CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation aimed at tightening up a longstanding loan program administered by the state Department of Agriculture advanced to the Senate floor in Charleston this week. A legislative audit of the Department of Agriculture revealed problems and discrepancies.
“This clarifies the rules have be done and the Department of Agriculture has to tighten up the structure within certain guidelines we put in place based on the post audit report,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Ron Miller of Greenbrier County.
The audit gained attention when Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Tim Miley indicated plans to forward the findings onto federal prosecutors for further investigation. The move hinted there was suspicion of illegal activity although no accusations were made.
Former State Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass adamantly denied any wrongdoing or mishandling of the loans during his tenure.
“They found there were discrepancies, maybe not illegal discrepancies, but discrepancies in the loan process,” said Miller. “This loan started in the 50s and in the 50s it was done by handshake. This tightens it up and makes it fit modern banking standards.”
Miller said Senate Bill 350 will also strive to keep the money in the agriculture community.
“We think it’s important to keep this money flowing in projects involving agriculture,” he said. “It’s not just for farms, but it’s also for infrastructure for other projects as they relate to agriculture.”