CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick told a group of state lawmakers Monday he would like to keep a $5 million revolving loan program in his office despite the controversy now surrounding it.

Legislative auditors uncovered the lack of controls regarding the program in a recent audit of the agriculture department requested by Helmick when he took office a year ago. The loan program was just one of several red flags auditors found.

Monday’s discussion focused mostly on the loan program that was started by the federal government in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture in the 1930s following the Great Depression. The loans were to help farmers.

Auditors said at some point in the 1960s the program was turned over to the state and since then a higher percentage of the loans have gone delinquent. A four-person committee in the department, under the administration of longtime state Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass, oversaw the program in recent years. Auditors said there were no loan experts on the committee.

“Of the 40 loans where they didn’t comply with the federal requirements well over 50 percent of those loans were delinquent,” Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said Monday.

The program currently has $1 million in the bank and $4 million outstanding. Commissioner Helmick said he would like to keep the program, with a number changes, in place. He said an expert would be put in charge.

“Somebody that is trained in this particular area, to handle loans, especially if we are going to expand this program,” he said. “Basically, what we’re going to do is create a new program anyway.”

It appears legislative involvement over the years has been the annual approval of the special revenue account for the program in state code. State Senate President Jeff Kessler said it doesn’t appear the legislature allocated money for the loan program.

Kessler and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley have asked the results of the audit be turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review. They are concerned about other things that turned up in connection with reimbursements and expenditures under the Douglass administration.

Former Commissioner Douglass told MetroNews last week he was unaware of anything abnormal in his department.

 

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Comments

  • Justice

    Walt Helmick asked for the audit, his water company is legit and he owns a 200 acre farm in the state also. He as was mentioned above by another farmer done more for AG in WV that's productive and has a project he stood up to help veterans start an AG business, and assist in Agriculture based therapy programs for wounded veterans, I've heard nothing but good from all the people in this program both republicans and democrats. You guys misjudge and judge and I bet most of ya go to church.

    Helmick is cleaning up AG and has a plan to put farming back on table in WV. Hey if all he does is the veteran project that would be a million times better than what occurred before he took office.

    Give him a chance

    • I have been on the hill !!!!!!

      Please tell me what this man has done?? nothing but somehow convinced people that producing maybe 5 or 10 cases of water a week is considered a farm. I could do that on my .75 piece of ground that has a spring. Does this make me a farmer?

  • Wv-1968

    Just like to Consolidated Investment Fund in the 80's!

  • CaptainQ

    Walt Helmick's defense of this controversial loan program sort of reminds me of that time back in 1992 when all those U.S. House members rose to the defense of the 'House Bank', the one that only members of the U.S. House could participate in and allows all those millions of dollars in 'bounced checks' to be underwritten (without penalty) with taxpayer funds.

    Anyone remember that? I even remember Harley O. Staggers Jr's infamous campaign song titled "Mollohan, the Rubber Man" he played on TV. (Of course, Harley was soundly defeated). Isn't it odd that the top 22 offenders in what became known as 'Rubbergate' were Democrats? Look it up on Wikipedia, the list is there! (I don't think I'd be permitted to post that link here).

  • sprdgoak

    All I can say as a farmer is I have heard more and seen more out of Mr. Helmick than I ever did Mr. Douglass. Lets throw stones at a man who is trying to move the state forward and not stay at the backwoods status quo. As far as people being fired from the ag office, if mishandling of funds did happen, shouldn't they not be fired?

    • Justice

      Your 100% right and those fired perhaps didn't have a good work ethic either, it's hard readjusting when your use to not doing nothing but sit around and gripe. I'd say Walt Helmick makes them work and produce and that may account for some of the firing or resignations. People can't cut it or produce get of the way for those who can!

  • blugldmn

    Disband the program immediately.

    Sounds like dan rontenkowski and the house bank the democrats were running years ago where the democrats took out loans but never paid back.

  • Jim Donnan

    Water farm? Wasn't Walt also involved in the fake fish farming in Mingo?

  • I Agree with Joe.

    I worked for Agriculture a lot of years but got out cause I could no longer stand to watch what was good and productive be thrown away for Walt's thinking outside the box and hiring high priced "political pay backs" as coordinators to bring money in so he can move the department off that "hill" He won't be around long enough everybody knows he wants to head of the State, not head of Agriculture Before they go after the previous administration they better check to see who is driving the bus in the current administration. They better be sure about where they throw rocks, they could come back to hit them in the wrong places. I am just saying Walt wants Walt and the honor of Governor, he doesn't care about Agriculture. Why don't you look into how many folks have been fired, since he took office and for no good reason. Key positions not being filled, the public suffers.

  • Joe

    I think the records should be checked. I recall in the late 90's Sen. Helmick's family business also borrowed from this fund. Were those payments current or payed back?

    • Larry

      Was it for their "water farm"?