TODD-Fire & Rescue leadership said Friday the department has reached an agreement with its lender that will halt foreclosure proceedings against the department.
That news comes from a Yadkin Bank letter supplied by Todd Volunteer Fire & Rescue. According to the letter, written by Yadkin Bank Vice President Bob Milam, the bank met with Todd Volunteer Fire & Rescue Chief Chris Welch and Andrew Jestes on June 8.
“As a result of our discussions, the bank has agreed to file a postponement of the Foreclosure Hearing scheduled for next week,” Milam wrote. “In addition, we are working on a package to modify the department’s payment structure so that we can dismiss all of our action.”
In a June 10, interview with The Jefferson Post, Welch said he was happy with the way the meeting with Yadkin Bank proceeded and with the tentative agreement the sides reached on June 8.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” Welch said.
The department’s future came into question in May after Yadkin Bank filed a civil suit against the department. The bank’s action was an attempt to collect on loans – that exceed $400,000 – it said Todd Volunteer Fire & Rescue defaulted on.
Welch said a series of errors led to the situation. Since much of the department’s budget is composed of fire taxes from Ashe and Watauga County’s, Welch said losing some $9,000 annually to Ashe County’s recent property revaluation hurt the department’s budget, as did slightly lower funding from Watauga County.
Welch also said “unintentional human error” led to the department taking on more debt than it should have.
“It shouldn’t have happened, but we were $60,000 in the red last year as a department,” Welch said. “But we tightened our belts and did what we needed to and we’re back in the black. Frankly I’m proud of what we were able to do.”
Welch said the foreclosure situation is essentially a “communication breakdown” between the department and bank, due to health issues Welch and a Yadkin Bank representative experienced earlier this year.
A hearing in the foreclosure case had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, June 14, but the tentative agreement reached last week by the department and Yadkin Bank cancelled that hearing. Instead, Welch said his department will sign loan modification documents that will allow the department to continue its operations.
‘Balloon’ payments also addressed
Milam’s letter also addressed concerns the bank felt Welch had about potential balloon payments, or a lump sum payment due at the end of the life of a commercial loan.
“The primary reason for balloon payments on commercial loans is to bring the bank and the borrower together periodically to review the borrower’s situation along with payment and rate structure,” Milam wrote in his June 10, letter. “The fire department’s loans do carry a longer amortization period for payment calculations. As long as the payments are met timely, the bank has no intention to call for the loan balances to be paid when the balloon payment is due. At this point, the payment schedule will be modified for another period.”
Milam ends his letter by saying Yadkin Bank recognizes “the importance of the Todd Fire Department to the community and Watauga County,” and said Yadkin is committed to working with the fire department to find a solution to the foreclosure situation.
Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick said Friday the tentative agreement reached by the department and Yadkin Bank is a “step in the right direction.”
“It’s good news that they’ve reached some kind of an agreement, but we’re curious as to the details,” Yearick said. “That’s what this is going to come down to. If they hammer out a modification, what does that do to their payments, the rate and the term. We’ll see how those details match up with the budget the department submits.”
Welch said Friday he’s confident the 2016/2017 budget the department has worked out will put it on solid footing for the future.
“We’re going to have a CPA reviewing this every month,” Welch said. “A lot of us worked on this budget, but I own it. If there’s any overage it’s going to come out of my pay.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.