09/04/13 — County hedges on funds to help illiterate

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County hedges on funds to help illiterate

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 4, 2013 1:46 PM

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Dr. Glenn Phillips, left, a volunteer tutor with Literacy Connections of Wayne County, asked Wayne County commissioners Tuesday to restore $27,000 that they had cut from the non-profit's budget. Windsor Ingram, center, who learned to read through the free adult literacy program, and Pat Yates, the agency's executive director, also spoke. Commissioners did not approve the request, but did agree to fund $2,000.

People who learn to read through Wayne County's non-profit adult literacy program need to help support that program by paying a fee, Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery said.

And since many of the people using Literacy Connections of Wayne County come from Goldsboro and the county's other municipalities, those towns should provide financial support as well, he added.

Daughtery made his comments during a Tuesday morning workshop on the county's literacy rate. The session included a request by Pat Yates, Literacy Connections of Wayne County executive director, to reappropriate $27,000 that had been cut from her 2013-14 budget request.

Mrs. Yates said the money would fund three positions -- a part-time registrar and two AmeriCorps workers.

Commissioners did not approve the request. However, they did agree to a $2,000 cash infusion as a temporary fix so that the agency would not be forced to fire its part-time registrar when funding runs out on Sept. 13.

But the patch came with caveats -- some commissioners want the Literacy Connections board to impose a sliding scale fee for people who use its services, and they want the county's municipalities to be asked to provide financial support as well.

Literacy Connections applied for, and received, a $38,000 grant for the AmeriCorps workers, Mrs. Yates said. But to get the grant, the agency was required to provide $6,000 in local matches per position.

Mrs. Yates said it was decided to proceed with the grant despite the budget cut. The idea was that the agency would be able to raise enough money to make the match, she said.

The remaining $14,000 plus would be used to cover the salary of the part-time person, she said.

Commissioner John Bell, who voted against the budget cuts, made a motion to fund the $27,000.

However, Daughtery, just as he did during county budget sessions in June, praised the agency's goals, but sharply questioned its costs.

Daughtery interrogated Mrs. Yates on several aspects of the program, but focused in on the agency's funding sources. He also wanted to know why Goldsboro was not helping foot the bill for the program.

He also questioned the source of the data used in Mrs. Yates' presentation to the board --  that 58 percent of the county's adults possess low or very low literacy skills.

"I have got some concern over the numbers," he said. "But I will even go beyond that. I have reached out trying to explain to you that my concern, as a commissioner, is the sustainability of the program.

"You are viewing the sustainability of the program from the standpoint that as we grow we just simply need to add more dollars from the local level for the program."

Daughtery then reiterated his idea that people in the program pay into the program through user fees.

His concerns garnered support from fellow board members Ray Mayo, Steve Keen and Bill Pate, who sits on the Literacy Connections board.

Keen said he had asked that Mrs. Yates present her information during Tuesday's workshop. He said he did so after county Finance Director Pam Holt had brought a budget amendment to last week's pre-agenda meeting.

Keen did not speak to the specifics of the budget amendment, or what had happened to it. The amendment was not among those the board approved earlier Tuesday morning.

The News-Argus on Friday asked if a budget amendment had been prepared. Barbara Arntsen, county public information officer, said there was none.

"Mrs. Yates, I was somewhat perplexed when I understood that you had made the statement that I had informed you that we would entertain this amendment if you would just simply bring that before the board," Daughtery said.

Daughtery told Mrs. Yates that when she spoke to her privately his concern was the sustainability of the program.

Mrs. Yates said two commissioners, whom she did not identify, had come to her after the budget was adopted. Mrs. Yates said she asked both if the option of budget amendment was available.

"It is a great program, but it must have revenues to sustain itself," Daughtery said. "I had asked you to find a way to implement some type of a small sliding scale, whatever, of a registration fee for your students.

"Your concern was its affordability. I said it is amazing to me that an individual who cannot afford any funds can get a speeding ticket, then find those funds for that speeding ticket. I was not aware that your charter would not allow you to do so."

Mrs. Yates said she was unsure how fees might affect the grants and the agency's nonprofit status.

County Attorney Borden Parker said he did not think the non-profit status would be affected, but that he would need to see the grant paperwork before commenting further.

Daughtery offered an amendment to Bell's motion to require the sliding fee scale. However, he later withdrew the amendment when Parker once again said he did not know how the fees would affect the grants.

Mayo followed up with an amendment to table the issue until the board's next meeting. He asked Mrs. Yates if she could operate until then.

Mrs. Yates once again explained that funding for the part-time person would end Sept. 13. There are no funds after that time and the person would not have a job, she said.

After nearly an hour and a half commissioners asked County Manager Lee Smith for suggestions.

Smith asked Mrs. Yates what she needed to continue to operate until the issues of fees and asking the municipalities about funding were addressed.

She agreed with Smith that $2,000 would be sufficient.

Mayo withdrew his amendment and Bell withdrew his original motion. Bell then made a new motion to provide the $2,000. It was approved 6-0. Commissioner Wayne Aycock did not attend the meeting.