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Shake up at the racetrack

During a press conference Monday, Jeff Saunders, a race fan, and Sheri Tarr, who had subleased the oval track at Spokane County Raceway Park, have words with Craig Smith, who operates the Spokane County Raceway complex

Financial losses have triggered a management shake-up at Spokane County Raceway.

Craig Smith, manager of Raceway Investments, said the oval’s operator fell “significantly behind” on rent payments.

Money problems between the private businesses mounted after tight liquor rules prohibited the sale of beer inside the oval race area this season.

Full Blown Promotions, the mother-son business team of Sheri Tarr and Brycen Tarr, ran the oval and held their last race on Saturday. “We are a family that loves racing,” Sheri Tarr said on Monday. “I put a lot of money into it.” Mike Prager, SR Full story.

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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.