Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

County has new specs to run track

.Spokane County is looking for a new operator of its racetrack who will have to have something the last operator did not – experience running a track.

A request for qualifications to bid on the contract for the Spokane County Raceway Park was released Wednesday and the lease could be awarded by mid February, County Parks Director Doug Chase said. Any bidder must provide significantly more information on finances than the county requested last year, and expect increased oversight of track operations by the county.

“I think it’s safe to say” the county learned from problems it had with Bucky Austin, who received the operator’s lease for the track early this year, Chase said.

Contractors sue county

Six Spokane area contractors are suing Spokane County over unpaid bills from the county’s West Plains racetrack.

In the latest move in the ongoing dispute over the track’s management by Austin Motorsports, the six contractors say they are owed a total of $1.13 million for worked performed earlier this year. Austin lost his contract to manage the track earlier this year because of the unpaid bills, and for failing to follow certain rules of the agreement, which required him to get a performance bond for the work being done there.

He didn’t obtain a bond, and last summer blamed one of the prime contractors, who he claimed was responsible for such details as the project manager.

The lawsuit asks for the court to order the county to pay the bills and attorneys fees. It notes that when the county bought the racetrack in 2008 at a foreclosure auction, two of the commissioners touted its economic potential.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said the purchase gave the county a chance to consider other recreatonal possibilities, the suit notes, while Commissioner Mark Richard said the track “would be a positive venture ‘come heck or high water.’”

Could someone check the water levels on the West Plains?

County to Austin: You’re fired

Spokane County commissioners fired the company they hired less than a year ago to operate the county’s Raceway Park, their controversial purchase near Airway Heights that drew good crowds this summer but racked up some $1.2 million in unpaid construction debt.

The county’s insurance may be needed to pay contractors that performed the work ordered by Austin Motor Sports Management but never approved by the county, they said.

Commissioners voted unanimously during a special afternoon meeting Thursday to terminate the contract with the company and its owner Bucky Austin, a racing enthusiast who owns a chain of auto repair shops in the Puget Sound region. Despite promises in August and September that he would make good on all outstanding debts for improvements in the park, Austin still owes several local contractors, who have filed liens worth about $1.2 million against him and the county.

They’re looking for a new operator to run the track in 2010, although next time, they expect to keep “a closer, watchful eye” on Austin’s replacement, County Board Chairman Todd Mielke said.

The county became aware of financial problems at the track last summer, when contractors began serving notice that they would file liens for unpaid bills. Austin called the liens standard procedure, said he had to review billing to make sure the work was actually done and promised to pay everybody by November.

But commissioners discovered Austin had ordered more construction than they expected, essentially compressing renovations the county thought would take two years into the first year the track operated. He did it without securing performance bonds, as required by state law, or putting the projects out to competitive bids, commissioners said.

Because of those problems, commissioners said Austin’s contract was in default and terminated on Thursday afternoon.

Austin was put on notice in September that he’d lose the contract in 60 days if he didn’t “cure” those problems. He said he would find financing or partners to make payments. But this week, his attorney confirmed that “Austin Motor Sports Management is unable to find additional financing to continue to operate the raceway,” Jim Emacio, the county’s chief civil deputy, told commissioners.

The notice of default had a 60-day time limit, which would have been up on Sunday. When asked why they were terminating it just three days early, they said the weather was turning cold and they wanted to have county staff “winterize” the facility as soon as possible.

Asked if the decision was at all prompted by fears Austin’s management company, a limited liability corporation apart from his repair shops, could declare bankruptcy, Mielke would only say: “Rumors abound.”

The county will draft a new request for proposal and allow potential operators to submit bids.

“We hope to find an operator that can continue to operate the track… and maintain it’s credibility with the community,” Mielke said. “We’re going to do our due diligence with any construction projects that take place.”

They want to  county will also review all the outstanding claims to make sure the work was done, is up to standards and has been double-billed, Commissioner Mark Richard said. Legitimate claims will be submitted to the county’s insurance carrier for payment.

That process could take up to 60 days. John Black, an attorney who represents seven of the contractors holding some $1.19 million in unpaid bills, said his clients could eventually file suit against the county if they aren’t paid. But it might take about two months to prepare a lawsuit, so the contractors might hold off.

“If in fact there is a commitment to pay, it would make sense to wait,” said Black, who added he heard about the commissioners’ decision from the reporter calling to ask for comment.

Story also filed on the Local News section, and generating comments. Join the discussion here.


Austin: Track to stay open, contractors to be paid

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.

Bucky Austin 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.

Austin 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.

Austin 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 possible,” Austin 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.”

Austin pays county

Spokane County expects to receive a total 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 this year 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 agreement.

On Tuesday, Austin referred to allegations that of missed payments as “malarkey” and contended that threats of liens by contractors was merely a standard billing tactic. Some of the work is 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 only hired him to file liens because they exhausted other avenues and were worried they wouldn’t get paid.

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

Track operator owes $20K to county, $1M to contractors

The operator of the 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 said

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 “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 eventually terminated.