said last week. Cooper was unable to provide the Tribune with a copy of the rejected offer by press time Tuesday night.
Commissioner Harry Johnston, who voted against accepting Cowart Mulch’s original offer in February, said Tuesday’s denial didn’t mean he wouldn’t be open to reaching an agreement on the property with the Sugar Hill company.
“We don’t really want to say we could never do business with Cowart Mulch. In fact, on the contrary, we hope that we can do business,” Johnston said during the meeting. “I think we’ve just come to see that on these terms —particularly on the counter offer terms — we basically have to start over and try again.”
Ahrens said he had reviewed the proposed changes from Cowart Mulch and he wasn’t comfortable with them.
“There were some significant things in there,” Ahrens said after the meeting. “Some other opportunities have come along. Everybody’s aware of that.”
The commission chair said he wanted to be clear that the county didn’t “shop” the property around after Cowart Mulch submitted its offer.
“And there was no agreement not to have any other conversations,” he added.
Cowart Mulch Owner Chris Cowart was not in attendance at the meeting Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday night. Cowart’s attorney Randy Grayson attended the meeting and said afterward he could not comment as he was rushing to meet Cowart to discuss the matter. When told other parties had shown interest in the property, Grayson appeared surprised.
Cherokee County owes around $16 million on the private business formerly run by resident Jimmy Bobo, after the county created the RRDA in 2006 to back $18.1 million in bond debt to relocate Bobo’s business from county property to Highway 5. When the company closed down, the responsibility of the debt shifted to taxpayers.
The offer from Cowart Mulch would have reduced the burden on county taxpayers by about $20,000 a month.