DOBSON — As expected, Surry County officials will say no thanks to more than $700,000 in state grants.
On Monday evening the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to forgo the use of N.C. Department of Commerce money which could have helped fund the sewer project in the Interstates Water and Sewer District.
The $718,000 in state grants were tied to job creation, and Finance Officer Sarah Bowen said the jobs just aren’t there.
“It is my recommendation that we do not accept this funding,” Bowen told commissioners. “We can see clearly the jobs weren’t created.”
Bowen went on to explain in order for the county to avoid a take-back from Commerce, more than 60 full-time jobs would have had to have been created at Brintle’s truck stop, a business located at the I-77 interchange.
According to Bowen, the business had created only about 20 jobs, and it would be difficult to tell whether they were full- or part-time jobs.
“There is ambiguity in the language Commerce uses to define a full-time job,” said Commissioner Larry Phillips. “I hope we can get clarity from Commerce going forward.”
Phillips also commended the business for creating 20 jobs in an economy in which many businesses are finding it difficult to grow.
Surry County officials know much about the difficulties involved when dealing with Commerce and job-creation promises. The county just finished litigation regarding state grant monies predicated on job creation at The Depot at Cody Creek, a Dobson restaurant to which the county ran water and sewer services in 2010.
When it audited the restaurant, the DOC claimed the number of promised full-time jobs was not created and demanded the county repay more than $200,000 to the state. The county returned the money, but after months of litigation Commerce decided to send the money back to the county.
When contacted Wednesday, board Chairman Buck Golding said he didn’t have a figure immediately available as to the cost of the litigation which ensued over money that was ultimately returned to the county.
However, Golding said a figure on the county’s financial transparency tool related to Bell, Davis & Pitt, the law firm which represented the county throughout the proceedings, is likely all linked to the Cody Creek lawsuit.
The figure states the county has paid the firm nearly $83,000 throughout the course of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years.
Golding cautioned some of the legal fees were covered by the county’s insurance company, but the whole ordeal left a sour taste in the mouths of board members.
“You never win when something goes to litigation,” said Golding, explaining win or lose, the proceedings cost tax dollars.
“All that glitters isn’t gold,” said Commissioner Van Tucker, before casting his vote against using the grant monies. “These grants put the county in a position in which we have to be the policemen.”
“I wouldn’t dare take $700,000 and then have to give it back,” remarked Commissioner Larry Johnson.
In the end, the county board had prepared months in advance for its unanimous decision to forgo the grant dollars. Commissioners had already directed county staff to borrow additional money for the project, which ultimately will cost more than $6 million.
Phillips — who spearheaded a fact-finding mission regarding the Interstates sewer project prior to the 3-2 vote which moved it forward — had used the state grant monies in his calculations he had presented to the board when he sought passage of the project.
However, now he’s not so sure the county can rely on any funds which come from the DOC.
“We cannot look to Commerce for a partner in economic development which won’t just throw us under the bus,” said Phillips.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.