Clean-up cost waiver draws criticism

Sep. 29, 2013 @ 08:04 AM

During their September meeting, the Rutherford County Commission voted to waive an additional $25,000 in landfill fees to help clean up a site in Henrietta that will be used for a new EMS station.

The three-acre site located on U.S. 221A across from Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy was donated by the owners — Mike Harmon and Associates — which contained Cone Mills in Henrietta.

The waiving of the $25,000 in fees brought the entire fee waiver to $40,602.42 but the debris being cleaned as part of the waiver did not sit on the three acres donated to the county. Instead, it sat on the other 27 acres where the mill once sat.

Commissioner Eddie Holland, who instrumented the donation, said waiving the fees was part of the arrangement for the county to get the land.

"When you are gaining three acres of prime land, I think it is smart business," Holland said.

Commissioner Bo Richard did not want the the county to pay for the cleanup and called the move "inexcusable."

Other commissioners said the property was cleaned up and the owner did pay to haul off the collected debris.

"As I understand it, the gentleman donated the land with a good faith estimate on how much it would take to clear it," said Commissioner Greg Lovelace. "I feel like we made an error on the estimate and I don't feel good about going back and charging him, especially since he paid the hauling."

Holland, who has long-championed an EMS station located in the southern end of the county, said waiving the fees not only provided the county with land to build the proposed station but also cleaned up an eyesore in that part of the county.

"When I was elected to county office we got some eyesores all through the county," Holland said. "People ask me if we are going to clean them up and I tell them we will do what we can.

"We got an eyesore cleaned up and three acres of prime land … it's ideal. The county came out really good on this deal. There is room for expansion on that land if the county wants to."

Initially, Holland donated his own land to the county for the station but it was deemed not feasible.

That prompted Holland to reach out to the property owners of Cone Mills seeking part of their 30 acres to be donated. Initially, the agreement was for two acres but Holland said he went back and asked for an additional acre for potential expansion of the station.

According to Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen, the county originally estimated the cost to remove the debris from the demolition of the Cone Mills factory on the property at $30,000. However, the property owner came back and said the cost would be cut in half due to the recycling of some of the wood and metal on the site.

But, Classen said the owner could not reduce the debris and did pay nearly $40,000 to transport the old material to the county landfill.

"An estimate was made by the staff and we budgeted for that amount but he was unable to recycle that amount," Classen said. "The question was whether they wanted to relieve the amount and they felt the property was worth it in this case."

While no money is changing hands and the county is getting its acreage for an EMS station, another issue arising from the donation and cleanup is the fact that Holland owns 4.4 acres directly adjacent to where the new station will be located.

However, he said he is getting no benefit from the land being cleaned up or the construction of a new station. Holland said he plans to build a warehouse for his business, Holland Furniture, on the property located next to the mill.

"It won't do anything to the value of my land," Holland said, "The debris is on the other side of the property and it won't have any effect. I'm not getting a gain out of this. The only gain I'm getting is that the county is getting an EMS station on the southern end of the county."

The construction of the new station remains on hold as Classen said he is evaluating revenue collections that will be used to pay for the project. He said, in the last two months, EMS has generated $200,000 each month in revenue.

The increase came after the termination of an agreement with TransMed and bringing convalescent transports under the county umbrella. It is the revenue from convalescent transports which will be used to pay for the new station.

"Our numbers in EMS are now where we expected them to be a year ago but it didn't happen until we made changes in the department," Classen said. "We are on track but I want to make sure our numbers stay up."

As for a projected start to the project, Classen said he is going to continue to monitor revenue collections from EMS.

"We want to see at least six months of revenue numbers hit the target," Classen said. "Once that happens, we will ask to move forward on the project."