UPDATE: Tri County board relinquishes funding grant


Future of transportation, senior meals programs uncertain

The Tri County Community Action Commission board of directors voluntarily gave up its final link to state money and named an agency that has already been involved in the community as its preferred temporary replacement.

The decision came during a Thursday afternoon meeting that involved representatives of the Ohio Development Services Agency, Community Action Organization of Delaware, Madison and Union Counties and Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies.

The move means that Tri County, which has already lost the home energy and weatherization assistance programs and defaulted on its senior nutrition contract, will no longer have a reliable funding source to support its transportation program.

The agency has been under scrutiny by the DSA for at least four years for mismanaging its grant funds and currently owes the state more than $125,000 in reimbursements for improperly spent grant funds. It also has a host of other creditors bringing the total of debts payable or past due to approximately $500,000.

The issues came to a head about a month ago after a new fiscal officer began revealing the full extent of the debt. The agency’s director, Denise Birt, was placed on unpaid administrative leave and all but one employee have been laid off.

To add to the financial woes, board president Al Evans said he learned Thursday that Ms. Birt had canceled the agency’s unemployment insurance and those who have been laid off are now without a job and no access to unemployment benefits. He said the decision to cancel the insurance was made without an action approved by the board.

The state officials at the meeting Thursday encouraged the board to voluntarily give up the grant funding source so services in Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties can continue with as little disruption as possible.

In making the motion for the Tri County board, Logan County Commissioner John Bayliss said the agency preferred that DMU, which already has control of the energy and weatherization programs, be given control of the remaining grant money.

The DSA officials indicated that DMU was the preferred agency to continue providing services locally and DMU director Rochelle Twining and DMU board president David Dhume said their board would likely accept the responsibility as long as Tri County’s debts and liabilities remain separate.

Giving up the grant funding, however, means that Tri County will no longer have a matching funding source to continue to receive an Ohio Department of Transportation grant that funds the agency’s transportation routes, Ms. Twining said.

She said her agency is making initial preparations to apply for the ODOT grant to keep the TLC bus service running. A very tight deadline to apply for the grant and uncertainty about the use of the buses, which are owned by Tri County, must be ironed out before a grant proposal can be submitted.

DMU is also exploring the feasibility of operating the Meals on Wheels and senior congregate site programs, administered through separate grants from the Area Agency on Aging, but those operations depend heavily on working out an arrangement acceptable to Tri County and Cindy Oelker of the Liberty Gathering Place to provide those services.

But getting the services back may not be entirely possible in the immediate future.

“We are exploring these options,” Ms. Twining said. “We may be too far behind the timeframe to do Meals on Wheels and I know that is difficult to hear.”

A total of six organizations turned out at a Wednesday informational session hosted by the Area Agency on Aging to learn about the guidelines for the senior nutrition program, AAA assistant director Patricia Mayer said.

While the DSA and DMU are focused on maintaining services in the three-county area, the Tri County board must also consider how it will repay the massive debt it has incurred.

The agency has mortgages on four buildings that are eligible for sale and Mike Boyer of Greenville National Bank was also on hand to make sure the lienholder’s investments are protected.

With real estate, Tri County’s total liabilities are nearly $1.6 million, Mr. Evans said.

During a discussion of the real estate, Mr. Evans said it appears the board took out a $275,000 mortgage on the 315 W. Auburn Ave. property that was built strictly as a transportation center. He said the loan was presented to the board as a line of credit but that it actually appears to be a mortgage on a facility built with federal funds that the agency has very little control over.

In addition to mortgages on the four properties, Mr. Boyer said the bank has an $88,000 unsecured loan.

Filing for bankruptcy or selling properties to try to pay off the debt were discussed as options but Mr. Evans said those discussions would best be left until the board can locate an attorney that may be willing to represent them. The agency’s former law firm is among their creditors.

The two representatives from OACAA said as disheartening as it seems, dissolution of the organization or consolidation with another group like DMU may be the best option.

“How do you continue existing as an agency?” OACAA director Phil Cole asked. “I have trouble seeing that right now. I hate to deliver the bad news because over the years, the services here have been so good. (Tri County) has an outstanding record of providing services.”