DOBSON — Litigation seems on the horizon in a dispute between two public entities.
At Monday evening’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eddie Harris instructed David Smith, an official with the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department, to look into suing the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority.
“Told him I believed there was an informal consensus among the members of our board that they need to consider legal action against the airport,” said Harris. “I also told them I believed our board would look favorably on any request for legal fees.”
Monday didn’t mark the first time county officials considered the matter of a $55,000 grading bill from Sowers Construction which has gone unpaid.
In November, Rondale Ratcliff, chairman of the fire department’s governing board, showed up at a county board meeting to seek guidance from commissioners.
To accommodate the runway expansion project at the airport, the volunteer fire department’s substation on Holly Springs Church Road had to be relocated. As part of the purchase contract for the department’s property, the airport was required to provide a build-ready site for a new substation, according to Ratliff.
However, once a site which could accommodate the department’s needs was picked, the department learned some grading work needed to be completed. Ratcliff said the department pushed forward in contracting with Sowers, which was already completing grading for the airport project.
“It looked fairly flat,” remarked Ratcliff, but when the building was set back far enough to allow for visibility of the road from neighboring parcels, it was determined fill dirt was needed.
The airport authority has refused to pay the bill, noting, through its attorney, that the authority was not involved in the contracting process for the work.
“We could have pumped the brakes,” explained Ratcliff. However, citing a need for expedience to move the airport project ahead, the department “did what we thought was right at the time.”
Though Ratcliff only asked for guidance, some felt the county board ought to simply pay the bill.
Rick Sowers, owner of Sowers Construction, spoke at a public forum two months ago, and Commissioner Larry Johnson failed to garner a second when he motioned to pay the bill.
“I don’t know where the legality that says we should pay this is,” said Commissioner Buck Golding.
Harris added, “They (the airport authority) had to provide a site.”
“The airport authority must be accountable for something. They must have some responsibility in this,” said Commissioner Van Tucker.
He continued, noting “someone at the fire department made a contract.” The county was never involved in discussions regarding the work until it was asked to pay the bill.
“Did anybody from this board sign a contract?” Golding asked in February. “Did you sign a contract Mr. County Manager?”
The commissioners believe the dollars to pay the grading bill ought to come from grant monies the airport authority received since moving the station was a part of the overall runway project.
Though the money could still eventually come from the county’s coffers, Harris said the matter must be addressed by way of the proper process. In this case, it could be that the proper process is for the fire department to sue the airport authority for breeching its contract.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.