DOBSON — Surry County may soon be suing a local business owner in order to recoup funds the county lost in an economic development deal gone bad.
According to County Attorney Ed Woltz, the county may be looking to the owner of Cody Creek and The Depot restaurant to repay more than $203,000 the county lost when the business failed to live up to the guidelines set forth in a North Carolina Rural Center grant.
According to Woltz, the county had to return grant monies in excess of $203,000 to the N.C. Department of Commerce earlier this year. Woltz said that when the county applied for a Rural Center grant in 2010 that was used to pay for water and sewer lines to be run to the establishment, the business agreed to create 21 full-time jobs that paid at least minimum wage and maintain the jobs for two consecutive quarters.
Woltz said that when the Department of Commerce recently audited the operations of the business. the department found that Cody Creek was not in compliance with the job-creation requirement. Since Surry County was the actual applicant for the grant, Woltz told the Surry County Board of Commissioners that the county was on the hook to repay the money.
According to Woltz that’s just what happened. “We (the county) received a letter from Commerce demanding the money, and we sent them the check,” said Woltz.
Woltz explained that the performance agreement into which the county entered with Cody Creek allows the county to seek relief from the business owner, Fred Snow Jr. According to the attorney, attempts to do just that have been fruitless to this point in time.
“We have been unable to come to terms with Mr. Snow’s attorney,” Woltz told board members.
County commissioners, with Commissioner Paul Johnson absent due to medical reasons, voted unanimously to allow Woltz and County Manager Chris Knopf to enter into a contract with a litigation attorney in order to further pursue the matter of repayment.
Commissioners said they must pursue the matter in order to recoup the tax dollars lost as a result of the loss of the grant.
“There’s got to be a degree of accountability here,” said Commissioner Larry Phillips.
“The rights of taxpayers need to be protected,” added Commissioner Eddie Harris.
Woltz said he can’t be certain that the matter will lead to a lawsuit, but he said that the motion approved by commissioners will allow the county to begin exploring those options as it moves forward.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]