DOBSON — Surry County has hired a law firm to represent the county in possible legal actions against a local business.
According to County Attorney Ed Woltz, the law firm Bell, Davis & Pitt, from Winston-Salem, has been hired to represent the county in what could become a lawsuit against Cody Creek, home of The Depot restaurant.
The firm has sent a letter of demand to Cody Creek owner Fred Snow Jr., demanding Snow reimburse $203,000 in damages to the county.
The action arose over grant money for which the county had applied in order to run water and sewer services to the business in 2010. In the Rural Center grant, 21 full-time jobs were promised to result at the business. At the time the county received the grant, Snow had only four full-time employees.
Under a separate but related agreement Snow signed with the county, he is required to pay Surry County back $10,000 for each required job that was not created. Snow said he owes nothing.
After the North Carolina Department of Commerce took over the Rural Center, commerce audited Snow’s business. The department determined that Cody Creek had not lived up to its job-creation promise.
Since the county was the grant applicant, the Department of Commerce forced Surry County to repay $203,000 to the state. The county sent the check but is now looking to recoup damages from Snow.
Snow said his business did, in fact, create more than the required 21 full-time jobs for two consecutive quarters. According to a letter penned by Snow’s attorney, Cody Creek had 42 full-time positions in 2013, and still employs nearly 40 people. Snow said the crux of the issue is the definition of “job.”
Snow said that there is inevitable turnover of employees in the restaurant business, but that the full-time “positions” have been created and maintained for more than the required two consecutive quarters. Snow said different employees have filled the positions throughout the course of six months. Nevertheless, the positions were there.
Snow is also unhappy with the manner in which the county has handled the dispute with the commerce department. According to Snow, his business has turned over all necessary documents to the county. However, the county has failed to make its case to commerce.
“I didn’t apply for the grant. The county did,” said Snow. “I’ve offered to go to Raleigh with them to sort this out though, and we have proof that we did create the jobs.”
Snow said he was surprised to see the county’s letter of demand. “We’ve produced anything the county has asked for,” explained Snow.
Snow added that the demand letter rubs further salt in a wound that was initiated by the county. According to Snow it was the county’s idea to run water and sewer service to his restaurant.
“I wanted to open another building, and the county told me I’d have to add five miles of tail line for the septic system,” said Snow. “Then they came up with this idea to run water and sewer here.”
Snow said he worked with a then-county employee Jack Gardner and Commissioner Paul Johnson to get the Rural Center grant. Snow added that he forked over $108,000 to get the project started. Additionally, the project required that Snow’s property be annexed into Dobson, which he said has resulted in his business paying town property taxes.
“If you follow this logic, the commerce department thinks we created no jobs,” exclaimed Snow. “We are obviously still in business, and are still employing people.”
At a Sept. 8 meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners Woltz said the county’s attempts to sort the matter out with the commerce department had been fruitless. Woltz said the Department of Commerce had even sent the $203,000 check back to the county once.
However, after the commerce department looked into the matter, the department had still determined that Surry County was in violation of the job creation terms of the grant.
Woltz said the county was given no choice but to reimburse the $203,000 in grant money to the Department of Commerce earlier in the year, and is now looking to hold Snow and his business accountable for the damages.
“There’s got to be a degree of accountability here,” said Commissioner Larry Phillips prior to giving Woltz the go-ahead to seek relief from Snow at the county board’s Sept. 8 meeting.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.