Motorsports park, county agree on past-due payment

MERCED -- Representatives of Riverside Motorsports Park and Merced County said after meeting this week that they have settled their differences over money RMP owes the county.

Despite previously strained relations, both sides described the meeting as "productive."

The county's lead attorney, James Fincher, and several officials from the Planning Department met Wednesday afternoon with RMP's vice president of operations, Mark Melville, and the company's lawyers to discuss the bill.

County officials announced last month that the Planning Department had ceased doing work on RMP's behalf because RMP failed for months to make more than $150,000 in delinquent payments to the county.

Soon after, RMP paid the county about $130,000. But county officials said work on the project wouldn't resume until the bill was paid in full. Work by the Public Works Department has continued. The department recently accepted and reviewed engineering plans from RMP for road improvements the company has agreed to make near the racing complex's planned site.

While Melville said RMP "had some concerns" about how the bill was calculated, he initially said RMP would pay it in full by the end of August. Instead, the company scheduled a meeting with the county to discuss the charges, which RMP officials believed included some double-billings, Melville said.

But after Wednesday's meeting, Melville said that RMP now understands how the bill was calculated and agreed it includes no double-billings. He said the company probably will pay the bill within the next week.

"I think (the county) understands now why we were confused about the bill, and we understand how they arrived at all their figures," Melville said.

County spokesman Mark Hendrickson also said disagreement over the bill had been resolved.

RMP plans to build a 1,200-acre, eight- venue auto racing complex near Atwater. It first proposed the project five years ago.

About two-thirds of the $152,000 bill stemmed from lawsuits filed against the county for approving RMP's plan to build the complex. Shortly after the Board of Supervisors voted to approve RMP's proposal, in December, the company agreed to reimburse the county for all legal expenses it incurs as a result of the project. The rest of the money was owed to the Planning Department for the time its staff has spent reviewing RMP's proposal.

For more than six months, RMP failed to make a single payment on the debt, despite repeated written and verbal requests from the county, county officials said. They said the county rarely has ordered one of its departments to stop work on a project because of a developer's failure to pay its bills.

RMP officials said they plan to begin construction in 2008, but county officials have questioned the feasibility of such a timeline.

The lawsuits against the project are still pending.