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Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Board ends raises

Local agency used stimulus funds to hike employees' pay

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Some employees of Sources Community Network Services continued to receive additional pay even though the raises authorized by the former director should have expired at the end of 2011.
The raises, paid with federal stimulus dollars, ranged from 11 to 29 percent.
The board of directors of the anti-poverty organization put an end to those additional wages on Thursday night during its regular meeting, unanimously voting to eliminate, effective the next pay period, the temporarily stimulus pay raises approved in May 2009 that should have expired at the end of 2011.
The funds will be redirected to services for low income families, board treasurer Kathy Mescher said.
The wages were administered under the direction of Deb Farrell, who had led the agency for more than 20 years until she was removed Sept. 4 and later fired on Oct. 5 with no explanation from board members.
Sources received two federal stimulus grants authorized through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 - one for $2.45 million and another for $261,363 - that were attached to other grants the agency normally received each year, according to Barger.
The $2.45 million ARRA grant came with the Home Weatherization Assistance Program and was intended, according to Barger, "to stimulate the economy by hiring employees through the HWAP program, and also the contractors such as plumbing/heating."
"This program was to help and did help homes to be warmer which in turn helped many families with the ability to lower their heating and cooling bills," she said.
With the board's consent, Farrell used some of the grant dollars to give raises to five employees. One of the employees has since quit and found another job.
"Prevailing wages will be required for the HWAP ARRA program, and all agency employees affected by stimulus money will receive pay raises," the minutes from the June 2009 meeting state. "The pay raise will be temporary, and all employees will be advised that their pay may be reduced at the end of the stimulus funding period."
Board members approved the raises in 2009 but didn't know how much they would be, Barger said.
However, a report requesting a change in Farrell's pay from $26.25 to $29.25 with temporary stimulus funds - an 11 percent increase - was approved on June 4, 2009, by then board president Kenneth Baker. Baker resigned from the board in late October due to health reasons.
"Everything we did was approved in the grant application by the state," Farrell told the newspaper on Friday afternoon.
The end of the pay raises was never a certainty, just a possibility, Farrell said.
Prior to receiving the stimulus funds, the state set a benchmark of $3,500 for the average amount of money that should be spent on each unit receiving home weatherization, according to Farrell. The state was more concerned about the number of units serviced than how much money was actually spent on each unit, she said.
Once the federal dollars rolled in, the agency was given a new benchmark of $6,500 per unit.
To meet that new threshold - a concern Farrell said she discussed with the board many times - Sources officials looked at ways of spending enough money, including renting scaffolding to work on houses, boosting wages and adding pay incentives for goals met.
The stimulus grant came in as a huge influx of dollars and the state gave little guidance as to how it was to be spent because it didn't have guidance from the federal government, Farrell said. She insisted that the topic was broached with board members several times.
Board members were deeply disappointed to find out that the raises were still being paid, Barger said.
Five employes were given raises, bumping their pay up as much as $3 an hour, according to documents obtained by the newspaper Friday afternoon. The pay of the employees in question jumped from $10.25 to $13.25; $17 to $20; $15.25 to $17.25; $14.50 to $17.50; and $26.25 to $29.25.
Through a series of merit increases and stimulus funding, one employee's pay under Farrell's direction increased from $15 an hour to $24 an hour between April 1, 2009 to Sept. 26, 2010.
In one year, Farrell's pay increased 50 percent from $21.25 an hour to $32 an hour. Baker signed the three reports requesting a change in pay between Feb. 1, 2009, and Nov. 10, 2009. The reasons for her increase were listed as temporary dependent upon funding availability, temporary stimulus increase and annual evaluation.
Depending on the findings of the Ohio Development Services Agency, Sources could be shutdown, placed under the administration of another agency or allowed to continue with its programs except for the HWAP program, which the board members recently relinquished to Community Action Partnership of Greater Dayton Area, according to Barger.
During a regularly scheduled audit in October, ODSA found that further clarification was needed regarding HWAP and initiated a second audit of the program.
ODSA spokeswoman Penny Martin on Friday afternoon said she could not discuss whether Sources could be closed.
"We can't comment on the future of the organization as the audit is still under way. ODSA is committed to ensuring that the residents in the region continue to have access to HWAP services," she said.
After coming out of an executive session Thursday, board members approved a motion to hire an interim director as soon as possible. That person would have to apply again for the executive director position if the agency remains open.
"This was never my intention to be the executive director," Barger said before the executive session, suggesting the board hire an interim executive director.
"Its hard work to come in and clean up," Jacqueline Fox, chief executive officer of Lima Allen Council Community Affairs, said. "She's done really well. It's a lot to handle. You're on a learning curve. You're putting out fires every day."
She insisted that the board is committed to turning around the organization and never allowing a similar situation to happen again.
Plans for additional board training, the reactivation of committees and placing a new system of checks and balances are under way, she said.
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