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Lake Collins grant hits snag
Problems with $500,000 funds were caused by clerical errors
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    As the finishing touches were put on the newly-paved roads and drainage improvement, Bulloch County leaders discovered problems with a $500,000 community development block grant that was supposed to pay for those improvements to the Lake Collins community west of Portal.
    However, the problems with the funds are only temporary due to clerical errors that will be remedied, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.
    The Department of Community Affairs awarded Bulloch County the Community Development Block Grant to fund improvements to Lotts Creek Road, Brenda Road, Lakeside Drive and Bowen Road, all of which connect to Lake Collins Road, which was also paved with county funding. County leaders decided to pave that road in conjunction with the road work done through the grant on the other, smaller roads in the community.
    But as the project drew to a close, Couch and other county leaders discovered a problem.
    Former Special Projects Director Maurice McDowell, fired last month for cell phone abuse and improper behavior in the work place regarding a married coworker, failed to notify Couch or anyone else that funding from the grant had been temporarily frozen due to discrepancies in paperwork regarding draw downs from the grant funds.
    “It’s nothing that can’t be reconciled,” Couch said Monday. “There were some deficiencies and errors pointed out in the administration of the grant. I feel like we can easily correct the financial issues.”
    McDowell made mistakes in handling the paperwork regarding the draw-downs, which are monies paid to contractors to cover expenses and payroll. McDowell apparently “made mistakes on online withdrawal reimbursement forms, Couch said. “We’ve just got to go back and figure out where the errors were.”
    More than an inconvenience than a real problem, Couch said the laborious task of searching for the mistakes will be time consuming, but everyone will receive the pay due, but no further draws are being allowed until the errors are corrected.
    “There were some deficiencies and errors pointed out in the administration of the grant,” he said. “I feel like we can easily correct the financial issues. We still have to see if there are any documentation deficiencies and see what corrections need to be made.  I do not believe they would be serious or uncorrectable.”
    McDowell also failed to perform or record interviews he was supposed to conduct with employees, a procedure that is commonplace as a form of “ checks and balances” that is required.
    There was no good reason for the mistakes to be allowed to remain for so long, and county leaders did not learn of the problems until after McDowell was terminated.
    McDowell appealed the termination, and a public hearing Thursday resulted in Bulloch County Commissioners upholding Couch’s decision to terminate McDowell.
    Another employee involved, former County Clerk Marcia Collins, was offered the chance to resign from her position for the same reasons McDowell was terminated, and accepted the chance to resign from her post.
    Correcting the issues is simply a matter of time and work, Couch said. “However, having had experience in managing these grants before (albeit years ago), this wasn’t a complicated project and these mistakes could have and should have been avoided, or at least corrected earlier,” he said.
    The Department of Consumer Affairs asked county officials to provide “supporting financial documents to each draw down (engineering invoices, construction pay requests, Excelsior EMC invoice to move power poles, acquisition payments to property owners and attorney invoices for acquisition activities, etc.”
    CDBG Field Services Representative Teresa Noles also asked for “A copy of county checks that made payments as well as CDBG checks that reimbursed the county.”
    She said in a letter to Couch that “Approved CDBG funds for engineering was limited to $43,669 ..... based on my visit of (Jan. 11), it appears CDBG funds for Hofstadter Engineering far exceeded $43,669.”
    Any excessive payments made must be refunded to the county and sent back to the DCA “ .... at which time they’ll credit back the money to the appropriate activity line item,” Noles wrote.  “When the freeze is lifted, you can then submit a draw down for construction expenditures the county paid during the freeze of CDBG funds.”
    There was also paperwork mission regarding labor, which McDowell failed to produce, Couch said.
    “Ellis Wood Contracting should provide a list of  all subcontractors that worked in the CDBG target area,” Noles wrote.  “In addition to Ellis Wood’s certified payrolls, payrolls are required from all subcontractors that worked in the CDBG target area.
     Employee interviews are needed on crews of Ellis Wood and subcontractors as well, she said.   
    Couch said he foresees no problems in securing  the necessary paperwork and documentation to correct the issues.
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414. 
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