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Auditors critical of job agency's vehicle lease

DEFIANCE - The work-force agency that represents a three-county area is being audited by state officials for possible misuse of federal funds for leasing a Chevy TrailBlazer last year.

Jon Allen, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said yesterday that auditors are in Defiance this week for a regularly scheduled audit of the financial records at the Northwest Ohio Workforce Development Agency, which includes Defiance, Williams, and Paulding counties.

Mr. Allen said the audit won't be completed for several months, but he said the state agency has questioned the use of federal Workforce Investment Act dollars to buy a company vehicle.

“We have not made an official determination about the vehicle, but on the surface it does appear to be a highly questionable purchase,” Mr. Allen said.

In July, the Defiance County commissioners agreed to allow job center Director Phil Marinaro to lease the 2002 vehicle. The two-year lease costs nearly $500 a month.

Job center officials referred all questions to the Defiance County commissioners, who approved the lease arrangement.

Commissioner Tom Kime said that commissioners were aware of the state's concerns, but he said they don't understand what the fuss is about.

“There isn't much to say other than they needed a vehicle to go to Williams County and Paulding,” Mr. Kime said. “We didn't have any vehicles so we gave them permission to lease a vehicle. We checked it out, and felt it was fine.”

He said they believed that leasing a vehicle was the cheaper option than having the center's director, assistant director, and training director file to receive 36.5 cents for every mile they drove.

With a three-county area to cover and regular trips to Columbus, someone from the job center needs a vehicle at least three or four times a week, Mr. Kime said.

He said commissioners are meeting later this month with officials in other counties. At that time, he said they will discuss the situation and decide whether they want to continue the lease.

Mr. Allen said the county would have to repay the lost lease money should the state determine that the expenditure was not appropriate. He said no other fines or penalties would be levied.

The accusation of misuse of funds occurs at a time when the state agency is under scrutiny of its records. Recently, the state's Job and Family Services agency released its quarterly report to the U.S. Department of Labor, which showed that most county workforce programs had significant carryovers of federal funds.

For example, Defiance County officials reported a balance of $235,235 on Dec. 31, while Williams County had $318,136 in its coffers. But Mr. Allen noted that the figure did not include the county's obligations or accruals.

Mr. Allen said the state agency is revamping its financial collection process to better reflect how workforce money is being spent across the state.

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