CANNELTON – The economic rebound for Can Clay Corp. has fallen short and expectations are that the company will close operations as soon as Monday. Management at the company has reportedly contacted the county commissioners and the board’s attorney to discuss how events will unfold.

That step was taken since the county owns the land where Can Clay manufactures its clay pipe. The company was stripped of its property by the county in early 2017 for failure to pay property taxes.

The months that ensued resulted in a structured lease that allowed the 100-year-old Can Clay to remain in business, with payments established to compensate for unpaid taxes. Other covenants required the company to clean up the unkempt grounds which had several dilapidated structures and broken tile littered across several lots.

Since that agreement was hashed in the summer of 2017, the board of commissioners spoke several times on the issue, noting that cleanups were moving slowly, but were taking place.

In all, the contract called for repayment of back taxes amounting to more than $502,000 that would be recouped through rent. That include an upfront payment of $20,000 due before Aug. 15, 2017, with another installment of $21,833 due before the end of that year, and annual payments of $41,833 running through 2028. That was in addition to staying current on all tax bills in years to follow.

Until this spring installment, which isn’t officially due until May 9, Can Clay had made good on those terms. However, according to Commissioner Randy Kleaving, the company’s outlook had a downturn and sales forecasts wouldn’t allow them to remain open.

“What they told us is they lost most of their sales,” Kleaving explained, “and they made the decision to shut down.”

With the shuttering, about 25 workers are expected to lose their jobs.

With the prospect of losing a 100-year old institution, Cannelton Mayor Mary Snyder has mixed emotions on the matter. In a small community like Cannelton, which has few businesses and, as a result, a small tax base, every dollar counts when it comes to maintaining local services. She explained that while she is sorry to see workers displaced, this current phase opens the door to new opportunities, especially since that in the past Can Clay didn’t pay property taxes for three years and the agreement they had with the county allowed the company to decrease its amount of tax due.

“We hate to see any business close,” the mayor continued, “the condition of these buildings, its time to get something moving and get it back on the tax rolls.”

But just how quickly that happens will come from a joint effort of several county offices; the commissioners, council and redevelopment commission and others. Once the grounds were in county hands and the lease was finalized, both were transferred to control by the county redevelopment commission. The money recouped from Can-Clay’s lease was maintained in a separate account, held in reserve to help pay the costs of rehabilitating the grounds should the company default. At this point, the county officials overseeing the agreement have a number of hurdles to pass. Facing soon-to-be empty buildings and a loss of tax base, they will mull the future of the property. That will likely include a full cleanup of the grounds. They previously considered seeking money from a state Brownfields Assessment survey to determine just what needs to be done to rehabilitate the property.

The eventual hope is they can secure another business to locate there. Perry County Development Corp. undoubtedly will be highly involved in that process, yet that step could be quite a ways off.

With a redevelopment commission meeting set for today at 3 p.m. in the courthouse, the county attorney is expected to give an in-depth report on the closure.
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