July 1, 2009 in City

Track operator nearly current with county

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane County expects to receive the last third of $30,000 by the end of the week that will cover monthly payments through July from racetrack operator Bucky Austin.

County officials will meet Monday with Austin and his staff about notices from contractors for past-due bills totaling more than $1 million for work done on the county-owned track. They will also try to determine whether a surety bond was obtained for the improvements, as required by the lease.

On Tuesday, Austin referred to allegations of missed payments as “malarkey” and contended that threats of liens by contractors are a standard billing tactic. Some of the work was only recently completed, he said.

“I don’t think I owe anybody over 45 or 50 days,” Austin said.

But an attorney for two of the major contractors at the racetrack, Winkler Concrete and T.W. Clark, disagreed. John Black said the bills from those companies averaged 60 days past due. Contractors hired him to file liens because they exhausted other avenues and were worried they wouldn’t get paid, he said.

The contractors have notified the county, which owns the racetrack, of those demands for payment. “This is the last thing they wanted to do,” Black said.

Austin made a lease payment to the county of $10,000 on June 24 to cover May, another Monday to cover June, and sent a third Tuesday to cover July. Because of a staffing change, he said, he was unaware that the payments were due on the first day of each month and hadn’t been sent but moved quickly to correct the problem once notified last week by the county.

County officials said they were unaware Monday that Austin’s May payment had arrived that day because it went to the courthouse, rather than the North Havana Street offices of the Parks Department, which handles the accounts for the racetrack. Although he was late with his May and June payments, the county will consider him current on his lease payments if it receives the other two payments by the end of the week, Parks Special Projects Manager John Bottelli said.

The county already has his second payment – staffers just need to look for it, Austin said. He sent it by FedEx to the same courthouse address as the first payment, and he has the tracking number to prove it. The third is going to the North Havana address, he added.

With the account current on the lease payments, county officials want to talk to Austin next week about surety bonds, which the lease agreement requires for any major work at the track, Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Jim Emacio said.

“Under the terms (of the lease) he was supposed to provide a copy of the performance bond to the county,” Emacio said. County staffers were required to review the terms of the bond to be sure that it was adequate for the project covered.

But the county has no bond documents on file and staff members “were not requested to review a surety bond” for work at the track, Emacio said.

If there was a bond, Black said, the contractors could seek payment through the bonding company, rather than filing liens against the improvements made on county-owned property. The county had a statutory responsibility to make sure that Austin had a bond, he added.

Austin insisted if bonds weren’t obtained, that was the responsibility of the prime contractor, T.W. Clark, which was managing the project and in charge of requirements set down by the county in its lease agreement.

“We didn’t have the expertise to do that,” Austin said.


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