BRISTOL, Va. - Heavy equipment is digging out dirt and rock while Bristol, Virginia is digging further into debt to pay for development at Exit 5.
The city council voted 3-1 in favor of borrowing another $5 million to pay a bill due to contractor W-L construction; it's a bill Mayor Guy Odum says the city absolutely has to pay. "If we don't pay them when its due and they have to pull their equipment off that hill, it's going to cost another couple hundred thousand dollars to go back on the hill. We don't want them off. We want them to keep going," said Odum.
Mayor Odum told News 5 the payment to W-L comes due in March. The city has planned all along for the $5 million dollar payment. The council had to vote to approve the bonds for payment.
Councilman Jim Steele was the only one to vote against the measure. Steele didn't think it was the right time to borrow, and thought the city could wait a few weeks while the Virginia Senate works on changing legislation.
Steele said he knows the project need to keep going forward.
Bristol, however, is close to $94 million in debt, and has spent $40 million developing The Falls. "What we hope to do in the near future is get those bonds sold, the revenue bonds, and pay back some of that money. That's the key ingredient in this thing," said Odum. "Until then, we're going to have to pay our bills."
"I haven't been happy with the debt in the city at all. I think this is a slow process. I was a former businessman, I know what it takes to get this city on track, and it's not going in debt. That's for sure," said Steele. "It hurts the taxpayers, it hurts business. I'm for going forward and see if we can't get more business in here and more jobs."
The measure to fund The Falls, House Bill 593, would have ensured a steady revenue stream for the city, allowing for sales tax revenue reimbursement to begin right away. HB 593 never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senator Bill Carrico, who sponsored the measure in the Senate said gamesmanship in Richmond is to blame. "Regardless of politics, this is something that is desperately needed. And it affects all of Virginia," said Carrico.
If lawmakers don't eventually pass a version of the bill, it could derail the retail project. "We know it's in trouble, but we don't think it is finished. We have other ways of changing things." said Steele. "Industry could be one, we do think we have some industry to come in there, but right now we want to level that area and get it prepared. If we have to back up and go that route."
Senator Carrico told News 5 he reached out to Governor Terry McAulliffe's office for help moving the legislation along and hopes to hear back in the next few days.