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Wrangling over AmerLink incentive begins

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

By CHRISTOPHER BROOKE

Staff

HILLSVILLE As Carroll County seeks $600,000 in state incentive funds it is owed back from log home company AmerLink, officials from granting authorities are watching the situation.

The Virginia tobacco commission and the Governor's Opportunity Fund gave $300,000 each as incentives to attract the log home manufacturer to build a sawmill, spend $3 million on equipment and other improvements and create 200 jobs at the Carroll County Industrial Park.

Carroll officials have denied Amerlink's request for a project extension after 39 months and after the company created only one job. Carroll is seeking by letter the return of the 32.4 acres in the industrial park and the $600,000.

Thursday was the deadline in the letter written by County Administrator Gary Larrowe for the company to return the economic development incentive funds.

The letter stated a deadline of Oct. 27 for AmerLink to convey the land back to the county.

A review of the project's status indicates to county officials that AmerLink has failed to meet obligations set out in performance agreements between Carroll and the company, according to the letter.

"Because of these material breaches, the county hereby demands repayment of the entire [Governor's Opportunity Fund] and [tobacco commission] funds in the total amount of $600,000 immediately," the letter said.

Carroll County is recipient of the state funds for the specific purpose of job creation, said Ned Stephenson, deputy director of the tobacco commission. The state agency would look to the county for repayment of the money.

County officials are aware of this. "We are in conversations with the county, and they understand their obligation to us... they have not shrunk from their obligation," Stephenson said.

A written agreement exists between the tobacco commission and Carroll, and the state officials are following terms of that contract.

It's not uncommon that a company receiving incentive funds is able to reach only a portion of its job creation goals, Stephenson said. The commission has a formula to adjust a percentage of the money to be refunded in such cases.

But, Stephenson said, the tobacco commission can take circumstances into consideration and provide relief, if warranted.

Carroll County officials have not asked for relief from the state at this point, he said.

The tobacco commission takes the risk that some of the job creation efforts might not come through as planned, Stephenson said.

"We're in the job creation business, not the contract enforcement business," he said.

The Governor's Opportunity Fund also works with the county on its part of grant funds.

"The money that we give is presented to the county, and then the agreement is between the county and the company," said Christie Miller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

State officials aren't expecting to take action in this situation until next year. "We will not be requiring any payback from the county until March," Miller said.

AmerLink's John Barth did not return a phone call from The Gazette seeking comment.

County officials have been working to create jobs and increase the tax base, said Sam Dickson, chairman of the Carroll Board of Supervisors.

Incentives of money and land were provided to AmerLink by the previous county board, with the intention of creating 200 jobs and locating the operation here.

"Well, our agreement's up and they didn't produce the jobs, so we think we should have the money and the land back," Dickson said. "I mean, what if somebody else wanted it?"

These matters will end up in the attorneys hands, now that county officials have started the process, he expects.

The chairman understands that a slumping economy is having a detrimental effect on businesses, but AmerLink had 39 months total to make progress on its part of the agreement.

"We're in the process of creating jobs and increasing the tax base," he added. "We don't want to see anybody fail. But if it doesn't work, then you have to move on."