Farmer wins $103K lawsuit against county

Published 5:44 pm Thursday, May 10, 2012

A jury has ordered the Decatur County government to pay $103,000 to local farmer Kevin Rentz, after he won a breach-of-contract lawsuit Thursday.

Rentz, a son of Dennis Rentz and one of the late Marvin Rentz’s grandsons, had sued the county government over breaking a lease agreement between the two parties.

Rentz had farmed 140 acres of county-owned land in 2008 under a contract with the county. For the 2009 calendar year, the contract was put out for public bid and Rentz won the bid. At that time, he renegotiated a new contract which took effect in January 2009.

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Under that January 2009 agreement, he was permitted to farm in 2009 and renew the lease on an annual basis for up to four years, unless the county provided notice by November that they wanted to end the lease agreement.

However, Rentz — whose family already farms on about 2,200 acres near Brinson — was prevented from continuing to farm the land in 2011. He found out that was because the county learned “that a prison facility might be coming to Decatur County in the future and constructed on the [site of the leased land,]” according to Rentz’s original complaint.

The prison project became public after Corrections Corporation of America entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Industrial Development Authority, although the tentative start date was never given, because of uncertainties with the state and federal governments’ timeline to bid such a project.

According to the lawsuit, after learning of the proposed prison project, Rentz contacted County Finance Director Carl Rowland multiple times to see whether the county would opt to terminate the lease at the end of 2010. When Rentz didn’t hear from county officials, he began making plans to farm the land in 2011.

“I had heard about the project but when I asked [county officials] about it, I was told the project was years off and would not affect me,” Rentz said.

When Rentz went to deliver a check in the amount of $19,600 for the 2011 lease period on Jan. 4, he was told that the land would not be available for that year, the lawsuit stated. As a result, Rentz claimed he “suffered damage of lost profits in the amount of $67,176.81.” He also argued that the county had failed to reimburse him, as earlier agreed upon, for repairs to the existing center pivot irrigation system. Rentz had spent $11,259.16 on those repairs.

Dennis Rentz told The Post-Searchlight that his son had taken out a bank loan to pay for the cost of farming the land.