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Spokane racetrack behind on bills

Tue., June 30, 2009, 9:43 a.m.

County is owed $20,000; contractors, more than $1 million

The operator of Spokane County’s West Plains racetrack owes $20,000 in back payments to the county and more than $1 million to contractors who have been refurbishing the facility, county officials say.

County Executive Marshall Farnell confirmed Monday that Bucky Austin, the track’s operator, has missed two monthly payments of $10,000 each, which are required under the terms of the lease announced last fall.

“He is two months behind,” Farnell said. “We don’t know why.”

The county asked Austin to “resolve” the lease payment problem – that is, make the payments he owes – last week, Parks Director Doug Chase said. If he doesn’t make the payments, Austin could be served notice that he’s in breach of contract, and his lease could be eventually terminated.

But any such action is down the road, Chase said.

Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard said he was concerned about the missed payments to the county but wants to hear more from county staff after they meet with racetrack officials. “I have a lot of respect for Bucky and his team,” Richard said.

Austin owns a chain of auto repair shops in the Puget Sound area, but he operates the racetrack under a separate limited liability corporation. Efforts to reach Austin or track manager Jay Livingston for comment were unsuccessful Monday.

Commissioners will not meet this week because of vacation schedules, but county staffers hope to set up a conference call by midweek to include Austin, his track manager and financial advisers and county parks, purchasing and legal staff.

County officials have been notified that Austin also has at least two unpaid bills for work at the county-owned facility.

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Jim Emacio said the county has been notified of an unpaid bill of $768,471.39 from William Winkler, a concrete company, and another of $294,942.19 from T.W. Clark, a general contractor.

Representatives of both companies could not be reached for comment Monday.

The county isn’t aware of all the terms of the agreements between Austin and contractors working at the racetrack, so it hasn’t reached a conclusion about the debts, Emacio said. There may be other unpaid bills as well, from contractors who have not yet notified the county, he added.

One other contractor who said he has not yet been paid for all his work at the track is John DePaolo, owner of DePaolo Painting. He said Monday he had only been paid for about half the work he has done at the track and is still owed about $24,000 that was billed at the end of April, with payment due by the end of May.

After the partial payment, track officials promised the remainder “in a couple of weeks, after a big event,” DePaolo said.

DePaolo said he talked to Livingston, the track manager, “three or four weeks ago” about the debt. At the time, Livingston wanted DePaolo to do more painting, and the contractor asked when he was going to be paid for past work.

“I haven’t heard from him in three weeks,” DePaolo said.

The painting contractor said he contacted the county about the debt but “they couldn’t give me an answer.” He was waiting to see what action larger firms, such as Winkler and Clark, would take.

Contractors should notify the county of such problems, Emacio said: “Obviously, the county’s interested in what’s going on at the racetrack.”

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