11/28/06 — Lighthouse will close to examine finances

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Lighthouse will close to examine finances

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 28, 2006 1:46 PM

The Lighthouse of Wayne County is closed.

According to a statement released by the board of directors today, the doors to the safehouse were shut this morning because of the organization's uncertain financial condition.

The Lighthouse, which has served victims of domestic violence since 1981, temporarily closed its administrative offices in mid-October as the board began work on a restructuring plan. Since re-opening at the beginning of the month, however, it had been operating at normal levels and until today, the safehouse had not been closed.

Now, until the financial condition of the organization can be determined, the board said, The Lighthouse has ceased all operations -- including its administrative offices, thrift store and safehouse.

Board members would not comment on the severity of the organization's financial condition.

In late October, though, board member Cindy Sanford confirmed that at least a portion of The Lighthouse's financial woes stemmed from payroll taxes that were not paid in recent years. And while the board would not disclose the amount, Mrs. Sanford did say that they had paid the back taxes and were working with the IRS to finalize a payment plan for the penalties and interest.

No board member would comment further on the status of those payments.

It was the discovery of the unpaid taxes earlier this year -- and the implications it held for the organization's funders -- that led the board to begin work on a reorganization plan.

Members had hoped to have the plan finished a month ago, but one has never been announced.

The lack of a plan caused the United Way of Wayne County to withold The Lighthouse's November funding.

Currently, board chairman Wayne Gow would only say that the plan is still "in process" and that board members are working with the organization's funders to stabilize The Lighthouse's financial condition.

The one change the organization did undergo was the resignation of executive director Cheryl Seronick on Oct. 19 -- a move that Mrs. Sanford said did not appear to be related to The Lighthouse's financial problems.

As the board began preparing to search for a new director, Mary Bolin agreed to remain as assistant director.

At that point, Mrs. Sanford said, the other employees were facing a possible reshuffling of duties, but none were expected to lose their jobs.

With today's decision, though, that, too, has changed.

"They're on an indefinite layoff," Gow said.

And right now, he continued, there is no timetable for when the safehouse might reopen.

"We don't know," Gow said. "It's a wait and see."

In the meantime, arrangements have been made for those women and families staying at the safehouse to be relocated to another shelther in a nearby county.

Gow would not disclose which shelter or which county, citing the need to protect The Lighthouse's clients.

And for now, women and others needing the shelter's services should not call The Lighthouse.

"They can call Social Services and get referred," Gow said.