County will cut check to Golden LEAF

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — Surry County will cut a check for nearly half a million dollars to the Golden LEAF Foundation as a result of unfulfilled job-creation promises at Pittsburgh Glass Works in Elkin.

However, County Manager Chris Knopf told the Surry County Board of Commissioners Monday evening the money was never necessarily the county’s. It was earmarked to pay down school debt.

As part of an economic incentive agreement from 2011, Golden LEAF provided $2,044,733 in funding to the county, according to Knopf. The money was used to purchase equipment for Pittsburgh Glass. The equipment then was leased to the company, which agreed to pay back the funds throughout the course of the agreement.

If the company had met a job-creation benchmark of creating 260 jobs by the end of last year, the county would have been permitted to keep all funds regained from the lease payments. Knopf said the county had received permission from Golden LEAF to use the funds to pay down existing school capital debt. Normally, all funds would have to be reused in another economic development project.

Pittsburgh Glass did create 200 jobs for Surry County, but fell short of the employment benchmark by 60 positions.

The end result, according to Knopf, is the county will retain a portion of the original grant monies, rather than the entire $2,044,733 the foundation originally divvied out.

By way of a unanimous vote, commissioners gave county officials the authority to send $470,288.59 back to Golden LEAF.

Knopf also stated the money garnered from the lease payments had been set in a restricted fund, for use only after the incentive agreement had run its course.

Thus far, the county has collected more than $800,000 from the lease payments. Knopf said once the term of the county’s agreement, which lasts through 2020, with Pittsgurgh Glass is complete the county will have about $1.6 million to put toward school debt.

In subsequent emails, Knopf reiterated the point the money being sent back to Golden LEAF was never general fund money. It has also yet to be budgeted. That stated, it will have some effect on future budgets.

Knopf explained the Golden LEAF money would have been used to pay down debt incurred in projects at Central Middle, North Surry, Mount Airy High School, Pilot Mountain Elementary, Pilot Mountain Middle, Rockford Elementary and others.

Using the Golden LEAF dollars to pay down the school debt allows the county to direct other dollars toward paying down debt incurred when the county purchased the building Pittsburgh Glass occupies.

The end result is county taxpayers will have to fund about $470,000 they would not have had to fund had Pittsburgh Glass met its employment benchmark.

As part of county’s agreement with the company, some fines do apply. However, the board did not take any action regarding its separate but related lease agreement with Pittsburgh Glass.

“That will be a matter this board will likely take up at a future meeting,” said Knopf.

Commissioner Eddie Harris, who represents the southern portion of the county, said while Pittsburgh Glass didn’t meet its benchmark yet, he expects the company to eventually surpass the 260 jobs.

“There was some down-time which put them behind originally,” noted Harris.

Knopf said a lack of qualified job applicants had also caused some difficulty for the company.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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