Rolando Update

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 21, 2009

With state rep’s help, Rolando seeks state funds

By Billy Davis

Rolando Foods owner Roland Butler, under fire by Panola County government for his yet-to-open Crenshaw plant, is apparently seeking a business loan from state government.

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But Butler will need the county’s help to secure the loan, worth $700,000, from the Miss. Development Authority. The MDA is Mississippi’s main economic development agency.

The Panolian learned about the loan request this week, when state Rep. Joe Gardner confirmed he is helping Butler work with MDA.

Gardner said he met with Butler, a Jackson consultant hired by Butler, and MDA staff “about two or three weeks ago.”

 “I’m not neutral on things like this that would help the people in my district find jobs,” said Gardner, when asked about his role with Butler.

A spokesman for MDA said Thursday that Panola County has not approached the state agency about a loan for Rolando.

Panola County Administrator Kelley Magee, also reached Thursday, echoed that report.

Butler has attempted to secure an MDA loan through the Town of Crenshaw but failed to do so.

Gardner, citing conversations with Butler, said the business owner has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the factory and is now finally close to opening. The MDA loan will enable Butler to do that, he said.

Gardner also said he was unaware of any controversy swirling around Butler, whose promises of a functioning factory, and whose excuses for delay, now span three years.

In August 2006, Panola County supervisors handed Butler an empty, dilapidated plant and adjoining acreage in Crenshaw in exchange for Butler’s promise of several hundred jobs. 

Several hundred residents filled out job applications, but the jobs have never materialized. Butler later claimed he couldn’t find trained workers in Crenshaw and was looking elsewhere. 

Besides a promise of jobs, Butler’s pitch to supervisors was that he needed the property as collateral to secure financing. He then used the plant and acreage to borrow $1.4 million from a Colorado financier, county records show.

Supervisors are presently demanding an accounting of the $1.4 million after learning from Magee that they have the legal right – per the contract with Butler – to do so.

Appearing before the county board in July, Butler promised the plant would open within 90 days.

“You can read my lips on that one,” he said.

Butler and accountant Bob Thomas also told supervisors that private investors put $900,000 into the Crenshaw building, which boosted its appraised value from a previous appraisal of $206,000.

The privately invested money, coupled with the $1.4 million loan, would mean Butler has spent $2.3 million over three years on the unopened plant.

Magee, also in July, requested an itemized lists of expenditures, which has not been produced despite Butler’s promise to do so.

Thomas did send Magee a list of $1 million in fixed assets. The list includes food production equipment as well as power tools such as a DeWalt screwdriver and Honda pressure washer. The building and acreage are also included as part of the $1 million.

Magee has also learned that Panola County government was paying property insurance on Butler’s plant after the property changed hands.

The insurance agency has reimbursed the county for those payments, which covered a $1.5 million policy.