With No Evidence Yet, Republicans Press on RiverWinds Loan
Republican officials continue to press for answers about how $4.5 million out of a $10 million loan to build the golf course and tennis center was spent.
With no answers nearly two weeks after West Deptford’s redevelopment counsel claimed there was $4.5 million unaccounted for in the RiverWinds golf and tennis project—an assertion Democrats have said holds no water—Republican officials are ramping up the rhetoric as they press for concrete answers.
West Deptford Republican Chair Dennis Forte called the Democrats’ dismissal of the idea the money is missing—former township administrator Gerald White called the claim "a blatant lie"—nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
“The bottom line is those dollars are unaccounted for,” Forte said.
With neither side able to produce hard evidence of how a total of nearly $10 million was spent in building the golf course and tennis center, Forte said the onus is on the Democrats and White to account for the money, which White has said was detailed during the construction process.
Raising the question of where that money went, given the difference in the loan amount and what closing documents said would be the cost of the course and tennis center, was a necessary step, Forte said.
“If there was documentation, there wouldn’t be any questions,” he said.
He went on to say White and the former Democratic administration that watched over the project should’ve done more themselves to document how money was spent on the project, given West Deptford guaranteed the loan—and ultimately ended up on the hook to pay it back, when Namwest, the overall developer for RiverWinds, went bankrupt.
“The township was responsible for the oversight,” Forte said.
While Forte and redevelopment counsel Mark Cimino—who said Tuesday he’s seeing signs of more cooperation from Fulton Bank, which granted the loan—have been careful about speculating about the allegedly missing money, the Democrats have said the claim the money is somehow unaccounted for amounts to a tacit accusation aimed at the developers who built the project.
Those developers, Arret and Emory Dobson, have stayed quiet so far. Arret Dobson declined to speak about the allegations, saying he and his attorney were waiting for documents related to the loan before saying anything.
And Forte dismissed the notion that the presentation was put together as a deflection from a lawsuit alleging an Open Public Meetings Act by the Republican township committee members, news of which broke the day before Cimino’s announcement at a township committee meeting.
“That is absolute garbage,” Forte said, referring to it as “a bogus lawsuit.”
Beyond the concerns over the loan, Forte said the apparently lack of a formal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, despite the long-term lease with Ron Jaworski Golf Management detailing such a deal, is a concern being lost in the shuffle.
“There’s obviously agreements that should be in place that have not been demonstrated,” Forte said.
Without a formally-adopted PILOT program for the property, Cimino argued Jaworski could be responsible for the actual taxes on the course and tennis center, which would come to $386,000 per year, versus the PILOT program spelled out in the lease agreement, which maxes out at $63,531 after 15 years.
It all amounts to a lot of questions about a lot of dollars, Forte said.
“It’s only a matter of time before more taxpayers start getting involved,” he said.