DOBSON — County commissioners will take some time to look at an issue regarding a fire department’s move in conjunction with the expansion project at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.
Rondale Ratcliff, board president of the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department, was at Monday’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners to seek guidance as to how the department might seek funds for grading and fill dirt at the site of its new substation.
Ratcliff said the department authorized a contractor to perform grading services at the location on Holly Springs Church Road in July. The cost associated with the grading services is about $55,000.
Ratcliff also provided commissioners with a history which spans about eight years.
When the airport opted to move forward with a runway expansion project, it needed to acquire multiple properties surrounding its location. Holly Springs Church Road also had to be rerouted. The current location of the fire department’s substation was one parcel affected by the expansion project.
“They (the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority) made their first offer on our property in 2010,” Ratcliff told commissioners.
Ratcliff said the terms of the deal were simple. The authority paid the department $275,000 for the property, and it was to provide a site which was ready for construction for a new building.
However, according to Ratcliff, when the authority provided its first proposed site the grounds was not large enough for the building.
Correspondence from the airport authority’s attorney indicates the authority had not accounted for a larger building.
Ratcliff said the building was always planned to be a “three-bay” station. The authority then relocated its site for the fire department, and the department will lease the property from the airport for a fee of one dollar per year.
“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.
Ratcliff said it has always been the airport authority’s responsibility to provide a ready site. Thus, any grading and fill dirt costs should fall on the authority. Ratcliff sent an email to an airport authority member in June. However, he received no response. In July, the department opted to move forward with the grading, expecting the authority to foot the bill.
It also hired the same contractor which was doing the grading work at the airport, said Ratcliff.
“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.”
Ratcliff said the department could take out a loan for the costs associated with the fill dirt, which came from the airport across the street, as well as grading, but the department had hoped to carry out the move without taking on any new debt. The fact the airport authority had to provide a site ready for the build also plays a role.
“I’m asking for your guidance,” Ratcliff told commissioners. “We have a contract, but I don’t want to go down the road of litigation.”
Commissioner Van Tucker acknowledged there was, seemingly, a breakdown in communication, which could have resulted in a steeper cost for the dirt and grading services, a matter which was also noted by the authority’s attorney.
“The dirt came from across the street,” noted Tucker, explaining costs could have been cut had the authority negotiated the dirt’s relocation to the property on which it was needed from the beginning.
One thing was made certain. The contractor will get paid for the work, but Commissioner Larry Johnson believes if it comes from the authority it could have a lesser impact on the Surry County taxpayer.
“I would much rather it come from the grant money (being used for the airport project),” said Johnson. “Then it would be 90-percent grant dollars with a 10-percent local match.”
The authority’s attorney has indicated there is no money allotted in the expansion project’s budget for such costs.
Tucker asked Ratcliff and fellow board members if a fair course of action would be to take some time to examine the matter.
“Is it reasonable for us to take some time to look at this?” Tucker asked the room.
There was a consensus to examine the situation more closely prior to determining exactly from which pot of money the dollars will come.
Commissioner Larry Phillips had larger-picture concerns though. He asked Ratcliff who his point of contact is from the airport authority.
Ratcliff indicated in the past he had communicated with airport board chair John Springthorpe. However, recently the two public bodies have corresponded through their respective attorneys.
Phillips also offered some advice to Ratcliff regarding his dealings with the airport authority.
“Anytime you correspond with the airport (authority), double document it,” Phillips told Ratcliff. “We’ve requested stuff from them and had a hard time getting it. It fits a pattern that concerns me.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.