DSS Chair responds to letter

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2006

JACKSON – Money that was supposed to be reprogrammed for paying daycare subsidies was never discussed with the Northampton County Board of Social Services, according to a high-ranking official.

Last week, Virginia D. Spruill (D-2nd) sent a letter to the Northampton DSS Board expressing concern over the fact that a directive to County Manager Wayne Jenkins, Finance Officer Dot Vick and DSS Director Dr. Al Wentzy had not been heeded.

According to the letter, Dr. Wentzy has &uot;neglected, failed and refused to taken any action to implement the $125,000&uot; that was ordered reprogrammed by the county commissioners.

Janet Walker, chair of the DSS Board, said Tuesday in an interview that no one from the commissioners had discussed the reprogramming of the funds and that she had no idea where the money was supposed to be shifted from.

&uot;Mr. (Robert) Carter has continually told us the money is coming from all county departments, but all I have read says it will be reprogrammed from the federal and state DSS budget,&uot; Walker said. &uot;We didn’t have any padding in the DSS budget that I know about.&uot;

Carter (D-4th) in the Vice Chairman of the Northampton County Commissioners and that board’s representative on the DSS Board.

Walker said in recent years if money was left in the DSS budget, it was used to pay the high Medicare bill the county is forced to fund.

She also insisted she would have to take a long look at any reprogramming because of the federal and state mandates that go with funding.

&uot;I don’t want any part of reallocating state or federal funds designed for other area without knowing it’s not going to come back and haunt us later,&uot; she said. &uot;When the books are audited for the DSS, nobody will say Janet Walker had anything to do with mismanaging funds. That will solely be the county commissioners who ordered it reallocated.&uot;

She said if County Manager Wayne Jenkins, Finance Officer Dot Vick and the county board of commissioners have found $125,000 that could be reprogrammed, then &uot;Hallelujah!&uot;

Walker said if the money had been found, however, she questioned why the county commissioners wanted a meeting to find the money.

&uot;That was not the $230,000 we needed,&uot; she said. &uot;The focus should have been on finding the other money.&uot;

Walker said the DSS board would meet on April 21 and she hoped to have a report from Dr. Wentzy and Vice Chair Hazel Collier that would allow them to know if the two had succeeded in getting enough money to combine with the $153,000 that was left in the budget to make it through the daycare crisis.

Another problem Walker had with the letter was a section in which Spruill says the county DSS board caused the problem to be sent to the county commissioners.

&uot;This funding shortfall is the total responsibility of your director and your Board and a resolution of the same is your responsibility,&uot; Spruill wrote. &uot;Yet, you have deflected or caused to be deflected this responsibility to the Northampton County Board of Commissioners. This is a disservice to all of the citizens of Northampton County as well as all of your day care providers.&uot;

Walker said the DSS Board had never deflected the problem to the county commissioners. She said daycare providers never came to the DSS board and went straight to the county commissioners, who then sought to come up with a solution without ever consulting the DSS Board.

&uot;The county commissioners made no effort to get in touch with me to see if we could come up with a solution,&uot; Walker said.

Walker said the insistence of the daycare providers that they had no warning until February was also a fallacy.

She said many of them were in attendance at a November 2005 meeting where Dr. Wentzy discussed the situation with Smart Start.

Walker said the county DSS board had been discussing the problem for some time and it was a situation they faced every year.

&uot;Every year we have always depended on the extra boost of funds to get over the hump,&uot; Walker said. &uot;Unfortunately, it didn’t come this year.&uot;

Walker said Dr. Wentzy did bring up the creation of a waiting list earlier, but the board voted unanimously, to the best of her recollection, to put it off until later – as they had many years previously.

Dr. Wentzy has been criticized by both the daycare providers and the county commissioners for not creating a list earlier than he did.

Walker said she spoke in Tuesday’s interview solely as her own personal voice and did not intend to represent the entire board, but rather her own opinions.