The operator of the Spokane County Raceway insists he has no
plans to shut down the track or shorten the racing season, and all contractors
will be paid for work done at the county-owned facility.
met Monday with County Commissioner Todd Mielke, plus county legal, finance and
parks staff, to discuss complaints of nonpayment from contractors and the
failure to purchase a performance bond required by his operating agreement. Two
large contractors, T.W. Clark and Winkler Concrete, filed notices of liens with
the county late last month totaling more than $1 million.
will provide some form of collateral by early next week to protect taxpayers
while the bills are examined and payments are sorted out, Mielke said.
In an interview with The Spokesman-Review after the meeting, Austin said he
“overspent” by doing construction projects during the first half of 2009 that were
required in the first two years of his lease.
About $2 million worth of construction has been done at the
track, and about half has been paid, he said. That includes DiPaolo Painting, a
contractor mentioned in a June 30 story, who was sent the second half of his
payment by overnight mail after the story ran.
said he hopes to work out payment schedules for the rest with the remaining
contractors. Some invoices are “barely 30 days old” and the bills average about
45 days. Some bills were delayed in the mail because the racetrack’s address
has changed three times since the county acquired it; a change in personnel
also meant the track’s financial operations recently moved from the raceway
park to his home office in Fife.
“Our intent is to pay them, and to pay them as quickly as
said. Outstanding invoices have to be checked to insure the work was done
properly and he wasn’t double-billed. He said he expected to make regular
payments and to pay all legitimate claims “no later than Nov. 1.”
John Black, an attorney for Clark and Winkler, called Austin’s promise of
payment “good news – if it happens.”
But he was concerned about Austin’s
suggestion that contractors might have to wait more than three months for some
payments for work already done: “They’re contractors, not bankers.”
Under state laws governing public works projects – which include
the work at the track because it is owned by the county – Austin has the right
to withhold 5 percent of the bill for any work until he was satisfied it was
done properly as retainage, Black said. “But he can’t withhold 100 percent.”
The contractors have filed lien notices with the county because Austin does not have a
bond that would serve as security for those bills. Under the operating
has with the county, he was required to obtain the bond and the county was
required to review it to insure it was adequate. Neither happened.
On Monday, Austin
repeated his belief that Tom Clark of T.W. Clark, who served as the project
manager, was responsible for making sure the bond was obtained. Austin, who
owns a chain of auto repair shops in the Puget Sound area, said he hired Clark to make sure the government requirements were
followed, and that would include the bond.
Black disagreed, noting that the operating agreement was between
Austin and the county, and that Clark was not
involved in that aspect of the projects.
Questions about the type of bond mentioned in the operating
agreement were discussed early this spring with the county Purchasing
Department, which was required to review it. The department determined that
type of bond might not be available, Mielke said.
County commissioners could have amended the operating agreement
to correct that problem and require different collateral, if they had known.
But they were never told, Mielke said. By early next week, the county expects
to have some form of collateral from Austin
to guarantee that taxpayers will not be responsible for the contractors’ bills.
Austin said he
has already given Winkler a deed of trust on property he owns as security for
Although the Parks Department was monitoring work at the track,
commissioners also were not aware that Austin
was far ahead of the two-year schedule for required upgrades at the track,
said it made economic sense to do much of the work at the beginning, to avoid
paying a second round of setup fees for some of the expensive equipment. It
also meant that the facility was in prime condition to make a good impression
with racers and spectators for the big drag racing event in mid-June.
“We’re trying to do this right. We’re putting our heart into it,”
“It’s not an issue of not wanting to pay.”