08/08/07 — Duplin reconsiders storm cleanup contract

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Duplin reconsiders storm cleanup contract

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 8, 2007 1:45 PM

Meeting Monday, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners worked toward taking care of several items of old business, including a protest made in July by accountant Koy Carter on behalf of a group of Duplin County contractors regarding the county's contract with a Louisiana company to provide storm cleanup and debris removal.

The problem, Carter said, is that an outside firm received the contract for a service that could be better provided by a Duplin company.

And while the group acknowledged the bidding process was handled properly, they did ask that it be re-bid in order to allow local businesses to participate.

"I'm asking you to revisit these bids and give these gentlemen (the local contractors) a chance to bid on this work," Carter said.

He and fellow group leader Randy Moran agreed that if the commission re-bid the service, they would put together a conglomerate of all interested Duplin contractors.

"These guys, together, represent enough equipment to do the job, even though one of them alone doesn't," Carter said.

The county can terminate its contract without notice, though the board agreed not to take such action until another company is in place.

"We are headfirst into hurricane season. I would recommend not terminating the contract until you go through the process," county attorney Wendy Sivori said, as the commission authorized county officials to begin the process of advertising for bids again.

Also Monday, the board granted a reprieve to business partners Jeff Foster, Johnson Sheffield, Steve Sheffield and Al Cobb. Together the men comprise Cropholding Inc., a bio-fuel company working partly out of the small business incubator in the county's industrial park West Park.

During a closed session meeting in July, the board voted to begin the eviction process as the company has not paid rent or utilities since moving into the space in September 2006.

The problem, explained Johnson Sheffield, is not that they don't want to do what's right, it's just that the company has had to re-calibrate its product several times and has fallen behind where it had hoped to be. County officials also never executed a lease agreement for the company to occupy the space.

"The letter from the county attorney said we'd refused to pay the rent," he said. "Well, we haven't paid the rent, but we haven't refused to pay the rent. We just haven't had enough money to pay the rent."

But, he said the firm has "turned a corner," and he asked for two more months to get their product out to farmers as they begin the harvest season. The commissioners voted 5-1 to allow Cropholding to defer rent and utility payments and remain until Nov. 1. They did, however, make that contingent upon Cropholding and Foster Enterprises agreeing to have a lien placed against their personal properties as collateral in case the four men are not able to begin a payment plan for the money owed by the end of two months.

County Manager Mike Aldridge and Sivori both also voiced words of caution to the decision. "I would like to see them succeed, too," Aldridge said. "I see where you're going, but I think we need to take care of business -- get a lease, pay the rent, pay the utilities.

Also, commissioners also voted to approve Sept. 22 as a free disposal day at the county's transfer station. Running from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., the day will be held in conjunction with the North Carolina Big Sweep, and the normal $40 tipping fee will be waived for all county residents bringing trash, discarded furniture, yard debris, scrap metal and tires. Contractors and commercial haulers will pay the normal fee.