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Commission approves funds for meat-packing plant

By SERINA MARSHALL
Staff Writer
[email protected]

A $2 million allocation was approved by Washington County Commissioners Monday night for grants to construct a meat processing plant in Telford.

The funds came from the county’s American Rescue Plan to go toward the Appalachian Producers Cooperative’s continued development for
local livestock farmers.

Dana York, local cattle farmer, told the commission the cooperative would make beef production an easier and more efficient option for
the region.

“I want my grandson to be a lifelong farmer here, but it is hard without having the ability to market and sell our beef locally,” York said.
“If we have to send it to the Midwest to be processed and brought here, that is not an economical thing for a farmer.”

However, Johnson City resident Freddy Gonzalez told commissioners that while he thinks the project is needed, he believes funding it with
tax dollars is “morally wrong and ethically wrong” to give such a large sum of money to a private business.

“If business people got together and put a business plan together to merchandize their product locally where they can benefit from a lot
better than they currently are, I’m 100 percent in favor of them doing that,” Gonzalez said. “I’m 100 percent opposed to the county gifting
them $2 million, in what I think is $2 million of their taxpayer money.”

Commissioners amended the original resolution several times before acting.

The original includes a right of first refusal for Washington County over the next 10 years. In the event of the cooperation failing, either
by liquidation, loans defaulting or failure to secure construction, the county would take control of the operation and assume any debt.

Provisions were added that the cooperative must report back to the commission every six months and annually through the ten-year period.

An amendment was also added by commissioners that the cooperative cannot spend any of the county’s money until it is needed.
Wade Farmer, tax and estate planning partner representing the cooperative, said the earliest the cooperative would need the money is
sometime in 2023.

This is done to protect the county’s $2 million investment, he said. Commissioner and Budget Committee Vice-Chair Jim Wheeler said it would give the county the opportunity to continue their investment in county agriculture by finding another suitor for the meat processing plant if things go wrong with the cooperation.

Commissioner Freddie Malone proposed a way for the county to get back some of its investment by receiving a cut of distributions from the cooperative based on the county’s percentage of the total investment in the project.

“The way I’ve proposed structuring it, it’s not a loan,” Malone said. “There’s no requirement that you pay it back. The county may still get zero back, but we may get $2 million if it’s as successful as we all hope.”

Farmer said the total cost of the project would be up to $10 million, with $2 million coming from the county, another $2-3 million in grants, and another $5.5 million in bank loans.

Following more than an hour of deliberation, commissioners approved the funding in an 11-3 vote.

“All of this ARPA money, we can come back to one foundational thing: generational changes,” said Commissioner Ken Huffine. “We have an opportunity to partner with our agricultural community to make a generational investment that keeps agriculture going, that also keeps everybody fed.”