ADOC resounds claims that ranch is a burden

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2007

GREENSBORO &8212; After returning home from Montgomery on Tuesday, where he held a press conference on his ongoing efforts to seek clarity in the financial records regarding the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch, Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, was greeted by a faxed letter of response to his request to stop the sell of the state facility and its property from Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Richard Allen.

Allen said the ADOC, at the behest of Howard, double checked its financial records on the facility and, though it found mistakes, still found the farm was losing money. Allen said the only mistake found in the previously released numbers was a $89,807 credit that was mistakenly given to Draper Farm rather that the ranch in May of 2005.

Allen said the ADOC has &8220;spent a great deal of time and effort&8221; responding to Howard&8217;s requests since the announcement of the sale. Howard, however, said, despite the meetings and requests for information he has had with the ADOC, it has failed to provide him with the financial records for which he has asked.

Email newsletter signup

Rep. A.J McCampbell, D-Linden, said he is also against the sale of the ranch at this time, which would adversely affect the economy of his constituents along with those of Howard. He said he is against selling the state property, and he doesn&8217;t understand how the ranch is costing taxpayers.

Howard said he has received word that Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, intents to look into the finances of the cattle ranch to determine its profitability. Knight heads the Government Appropriations Committee of the House.

Conflicting finances

Originally released 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.

The department has since revised some of its numbers used to determine the site&8217;s finances, but maintains the ranch is still operating at a loss. In the 2005 fiscal year the department found $89,807 that was incorrectly credited to the Draper Farm rather than the ranch, which adjusts the department&8217;s figures for the farm&8217;s revenues from $665,973 to $755,780 (still falling short of the $779,819.76 claimed by the ranch).

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.

ADOC 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.