Howard continues to decry ranch sale

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MONTGOMERY &8212; Rep. Ralph Howard held a press conference yesterday on the steps of the state House offices outlining the steps he has taken to obtain Department of Correction (DOC) records on the financial situation of the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch, the response he has received from the department and to once again call for a halt of the sale of the ranch.

Howard said the ranch is a part of the Alabama Correctional Industries (ACI), which he said was set up to offset the costs of state prison facilities and

provide inmates with training, while giving them a productive outlet. He said the money from the ranch&8217;s ACI operations allows the state to house the approximately 100 prisoners at a lower cost than is seen at other state facilities without ACI income.

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Howard also said the loss of the catfish production by the facility will also have an adverse economic impact on his constituents, as catfish production and processing is the No. 1 industry in Hale County. He said closing the farm will limit possessing plants&8217; access to the locally raised catfish and cost locally held ranch jobs.

Howard also restated previous claims that the financial research by the DOC into the farms profitability were flawed and had discrepancies with the records at the ranch. He said he has also had continued trouble receiving records from the department to back up their claims of financial burden from the ranch&8217;s operations.

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 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.

DOC Public Information Manager Brian 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.