Legal fees all paid in Hicks lawsuit

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — Surry County released nearly $100,000 in additional funds for attorney’s fees associated with a legal battle at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.

At its meeting Tuesday evening, the Surry County Board of Commissioners learned the county will cut a check to the airport for $96,193. The money will go towards legal fees incurred while defending the airport against lawsuits filed by a former airport authority member.

The funding was included in the 2016-17 fiscal year’s budget, according to Finance Officer Sarah Bowen, meaning the dollars had been allocated and the expenditure already approved.

The county forked over $78,999 in legal expenses in the previous fiscal year as a result of Billy Hicks’s lawsuits against the airport, bringing the total cost incurred as a result of the dismissed suits to $175,192.

Commissioner Larry Phillips indicated there may have been some troubles associated with garnering the documentation such as invoices which supported such expenditures.

“At one time they (the airport authority) could only produce $42,000 in receipts,” said Phillips to Bowen. “Has that discrepancy been reconciled? Are you satisfied?”

Bowen said after a couple of weeks of work with airport board chair John Springthorpe that all supporting documentation had been located, and the county had it on hand.

In answering a question from resident Rawley King during the public forum portion of the board’s agenda, county officials indicated the figure for legal expenses incurred as a result of the lawsuits is a final figure, and they expect no more appropriations of the sort.

Commissioners also were told the county would issue $129,681.o8 related to the runway extension, widening and hardening project underway at the airport.

Those funds, too, had been included in the 2016-17 fiscal year’s budget and were matching funds for grants received for the $19 million project.

In fact, commissioners allocated $609,000 toward the project’s costs in the county’s operating budget, according to County Manager Chris Knopf.

Knopf reasserted that there was no need for the matter of releasing the funds to come before the county board again. However, he felt making the board aware of the matter was in the county’s best interests.

“There is a lot of attention on the airport,” explained Knopf. “We provided the update for the purposes of transparency.”

Knopf also noted he believed some headway may soon be made in renegotiating the inter-local agreement with the city of Mount Airy which governs the airport authority.

In November, county commissioners instructed Knopf to renegotiate the agreement.

“Following a lengthy review, the Finance Committee finds that it would be in the county’s best interest to revisit the existing inter-local agreement,” was the only reasoning provided for the county’s move at the time.

Additional coverage of Tuesday’s meeting will appear in a future edition of The News.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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