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City, panel maker split

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Columbus and Nusun Inc. will part ways, under an agreement approved Monday by the city.

The Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety agreed to end foreclosure proceedings on a mortgage the company owed the city, in exchange for Nusun handing over its International Drive building. The company must pay its remaining unpaid property taxes and vacate the building by Jan. 31.

Nusun and city government have been at odds this year over a 2011 agreement that gave about $800,000 to the company to locate in Columbus. The city council learned in August that Nusun was not complying with the agreement, triggering a clause that the company must start paying a $6,875 mortgage on its facility near Walesboro. The council also required the company to catch up its delinquent property taxes.

The company has not made any mortgage payments that were due starting in September, according to the city, and Nusun owed $11,698 in property taxes as of Monday, according to the Bartholomew County treasurer’s office.

The board accepted the settlement after City Attorney Jeff Logston said the city was at a crossroads — it could continue to pursue a long and potentially costly foreclosure, or it could accept the keys to the building.

The council ruled in August that the company was not meeting the employment benchmarks or reporting requirements of the 2011 agreement. Specifically, the solar panel manufacturer promised to have 80 employees by the end of 2012 and 160 with a payroll of $6.8 million by now.

However, the company had only five workers earlier this year, and according to documentation provided to the city, the company claimed 17 employees statewide in 2012. Two employees received no pay, and six earned less than $1,000 that year.

To lure Nusun to Columbus in 2011:

The city gave the company $125,000 in economic development income tax revenues.

The county gave $100,000 in EDIT funds.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission gave $100,000 in funds from the city’s tax-increment financing districts.

The city of Lawrenceburg gave $500,000.

Of the $825,000 in funds provided to Nusun by local governments, about $96,000 has yet to be disbursed. Columbus was also the sponsor for a $600,000 line of funding through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, which reimbursed certain expenditures. Nusun had used only $71,349 of the $600,000, and the city ended the program earlier this year.

During the summer discussions, the company’s CEO Ryan Stout told the council that his company entered the solar panel business just as Chinese companies began flooding the market with panels that had artificially low prices because of financial backing from the Chinese government.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the city would try to sell the property and reimburse the money granted by local governments. If money was left after that, Columbus would reach out to Lawrenceburg officials to see how that community would want to proceed with the defunct grant agreement.

The city also asked that Nusun agree to a deficiency judgment, under which the company would pay back any difference between what the city says is owed and the building’s sale price. Logston said the company declined that request.

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