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Published: Wednesday, 12/4/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

Homelessness board audit finds issues, not answers

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A draft audit of two years of finances for the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, released to The Blade this week, doesn’t offer answers regarding $98,000 that the agency owes the city of Toledo but cannot find.

The audit does list a number of problems with the agency, which oversees homeless shelters and homelessness prevention efforts countywide.

Tom Bonnington, homelessness board executive director, and Paul Tecpanecatl, chairman of the homelessness board, revealed last month that an independent auditor showed a “major accounting error that led to the overspending of $98,000 in homeless prevention and rapid rehousing.”

A week later, the two leaders said they had misstated what happened to the public money and rescinded a request for the city to forgive that debt.

This week, the two men said the agency knew about the problem for more than a year. “The invoice [from the city] had been here since September, 2012,” Mr. Bonnington said.

Mr. Tecpanecatl said it’s unclear what happened to the money. “Those are the questions we need to sit down with our auditor to answer,” he said. “At this point, we don’t know until we get more of our financial records and input the rest of our financial records.”

He said the agency’s independent auditor, Leslie DeMarco, would meet with the homelessness board Dec. 17. Ms. DeMarco declined to answer questions before the board presentation.

The homelessness board used three pots of money since 2009 — $3.2 million of federal money funneled through the city of Toledo; about $700,000 of state money provided through Lucas County, and about $200,000 from the United Way of Greater Toledo — to pay for rents, rent deposits, and utilities of rehoused homeless people or people in danger of becoming homeless.

Toledo Neighborhoods Director Lourdes Santiago confirmed that the homelessness board owes the city $98,000, but said it was not because of the homeless prevention/​rapid rehousing. She said the issue arose when the agency didn’t reimburse the city for funds backed by a state grant.

“They didn’t have the cash flow to support it and we paid out the money for different activities the homelessness board had to reimburse the city,” she said.

Since 2009, Toledo taxpayers have fronted the agency a total of $700,000 for homelessness prevention. After the agency received the state grant money, it was supposed to repay that in total to the city but only sent $602,000, Ms. Santiago said.

“We have been asking them for it for over a year,” she said. “At the last minute, they tried to tell us they wanted it forgiven because they said it was homeless prevention/​rapid rehousing, which was not the case.”

The audit, which covered 2011 and 2012, recommended the agency implement a “double-entry” accounting software system. Mr. Bonnington said that process is under way.

The audit found cash-management problems.

“During the audit period, the organization had not implemented a cash management system to ensure compliance with the 15-day rule relating to prompt disbursement of funds and had not drawn down funds and not expended less than $5,000 within 15 days of the drawn down,” the audit states.

The audit also found the agency missed state deadlines to submit an audit regarding grants totaling at least $100,000.

The homelessness board and the city’s neighborhoods department have been under fire in recent years for their roles in deciding federal allocations for Toledo homeless shelters. The city gets the federal money, the homelessness board is the subrecipient, and shelters are sub-subrecipients.

Toledo Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins promised in September to restructure the homelessness board and the city’s neighborhoods department.

During the mayoral campaign, Mr. Collins blasted Mayor Mike Bell for slashing homeless shelter budgets the past two years and submitting spending plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development without City Council approval.

He also criticized the homelessness board for asking shelters to allow overcrowding, with people sleeping on floors or cots.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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