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Boatmaker's grant request stalls again

The interim county administrator pulls the item off the agenda until an auditor reports back on Pro-Line's financial strength.

For the third time in as many months, Pro-Line Boats' $250,000 grant application has stalled short of a County Commission vote because of missing financial information.

The grant, which would give Pro-Line $2,000 for the first 125 new jobs it would create at its proposed factory in Holder, was scheduled to come before commissioners at their Tuesday meeting. But Interim County Administrator Richard Wesch pulled the item from the agenda this week because an independent auditor has not yet issued its report on the boatmaker's financial strength.

"The (auditor's report) was specifically requested," Wesch said. "I know the commissioners as a totality don't like receiving last-minute information."

The latest delay frustrated both the boatmaker and the Economic Development Council, which has recommended that Pro-Line receive money under the job growth incentive grant program.

"The whole process has soured us a little bit and we expected a little better support from the county than this," Pro-Line vice president Johnny Walker said.

Wesch pulled the grant application from the commission's Sept. 5 agenda because commissioners questioned how Pro-Line would use the grant money. Walker later sent a letter stating that the money would help offset impact fees, permit costs and water and sewer connection fees at the company's proposed factory.

The commission postponed voting on the grant Sept. 26 after Rick Jensen, then the executive director of the Economic Development Council, gave conflicting statements about the rules of the grant program. The council fired Jensen two days later.

The county wanted an auditor to attest to Pro-Line's financial strength. Kerkering, Barberio & Co., the accountant for Pro-Line's parent company, American Marine Holdings, wrote a letter Sept. 29 stating that Pro-Line is a profitable part of the company.

But the county wanted the word of its own auditor, Williams, McCranie & Sutton, which asked for Pro-Line's year-end statements late last week, Walker said.

Kevin Cunningham, Economic Development Council president-elect, criticized the county for changing the rules, saying the grant program never required that applicants be reviewed by the county's auditor.

"Now they're going to postpone everything because they can't get it together," Cunningham said.

Several commissioners said they had no problem with this latest delay _ in fact, some of them had more problems with hearing the application on Tuesday.

The elections that day guarantee at least one, and perhaps three, new county commissioners, and Commissioner Gary Bartell said the decision on this grant should be left to the new board.

"From a common sense standpoint, it makes sense to allow the new sitting commission to voice an opinion on that," Bartell said. "It's bad timing, and bad public relations on the part of the EDC."

Commissioner Vicki Phillips also questioned the timing of Pro-Line's grant application for creating new jobs, when the company recently laid off 50 employees.

"I don't know how they can justify that," she said.

But Commissioner Brad Thorpe, who is leaving the board at the end of his term Nov. 20, said he would have had no problem voting on the grant application next week, as long as all of the information was provided.

"The timing of it can be perceived as awkward by some, but I'm still in office," Thorpe said. "If they want to present it to me, I'll make a decision on it at that time."

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