Six local contractors sued Spokane County this week over some $1.1 million in unpaid bills at the West Plains racetrack the county owns.
The contractors claim the county was negligent in allowing the track’s operator, Austin Motorsports Management, to order hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs without obtaining the required performance bonds that would have guaranteed their payment.
Bucky Austin, the owner of a chain of auto repair shops and a racing enthusiast, won the contract to run the track early this year. But he fell behind on paying bills for the renovations over the summer, and contractors filed liens against the county.
Although Austin vowed in July to make good on all the debts by November, he wasn’t able to obtain financing. He defaulted on his lease agreement and eventually was stripped of the contract by county commissioners.
After taking the racetrack lease from Austin, county officials said they expected the county’s insurance carrier to pay the construction bills after all work and documents were audited.
Patrick Risken, an attorney under contract with the county to handle the contractors’ lawsuit, said Tuesday he was surprised the suit was filed because the audit is still under way and the companies are cooperating with it.
“The audit process is going to continue,” Risken said, adding he didn’t know how long it would take to complete.
Austin was the track’s operator, but the county is its owner, the contractors’ lawsuit says. County officials had a responsibility to make sure Austin was following the terms of the lease and obtaining the necessary bonds, the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit also notes that Commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard touted the potential benefits of the track when the county bought it for $4.3 million in 2008. “Commissioner Mark Richard is quoted as saying the track would become a positive venture ‘come heck or high water,’ ” the lawsuit says.
County officials have promised to pay the bills but so far have not done so, the suit says. Meanwhile, the county is “unjustly enriched” by having the construction in place at the racetrack, the suit says.