10/25/06 — Lighthouse board eyes next steps for shelter

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Lighthouse board eyes next steps for shelter

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 25, 2006 1:48 PM

After a two-week closure and questions about finances that included non-payment of thousands of dollars in payroll taxes, The Lighthouse of Wayne County Inc. will return to business as usual Monday.

But members of the board of directors for the domestic violence shelter and abuse prevention programs say they will present a plan within a week that addresses financial and organizational issues.

"The Lighthouse needs to improve its financial and organizational management and the Board of Directors is in the process of doing that," board member Cindy Sanford said Tuesday. "That new structure will be announced at the end of the month. It'll be out next week."

The board began working on improvements two weeks ago when The Lighthouse temporarily closed its administrative offices and thrift store Oct. 13. Its safe house and court advocacy and Project Lifestyle programs, however, remained open. The offices and store will re-open Monday.

The closure and reorganization are the result of a process that's been in the works since early this year when board members discovered some payroll taxes had not been paid in recent years. Mrs. Sanford declined to give the exact amount of the bill at this time.

"There have been some payroll tax liabilities, but all the back payroll taxes have been paid. The remaining balance we have is for penalties and interest," Mrs. Sanford explained. "The Lighthouse Board of Directors is working closely with the IRS to finalize the payment of those funds."

With five members of the nine-person board having just joined in 2006 -- including Mrs. Sanford in mid-August -- the decision to close the offices and thrift store was made to give them time to deal with the tax issue.

"Our funders had gotten word of (the tax problems), and there was some concern. It was kind of a wakeup call for the board to take a step back and evaluate the situation for the first time and see what's going on. We just needed to step back, take a look at what we have and see what direction we wanted to move," Mrs. Sanford said. "We want to make the services we have A+ all the way. We had to wonder how did the situation go this long without action being taken."

And while The Lighthouse's services will not change, the restructuring process has already begun, as co-executive director Cheryl Seronick resigned on Oct. 19. That decision, however, Mrs. Sanford said, does not appear to be connected to the organization's financial woes.

As for the rest of the staff, she continued, all have been retained, but several could face reassignment.

"Wayne County Human Resource Department is helping with the realignment and the search for a new executive director," Mrs. Sanford said.

She hopes the board can begin that search soon.

In the meantime, while they are looking for an interim director, Mary Bolin will continue to serve as assistant director. All decisions, however, are being made by The Lighthouse's Board of Directors, Mrs. Sanford said.

She added that the organization's board of directors is hopeful The Lighthouse will retain all of its current funding. So far, none has been pulled, but future dollars are dependent on the completion and release of a new organizational plan.

"If The Lighthouse loses its grant money, we cannot operate," Mrs. Sanford said. "We hope we do not lose any of our funding sources.

"These are much-needed services. (Our funders) don't want to see the services dropped. They really want to work with us. They are working with us to ensure we don't lose our funding."

The Lighthouse receives money from the United Way of Wayne County, the Governor's Crime Commission, North Carolina Council for Women and Domestic Violence Commission in Raleigh, the state Department of Health and Human Services, FEMA and Wayne County.