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City at a loss over unexpended grant funds

By Frank Lewis

November 16, 2013

Frank Lewis


PDT Staff Writer


Portsmouth City Council still can’t figure out where the city spent $3,703.34 which it now has to pay back from a grant. An ordinance calling for the city to appropriate funds in that amount from the General Fund into a Community Development Miscellaneous line item was given first reading Thursday night.


“I still don’t where this money went,” Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson said. “Will someone explain it to me?”


President of City Council Steve Sturgill also wondered.


“Mayor? (Development Director) Tracy (Shearer)? You want to explain that? Can you explain that?” he said.


The response was rather like the classroom absent of Ferris Bueller in the cult ’80s classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”


“Not really,” Shearer said.


Shearer was not in the department in 2010 when the incident involving unexpended grant funds occurred and said she has looked into it and cannot find exactly where the discrepancy occurred.


“It was spent in (20)09 and in 2010. I don’t know where the line would have stopped,” Shearer said. “It should have probably stopped in early 2010. That seems where it went over budget was basically a lot of payroll PERS (Public Employees Retirement System).”


She said she has no explanation as to how it happened or specifically what happened.


“Can anybody give us a better explanation? Mr. Auditor, can you?” Sturgill asked.


Williams said he had not looked into it.


“Without spending hours trying to research this, it could be, as we have seen before, an expense where the money was spent after the time frame,” City Auditor Trent Williams said. “I don’t know. I haven’t looked at it. As far as we were concerned.”


Williams went on to say, “Sometimes it’s a matter of their reports that are turned into the state don’t match the exact expenses that were incurred on the City Auditor’s books, and the auditor in the Department of Development has to weigh what was said to be expended under the program report versus what was actually spent in the Auditor’s office.”


Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Kalb said it could be that the bid came in under the amount allotted for the project.


The city is responding to the Office of Community Development’s (OCD’s) Feb. 27, 2013 monitoring report which was issued from PCD’s Jan. 7, 2013 monitoring of Grant Agreement A-F-08-2DH-1. The city’s March 12, 2013 response addressed a number of noted Citizen Participation, Procurement and Construction Management, and Labor Statistics findings. However, the OCD says the city has not adequately addressed all of the compliance violations in those area. It goes on to say, “Additionally, the city has failed to provide a response to the Financial Management finding.”


Under “Citizen Participation,” the letter said the city is required to submit minutes and an attendance list for the amendment public hearing, which was held on Sept. 21, 2013, or a narrative that demonstrates an understanding of the documentation the city is required to maintain for future grant awards.


Under “Procurement and Contract Management,” the city submitted the notice to bidders, which was advertised at least once on Sept. 16, 2009, and preceded the Oct. 2, 2009 bid opening by at least 14 days. The letter goes on to say, “For future grant awards, the city will be required to publish the bid notice at least twice.”


According to the OCD, the city submitted bid packets from three bidders - Triton Services, Inc. for $58,480; Rehabilitation Technology for $64,800 and FeeCorp Corporation for $80,760. However, the city awarded the contract to FeeCorp, which was the highest bidder, The city also failed to submit an engineer’s estimate for the project, so OCD is unable to determine whether any of the submitted bids were 10 percent of the original estimated cost. Communities are required to award Community Development Block Grant funded contracts to the lowest and best bidder. If the city had a reason to believe that any of the bidders could not complete the project according to specifications, they were required to submit documentation to OCD along with a written explanation as to why the contract was not awarded to the lowest and best bidder.


In the final breakdown, the administration cost exceeded the allowable expenditure by $213.94, which must be returned to OCD, and it had an unexpended balance of $3,489.40. After previously returning $331.52, the total amount of the repayment required for that grant stands at $3,703.34.


Shearer said she is of the opinion that the city exceeded its allotted administrative cost for the project in question.


“The bottom line is, there is probably no one here that can explain unfortunately,” Sturgill said. “And the state is requiring us to pay the money back. That’s my understanding.”


Jane Murray was mayor at the time the incident occurred.


“When I took office the Community Development Office, the records were a disaster,” Murray told City Council. “The person who was working there, I left in place for a number of months and determined that it would be a disaster and I terminated her employment and hired someone from the Health Department, and Dave (Thompson) was working with us in the (State) Auditor’s Office and he was trying to clean up a bunch of things.”


Murray reiterated she inherited the circumstance when she took office.


Murray was apparently speaking of Shannon Southworth who then was hired by the Ohio Department of Development.


Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.