New audit paints picture of Tri County’s decline

A new audit released by the Ohio Development Services Agency paints a gloomy picture of the past year of Tri County Community Action’s operation.


It also requires the nonprofit organization that has overseen a variety of federal programs for low income, elderly and other residents of Champaign, Logan and Shelby counties for nearly 50 years to repay $123,417 in addition to the $125,427 Tri County still owes the ODSA alone for previous years.

The audit, dated May 28, is the fifth consecutive audit from ODSA in which the state organization has cited cases of misuse or abuse of grant funds and a variety of other issues stemming from a pattern of financial mismanagement practices.

“The agency’s financial position has been an issue in the past four ODSA audits,” the document reads at the conclusion of its findings. “Taken collectively, these issues indicate a weak financial management system, lack of adequate internal controls, poor cash management systems and a continued disregard for compliance with federal and state regulations. We are concerned about CLS’ (Champaign, Logan, Shelby counties) ability to continue as a going concern.”

In 2013 alone, Tri County operated at a loss of $339,400, the audit states, and that caused negative bank balances of between $24,000 and $248,000 at times, which resulted in $5,800 in overdraft and insufficient fund charges from banks.

Click here to read the Ohio Development Services Agency's audit report

ODSA, which acts as the state conduit for federal heating assistance, weatherization and a variety of other programs, began warning Tri County of possible “misuse of grant funds” in 2010. In the three audits that followed, the repeated warnings became more stern and auditors by the start of 2013 had replaced the word “misuse” with “abuse.”

Early last year, ODSA terminated its contract with Tri County for the home weatherization program and turned control of that money over to the Community Action Organization of Delaware, Madison and Union counties. As the misuse of grant funds continued, the funding for home energy assistance programs was also given to DMU on a temporary basis in late 2013.

At the start of this year, a new fiscal officer joined the nonprofit organization and made the board aware of the agency’s dire financial picture.

The former executive director, Denise Birt, was placed on unpaid administrative leave at the end of March as the agency had to stop providing its Meals on Wheels and senior nutrition programs that still were being funded by the Area Agency on Aging.

As the financial picture worsened, the Ohio Department of Transportation — which funds rural transit programs like Transportation for Logan County which Tri County continued to operate until late last week when RTC Enterprises took over — got involved and is conducting its own audits.

The nonprofit organization now has been reduced to a board of directors with no employees, a massive debt and responsibility for six pieces of real estate in the three-county area. The board has met with lawyers in an attempt to liquidate its assets and hopefully avoid bankruptcy, Board President Al Evans has said.

It is not clear if a criminal investigation has begun at the state level or if Ms. Birt and others who led the organization will face criminal charges.

Questions still remain regarding how a $275,000 mortgage was secured by Tri County on the 315 W. Auburn Ave. transportation building that was paid for in its entirety by a federal transportation grant and has very strict rules regarding its ownership and use.


Read complete story in Friday's Examiner.
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