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A Columbus solar panel manufacturer has not done enough to satisfy grant agreement requirements, the City Council determined, and now must begin making monthly mortgage payments.
The council found that Nusun Inc. has violated its 2011 agreement with the city that it would have 80 employees by the end of 2012. Instead the company has 17 employees, said Ryan Stout, the company’s chief executive.
The agreement with the city led to grants of $325,000 in city and county funds and the city’s sponsorship of a grant of $500,000 from Lawrenceburg riverboat casino funds.
The city holds the mortgage on the company’s facility on International Drive near Walesboro. Under the agreement, as long as the company was in compliance, the city would forgive the monthly $6,875 mortgage payment.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to find the company out of compliance, which triggers the mortgage payments.
Stout asked the council to release $96,000 in funds that have yet to be disbursed under the agreement, so that the company could use the money to make the mortgage payments and payroll until several large contracts come to fruition. However, the council did not act on Stout’s request.
“In the last few months, we have made substantial progress in our commitments for our contracts and production,” he said. “Although nothing is finalized as yet, we expect to see those in the next month on our two main contracts. I would ask the city to give us that time.”
Stout recognized that the company is out of compliance with the agreement but said it is trying to add jobs.
City Attorney Jeff Logston described Stout’s argument as circular, that the city should give the company more money from the violated agreement to deal with penalties caused by the company’s lack of compliance to that agreement.
Logston and Mayor Kristen Brown asked the council in June to find that the company was not in compliance with the agreement, but council members opted to give the company another two months. In those two months, the council required the company to catch up on all of the reports it was supposed to submit to the city and to put together a more realistic estimate on the number of employees it would hire. The company also was behind in its property taxes at the time of the June meeting, and the council instructed the company to catch up on those taxes by the end of June.
Council member Tim Shuffett said that the company did not meet the June deadline for paying all of its property taxes, instead paying only enough to keep the property from a sheriff’s tax sale in September. The company has since caught up on the property taxes, Shuffett said. However, the company also did not meet the city’s reporting deadlines and still has not submitted a revised business plan, he said.
“I don’t think there is any new business plan, either, that would sustain the job growth we have talked about,” Shuffett said.
He said the council’s incentive review committee concluded that Nusun was not in compliance with the agreement.
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