DOBSON — Surry County won’t pay for grading costs incurred by the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department until county commissioners receive more information regarding the matter.
Near the conclusion of Monday’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Larry Johnson sought to push the issue with his colleagues. However, he failed to garner any support among his fellow board members.
“I’d like to go ahead and approve paying for the grading bill at the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department,” said Johnson.
In November, Rondale Ratcliff, the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department board president, asked the county board to consider funding all or part of a $55,000 bill for grading completed for a new firehouse substation on Holly Springs Church Road.
The station had to be relocated to make way for the runway expansion project at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.
Ratcliff had explained that when the station was moved, grading work was necessary. As part of the department’s contract with the airport authority, the authority had to provide a build-ready site for the new substation.
Thus, when it was determined grading was needed, the department gave Sowers Construction the green light to go ahead with the work, said Ratcliff. The fire department expected the authority to pay the bill.
However, the authority never authorized the work and was not involved in negotiating a rate, according to emails from airport authority chair John Springthorpe. The former county commissioner felt the authority could have negotiated a better rate for the work, as Sowers was already performing the grading for the runway project.
Ratcliff admitted there was some level of a breakdown in communication between his department and the airport authority, which left the fire department with a bill for which it had not planned.
Ratcliff indicated the department would pay the bill, but he sought the advice of county commissioners.
“I don’t know where the legality that says we should pay this is,” said Commissioner Buck Golding.
Board Chairman Eddie Harris added, “They (the airport authority) had to provide a site.”
“It’s going to come from the county coffers regardless,” answered Johnson, explaining whether the department or the authority was responsible for the bill, eventually the entity which paid it would ask the county for the funds.
At the November meeting, commissioners had questioned whether the bill for grading could be paid with federal or state grant funds the airport authority received for the runway project.
The conversation continued on Monday.
“We can’t use the grant money,” said Johnson, noting he had spoken with members of the airport authority.
“Is it not grant applicable?” asked Harris.
County Manager Chris Knopf indicated he believed the grading at the substation ought to be grant applicable. Moving the station was part of the total project to expand the runway. Rerouting Holly Springs Church Road had been paid mostly through grant monies.
Johnson continued to advocate for paying the bill, noting the department had borrowed no money to complete its move to the new location.
Commissioner Van Tucker indicated he wanted to see Sowers get paid, but not until the appropriate conversations had occurred.
“The airport authority must be accountable for something. They must have some responsibility in this,” said 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.
Harris said he believed the airport authority “had the obligation to make amends.” He also raised concern the matter could end up being determined in a court of law.
Golding summed up his thoughts with a couple of questions.
“Did anybody from this board sign a contract?” asked Golding. “Did you sign a contract Mr. County Manager?”
After Knopf indicated he had never entered the county into any agreement with the construction company, Johnson made a motion to allocate $55,000 toward paying the grading bill.
He amended the motion to pull the money from that which was allocated to the airport authority, after Finance Officer Sarah Bowen’s recommended he do so.
The motion died when it failed to garner a second.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.