Howard continues fight of ranch sale

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2007

GREENSBORO &8212; State Rep. Ralph Howard, whose district includes Bibb, Greene, Marengo and Perry Counties, has continued his fight to stop the closure and sell of the Farquhar Sate Cattle Ranch outside of Greensboro this week.

Along with sending a letter to Commissioner Richard Allen of the Department of Corrections asking for records supporting the department&8217;s claims that the ranch is losing money, Howard has also been in contact with officials at the governor&8217;s office asking for financial accountability prior to any sell of the property.

Howard has previously said the accounting practices of the Alabama Department of Corrections have shown major flaws as more information surfaces on the financial situation of the ranch. He said the numbers presented by the state, without line item numbers to back them up, paint a different picture of the site&8217;s finances than the numbers he has received from the ranch.

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In his letter to the commissioner, which Howard said was also sent to the office of the governor and several media outlets, he asked that the records be sent to his office in a timely and professional manner. He also said that the department had previously declined his public information requests, citing his previous threat of litigation against the department if the records were not produced.

Howard said he will hold a press conference at the State House on Monday to announce the response by the commission to his information request and speak about his possible course of action to postpone the sell of the ranch.

Conflicting finances

Reports released from the Department of Corrections, which were used to gauge the cost of continuing farm operations as opposed to selling the ranch property by Allen and Gov. Bob Riley, showed the property lost approximately $198,000 during the past three fiscal years. Reports obtained from a source speaking on conditions of anonymity showed that the ranch made a profit during the same time period of between $527,919.90 and $341,919.90, based on total annual employee salaries for ranch operations ranging from $188,000 to $250,000.

Figures provided by the department list only revenues and expenses of the ranch and the resulting profit or loss for each of the previous three fiscal years and the first half of the current fiscal year, which runs from October 2006 to March of 2007.

The records obtained from the ranch list and combine the incomes provided through sale of catfish, livestock and other miscellaneous farm products along with federal grants to produce the total income for the operations. This is counterbalanced by a list of expense items, including repairs, leases, utilities, material, inmate labor, transportation and other equipment, which are combine for total expenses. These two figures are then used to deduce the profit or loss of the farm for each fiscal year from 2006 to 2003, and do not include employee salaries.

Discrepancies occur on both the revenue and expenses listed in each report. With the cattle ranch&8217;s number higher in revenue and lower in its expenses every year that coincides on the reports.

Sale information

Along with the cattle ranch, the properties listed by the governor&8217;s press office as being put up for sale are: 1,851 acres of the 2,215 acres at Red Eagle Honor Farm in Montgomery, an empty and unused 16,000-square foot building on South Union Street in Montgomery, 32 acres in Wetumpka on Highway 231 North and 10 acres at the old Kilby prison in Montgomery. Preliminary estimates by the Department of Corrections list the total income generated by the land sales to run between $16.33 and $23.87 million, with the value of the Farquhar ranch estimated between $9.29 and $12.38 million for the remaining 3,869 acres for sale.

Both Riley and Allen said the land sales, along with bringing inmates back from private facilities in Louisiana and putting more inmates in work programs, will allow the department to generate money to cover code upgrades, maintenance and capital improvements at state department of correction facilities that will cost is excess of $90 million. The improvements will be done over a period of several years, said Allen and the funds generated through land sales will cover the cost of the first year.

Allen and Riley said all property that will be sold will be appraised, advertised and sold through a public bid process to the highest bidder. The governor&8217;s press office said the process will mirror that which was used to sell 540 acres of the cattle ranch in Greensboro earlier this year, which brought in $1.6 million and was higher than the appraised value of the property, $1.4 million.

Corbett said there is no way at this time to know how long the process of selling the property and moving inmates from the cattle farm will take, but the sell will be handled by the Alabama Department of Conservation&8217;s State Lands Division.