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County to claw back money from Mesilla Park greenhouse

LAS CRUCES – Doña Ana County officials on Tuesday OK’d a plan to take back $170,000 in public incentive money issued to a Mesilla Park greenhouse company that didn’t fully deliver on its pledge to create new jobs.

Commissioners voted to OK a settlement agreement with New Mexico Greenhouse Holdings II, a Colorado limited-liability company that had launched a greenhouse operation at the former Aldershot Nursery in Mesilla Park in 2015.

In February 2016, the state issued a $250,000 economic development grant to the company in return for a pledge to create an average of 120 new full-time jobs within four years. The state channels such dollars, awarded through what’s known as the Local Economic Development Act, to the county, which in turn awards the money to companies.

LEDA is viewed as New Mexico’s version of a closing fund, meant to spur economic growth.

An apparent curtailment of the greenhouse company’s operations in early June at its property just south of the Las Cruces city limits sparked concern among county and state officials. Furthering that concern were demolition activities involving the company’s numerous greenhouses and an advertised July 14 public auction of much of the company’s mechanical equipment. The greenhouses and the equipment were collateral in the company’s contract with the state and county, according to court records.

Doña Ana County filed a request for a temporary restraining order June 19 to halt the company’s activities. County officials expressed concerns the greenhouse operation could be closing, without reimbursing the county and state for the economic incentive funding.

Third Judicial District Court Chief Judge James Martin granted the temporary restraining order on June 22, according to court records.

Settlement OK’d

Since then, the county and the state have negotiated a settlement with the company — approved by the Doña Ana County Board of County Commissioners in a meeting Tuesday.

The settlement calls for the company to repay $170,000 to the county, which in turn would return the money to the state Economic Development Department. According to the terms, the company would pay $50,000 of that in the upcoming month as its first installment. After that, it owes $24,000 in five installments — starting Dec. 31, 2018 — for a total of $120,000. An installment must be paid every three months.

County Manager Fernando Macias and Assistant County Manager Chuck McMahon said the company is restructuring and hopes to continue its operations by focusing on using its newest greenhouses. Because of that, the contract also contains provisions to issue a credit to the company — meaning it might not have to pay the full $24,000 in a given quarter — if it creates certain benchmark levels of jobs within that time frame.

“There’s still a potential jobs will be created,” McMahon said.

A hearing on the civil case filed by the county is slated for 9 a.m. July 30 in 3rd Judicial District Court, 201 W. Picacho Ave., Las Cruces, according to court records.

A representative from the company couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443, dalba@lcsun-news.com or @AlbaSoular on Twitter.

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©2018 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)

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