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Prizery loan repayment tabled

No deal. Not yet anyway. That was the message Halifax County Board of Supervisors sent to The Prizery’s proposal for the board to either forgive a $60,000 loan or to repay the loan in $10,000 annual installments over the next six years.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, the board considered how to handle repayment of the $60,000 loan due at the end of September.

Supervisors voted 7-1, with ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank opposing, to table any immediate action on payback of the loan.

 They also extended the repayment due date for another 45 days until a committee comprised of ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman, ED-8 Supervisor Bryant Claiborne and the county administrator can communicate with The Prizery executive committee to discuss and consider any information that will further enlighten the board and permit alternatives to The Prizery’s proposal.

Any information found to be pertinent will be brought to the full board along with the committee’s recommendation at the board’s October meeting.

In a letter to the administrator, Prizery President Barbara Speece said the $60,000 loan made in 2012 was “critical to The Prizery’s ability to best implement its new business plan.”

Speece said The Prizery’s understanding of the loan made by the citizens through the board is that the monies are to be repaid at zero interest, and that repayment or finalizing terms mutually agreeable for repayment must be accomplished by September.

“To that end we offer to repay the $60,000 in $10,000 increments made annually each September from 2013 through 2018. If that is agreeable, then we will make the first payment immediately. If the board prefers other terms, then we ask your assistance in arranging a meeting to discuss a repayment schedule,” Speece said in her letter.

She also went one step further asking the board to forgive the $60,000 debt.

County Administrator Jim Halasz told supervisors he is not satisfied a six-year period of repayment was in the best interest of county taxpayers or necessary based on the financial position of The Prizery.

“Clearly, our priority should be to determine if The Prizery has the capacity to completely repay the loan at this time. In fact, the current county budget anticipates that to be the case and should it not occur, we will be short in our revenue projections by any amount of the loan not repaid during the current fiscal year,” Halasz said.

In the county’s current financial position, the administrator said he could not recommend the board forgive the loan.

Bowman, who was appointed to The Prizery board last year as a condition of the loan, said he had witnessed a great deal of progress being made in the restructuring and make-up of The Prizery in its effort to become a sustainable business model.

He referred to “business hurdles” The Prizery faced last September when supervisors loaned the $60,000 saying “they have been satisfied.

“It takes a while to turn around this ship, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel on the business side,” Bowman said, adding, “Business people are running the business side now.”

Bowman urged his fellow supervisors to grant The Prizery more time “to let this turn-around continue” and supported The Prizery’s six-year payment proposal

He suggested The Prizery be required to repay $10,000 this year.

“I don’t think we should ask them for more than $10,000 by the end of this month. I think we need to give them time,” he added.

Claiborne agreed with Bowman.

“We spent a tremendous amount of money on The Prizery and to turn out backs on them at this time would be detrimental to them. The culture they offer to this community is very attractive to prospects. If you say they are progressing, I would be in favor of giving them a chance…and accept $10,000 now and then revisit it,” Claiborne said.

However, ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank said many county taxpayers would like to see The Prizery be required to pay the full $60,000 loan payment “right now.”

“They promised to pay the money back this September and to not ask for anymore. These people were supposed to get back to us. We haven’t heard anything from them until this week. I don’t think it’s enough for them to just give back $10,000. We have had broken promises…I don’t think we’re ever going to see them pay it back,” Bank said, adding, he believes the county also should be charging interest on the loan.

He urged each of The Prizery’s 3,000 patrons to donate $20 to help repay the loan.

ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn said she too feels The Prizery needs to pay back the loan in full.

“A loan is a loan, and a gift is a gift,” she said.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis referred to the situation at hand as “a balancing act” with the supervisors being asked to weigh the value of The Prizery to the community against the $60,000 it owes that could be used as revenue in the county budget if the loan is repaid in full.

If the board decides not to require full payment of the loan this year, Davis said cuts will have to be made elsewhere in the county budget for it to remain balanced.

He added he is very concerned about The Prizery’s lack of communication with supervisors during the year after the loan was granted.

“They need to do better,” Davis said.