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Editorial: Nusun case offers clear choice to city representatives

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The Columbus City Council has an important decision to make next month when it again addresses the cloudy future of Nusun, a Columbus solar panel company. But based on stipulations the council set for future help at its June 18 meeting, the right decision should be evident.

Nusun ran afoul with the city administration after failing to meet employment benchmarks and not filing reports required in a 2011 agreement — made with the previous administration — that gave the company $325,000 in city and county tax money. Nusun was supposed to have 80 employees by the end of 2012 but had only five as of mid-June. The city had agreed to forgive the mortgage payments on the city-owned manufacturing plant in return for the company meeting its benchmarks.

In addition to falling far short of the employment benchmarks, Nusun had not paid property taxes in 2012 and to date this year.

Mayor Kristen Brown wanted the City Council to find that Nusun was not in compliance with its agreements and to make the company start paying its monthly $6,875 mortgage.

The council had an opportunity to hammer Nusun at its June 18 meeting and compel it to begin payments. Instead, it considered what the company’s chief executive officer said about the market challenges Nusun has faced and took a lenient approach.

The council gave Nusun some minimum standards to meet to demonstrate a good-faith effort. Nusun had until the end of June to pay $22,000 in unpaid property taxes and until August to file required reports, formulate a working plan to meet employment goals and meet with the council’s incentive-review committee.

While August deadlines are still ahead, Nusun paid only the $14,186 it owed for 2012 property taxes by the end of June, enough to stave off a sheriff’s sale. The property was due to be added to a list for a September sale. Ryan Stout, Nusun CEO, told the staff at the county treasurer’s office that he would pay the remainder, which was due May 10, in the next few months.

Council members said last week that Stout also had not met with the incentive-review committee or responded to an email outlining steps the company needs to take. But the point is that council members demanded all of the back taxes be paid by the end of June. That did not happen, which makes anything else a moot point.

What has transpired in this saga should serve as an important lesson for the city when considering how much help to provide to companies that seek it.

Columbus could learn from Greenwood. It provided $8.4 million in tax dollars to Elona Biotechnologies, a pharmaceutical company, to help it become a major drug maker. That never happened, and now the company is in foreclosure, and the city faces the possibility of recovering little, or none, of the money it invested.

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