Smithfield Herald

Council won’t forgive debt

Gerald Lamont Sanders, left, answers questions about the recording studio he plans to open in Smithfield. Behind him is Smithfield planning director Paul Embler.
Gerald Lamont Sanders, left, answers questions about the recording studio he plans to open in Smithfield. Behind him is Smithfield planning director Paul Embler. abennett@newsobserver.com

A decade ago, the Town of Smithfield borrowed $250,000 for downtown streetscape improvements. The caveat was that the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., a public-private partnership, would repay the loan.

That bargain held until 2012, when the downtown group asked the Smithfield Town Council to forgive three years of $15,125 payments. In exchange, the downtown group would make improvements to the town-owned Hastings House on Front.

The council met the group a third of the way, agreeing to defer one pay for one year. But somehow that message got garbled, and the downtown group, then under the direction of Chris Johnson, stopped making payments on the loan.

Recently, the town paid off the loan to save $112,500 in interest. And last week, with the debt erased, the downtown group asked the town council to relieve the group of its obligation.

But Smithfield finance director Greg Siler wasn’t keen on that idea. And a unanimous council told the downtown group it would have to make two missed payments totaling $30,250 and continue reimbursing the town for the money it borrowed on downtown’s behalf.

“It has to be repaid,” Councilman Travis Scott told the group’s executive director, Sarah Edwards.

The good news is that because the town saved money by paying off the loan early, it will need smaller annual payments from the downtown group. Instead of $15,125, the group will pay the town $12,757 a year, saving $56,832 over the next 24 years.

Siler, the finance director, discovered the delinquent payments to the town in February.

“This delinquency was purely accidental and the result of a misunderstanding,” Edwards said.

Because the corporation thought the town had forgiven three of its $15,125 payments, it spent $43,375 on the Hastings House, Edwards said, rebuilding the first- and second-floor porches, repairing the windows, painting, encapsulating lead paint, repairing the roof and refinishing the hardwood floors.

“The DSDC apologizes that this mistake was made and appreciates the council’s consideration of this request,” Edwards said.

Recording studio

Also this month, the council approved a conditional-use permit to allow a recording studio at 810 E. Market St. Smithfield.

“It may consist of music production, video production, video editing and artist developments,” Gerald Lamont Sanders said in his application.

The two-story building has a residence on the second floor, and the planning board recommended restricting the hours of the recording studio to between noon and 9 p.m.

The council asked Sanders if those hours would be restrictive to his business and he said they wouldn’t be and that he was fine with the additional stipulation.

Council members wondered how loud the studio would be, noting that a funeral home is nearby. Sanders said he had spoken both to the resident above him and to the owner of the funeral home and assured them that noise would not be an issue.

The business will be called Grodproductions, and Sanders said it will “provide a service to help musical artists with learning the fundamentals of recording and bettering their crafts as artists.”

Finally last week, the council awarded a $181,111 contract to T&D Solutions Inc. for installation of the transformer and related equipment at the Brogden Road substation. Also, it agreed to pay Leskon Associates $34,082 for a relay-control cabinet for the substation.

Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett

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