02/28/13 — County questions finances at Wayne Opportunity Center

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County questions finances at Wayne Opportunity Center

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 28, 2013 1:46 PM

DUDLEY -- Last week's plea by the Wayne Opportunity Center for the county to forgive the money it owes for recyclables wasn't its first.

And the Wayne County commissioners are worried that repeat appeal means management issues still exist at the financially struggling organization.

Along with the request to forgive nearly $50,000, the Center has asked that the county provide its recyclables at no charge. Currently, Wayne Opportunity gives the county 30 percent of the revenue it generates by selling the county's recyclables.

Meeting Wednesday morning at the landfill as the board's Solid Waste Committee, commissioners told Center Executive Director John Chance they wanted more information before acting on the request.

Commissioners agreed the organization provides a valuable service for the county's adult special needs population, but said they still want to know how much it owes and to whom, and that they also want to see a cost analysis performed.

The center also owes $61,000 in transportation costs to the GATEWAY bus system. Commission Chairman Steve Keen said those costs need to be figured into the amount owed since the county is involved in funding GATEWAY.

Chuck Clodfelter, of Carolina Fibre Corp., said the recycling company has an investment of more than $100,000 in equipment at the center. He said the company would pay what the center owes the county. However, commissioners wanted to know if that included what is owed GATEWAY and other entities.

Clodfelter said again that the company would pay what is due the county. He said that his company does make some profit by working with Wayne Opportunity, but that he was willing to pay what is due because of his concern for the people the organization helps.

"To get the center through the end of its fiscal year, the county needs to know its liabilities and debts within the next 30 days," Keen told Chance. "We talked about this two weeks ago, and I still don't see it in front of me.

"My concern again is that there no one on this board on your board, and there is no one elected who understands federal and state reductions in funding like we do. You are a nonprofit group. This is the way it was four years ago and you are still this way. There is still no one on your board in government."

Keen said the county wanted to examine the "management style of the money" and where it is going -- federal, state, county and city -- and then look at a business plan for the center.

Also, the commissioners want to look at the Center's board and administration makeup with an eye toward creation of an oversight committee, since no one on the board is an elected official, he said.

Chance said that in the 1970s commissioners had declined an invitation to have a representative on the board. Chance said he would welcome county representation as well as one from Goldsboro.

"Talking about someone from this commission serving on that board -- someone who has some background in vocational rehabilitation who knows what that clientele looks like," said Commissioner Ed Cromartie. "(County Manager) Lee (Smith) can tell us about the dollar side of it, but the human side of that. Where are those clients going to go back to? How much will it cost to re-establish them somewhere else?"

"Because they would end up being our responsibility regardless," Commissioner Bill Pate said.

Keen read from the minutes of the commission's Dec. 30, 2008, meeting when the Center made its first request after the recycling market had crashed almost overnight that previous September.

At that time, the center asked for debt forgiveness of $21,904 and that the county provide the recyclables free since the selling prices were so low.

That balance has simply been moved forward and "never really caught up," said Tim Roger, director of the county's Solid Waste Department. The center currently owes $47,846, he said.

At that time the county agreed to provide the materials at no cost. After the market recovered around July 2010, the center once again began paying the county the 30 percent.

"The problem, I think, that I have just personally with Wayne Opportunity is we have tried to help them and get them in a certain place, and it has just not worked out," Rogers said. "They have not moved forward like I think they should.

"I don't really know the issue there. We have met with John and things were going to change, and it just hasn't. It is a great program, but we are losing a lot of money."

The center is slow to pay although it did pay $26,000 in December to try to catch up or the amount in arrears would have been worse, Rogers said.

Smith said the partnership with the center has saved the county money, but at the same time the county could probably realize $150,000 in revenue annually by selling the items on the open market.

The biggest drain on the center's budget has been the vocational rehabilitation program, Smith said. Chance said that was true and that the program was eliminated about two weeks ago in an effort to cut costs and to keep the organization viable.

Earlier in the meeting Commissioner Joe Daughtery said he had been concerned during the presentation last week when center officials said the program should have been eliminated several years ago.

"(The vocational rehabilitation loss) has been as much as half a million dollars," Chance said. " Years ago vocational rehabilitation was a good partner to us.

"The last 10 or 12 years it has not been our friend. As (board chairman) Jeff (Parnell) told you the other day in the meeting, we probably should have eliminated that program three or four years ago. We tried to hang on and serve those folks, but we just can't."

Chance said the center's board had met earlier in February and decided it needed to get back to serving the people who have no one else to fall back on and "cut out everything else." The obvious answer was to cut the vocational rehabilitation program. The problem with the program is that the state changed how it funds it, he said.

The center cannot take those kind of losses to serve just 50 people when it has 96 who are probably the most severely handicapped people in the county who depend on the program, he said.

"We cannot afford to close the doors for those 96 people in order to try to serve 20 who sometimes don't want to come," he said.