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Failure to spend grants could cost programs

April 16, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A failure to use up grant money could wind up costing some Washington County programs more in the long run.

According to Stephanie Stone, director of the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families, the Western Heights Middle School Wellness Center and a substance-abuse prevention program, which both received state funding this year, are projected to underspend their grants.

"What will happen is, if we don't spend the money, then it might reflect back on how much we get cut," Stone said.

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According to figures provided by Stone, the substance abuse prevention program, which is targeted to middle-schoolers, reported spending 55 percent of its $146,513 budget as of February. The Wellness Center spent 36 percent of its $186,523 budget as of February.

The fiscal year ends June 30.

Charlene Uhl, the community collaboration director for the state's Children, Youth and Families Office, said Thursday the state considers several factors in determining how much money it allocates to county Local Management Boards, the agencies that oversee some county grants. Boards that repeatedly turn back money could lose funding since they have shown they might not need it.

Money that is not spent must be returned to the state.

Program performance also is considered, Uhl said. She said she could not comment specifically on Washington County programs.

Stone said the programs have been affected by staff turnover, but their recent failure to spend all their funds does not reflect on their performance.

Last month, Stone and County Director of Nursing Susan Parks said the Health Department was considering not renewing its contract with the Community Partnership to perform services at the Wellness Center.

Parks said earlier this week the department is looking at ways to expand the program and services to students. The Wellness Center is staffed by a nurse practitioner who can administer prescriptions and write referrals for sick students.

Parks said it's important the grant be spent wisely. According to Parks, the Wellness Center will begin offering dental services today.

"We're trying to come up with ideas with how we can use to best serve the children without just spending it," Parks said.

The Wellness Center budget includes a line item of $30,600 for dental services, but Parks said she doubts all of that money could be spent this year. The costs, she said, relate to equipment purchases, which no longer are deemed necessary.

"We were considering purchasing some equipment with that, but we won't ... so a good portion of that will probably go back," Parks said.

Director of Health Services Earl Stoner said earlier this week that the drug abuse prevention has underspent its funds the last two years. According to Stoner, one year, the program received funding too late to use all of it.

Stone, who oversees the grants, said she is not concerned the grant underexpenditures ultimately could hurt funding to the Community Partnership as a whole.

"Overall, I think we do a really good job of overseeing and watching how money is being spent," Stone said.

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