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Piper stalling on repaying taxpayers

BY A STAFF WRITER, (Week of May 3, 2012)

Piper Aircraft, Indian River County’s largest private employer, shows no sign of repaying the half-million-dollars it owes the county, and county officials show no urgency about pressing the company for the cash.

County Administrator Joe Baird and several commissioners say they are waiting on guidance from the state, but the state agency in charge of the matter says it has “no timeframe for a resolution and no specific reason for the delay.”

The debt was incurred when the aircraft manufacturer failed to meet employment targets set in 2008 when the county and state gave Piper $10.7 million in incentives to remain in Vero and increase its payroll to 950 fulltime employees by the end of 2011.

In November, in the wake of cancelling its jet program, Piper requested relief from the repayment obligation even though it was 230 employees short of the target.

At that time, Commissioner Joe Flescher said he was adamantly opposed to letting Piper off the hook, and Commissioner Bob Solari later asked for three years of Piper’s audited financials  to see if the company, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s richest men, needed relief.

Piper Aircraft spokeswoman Jackie Carlon said Piper would likely produce the audited financial statements, but that never happened.

“I haven’t received the financial statements,” Solari said. “I ask Joe Baird what is happening with Piper almost every week.”

“We are waiting for an answer from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity,” says Baird.

In December, James Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Economic Opportunity, which provided $6.66 million in incentives to Piper, said the agency expected to have an amended agreement by the beginning of 2012.