HAVEN looks at next step

Sep. 25, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

Lee County’s largest organization devoted to helping domestic violence victims needs more than $6,000 by Friday to prevent the bank from seizing its 29-bed shelter — and local officials deliberated Tuesday about whether to offer support.

HAVEN in Lee County requires nearly $6,100 to stop the foreclosure process on its Bracken Street shelter, according to Sanford City Council member Samuel Gaskins. HAVEN (Helping Abuse and Violence End Now), which closed its doors and ceased virtually every one of its services in mid-August after a “perfect storm” of managerial and financial woes, was a topic of discussion during a committee meeting among representatives from Sanford City Council and Lee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday. The nonprofit organization needs more than $34,000 as soon as possible to “keep the lights” on at the shelter, Gaskins said.

“They need $34,000 right away,” he said during the meeting at the Lee County Government Center. “That is the biggest crisis to keep them from being foreclosed on.”

The $34,000, which includes the $6,100, would cover priority expenses including unemployment insurance, utility bills, audit fees and loans, according to Sanford Financial Director Beth Kelly.

The organization must be operational to receive reimbursements from grants, Gaskins said, but it doesn’t have the $30,000 to $40,000 a month needed to reopen its doors.

“The most frightening part, to me, is in between the $34,000 and when they get [grant] funding, [there] is going to be a big hole,” he said.

Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith said he would be very concerned about putting public dollars into the organization given its financial troubles.

“I’ve read the paper, and the perfect storm doesn’t cut it,” he said. “The [HAVEN] board had a serious responsibility; they failed, and they want to come and ask us for money for a failed entity.”

Smith then asked if anything illegal had taken place, and Gaskins said not to his knowledge.

“You can’t just say it’s blatant incompetence,” Smith said.

HAVEN’s major error, Gaskins countered, was knowing they were in trouble earlier this year and not taking a drastic step forward until late in the process.

A group of community leaders, including Gaskins and Councilwoman Rebecca Wyhof, has worked in recent weeks to restructure the organization, according to HAVEN’s board of directors Chairwoman Carol Carlson. The restructuring will include strong oversight, Wyhof said.

“A great deal of time has been spent on navel-gazing about how that happened so that processes, very structured processes, would be put into place [while] moving forward to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

A loan from the city or county to the nonprofit was discussed during the meeting but would not be logistically feasible, Kelly said.

“I don’t think we can justify [to auditors] how we would get [the money] back,” she said. 

Lee County Commissioner Amy Dalrymple said HAVEN was an organization close to her heart, but she’s also hesitant about funding the organization with public dollars. 

“A grant from the county is not going to be popular,” Dalrymple said. “... It’s going to call into question our good judgment. As heart-wrenching as it is, I am going to have to see more on paper as far as a get-out-of-trouble plan.”

The committee then went into closed session and did not take any action or discuss the item after the session ended. The Sanford City Council is slated to discuss HAVEN during a specially called meeting after its Law and Finance Committee meeting at 1 p.m. today.

Carlson confirmed that the organization needs $6,100 by Friday and $34,000 in the immediate future. People can make a donation to HAVEN by mailing a check to P.O. Box 3191, Sanford, N.C., 27331. 

In other business, the committee members — which include Gaskins, Wyhof and Councilman L.I. “Poly” Cohen and Smith, Dalrymple and Commissioner Jim Womack, who was not present — discussed and agreed upon four city-county accords, which included tax collections, the planning department, geographic informations systems and inspections. The interlocal agreements will be presented for formal approval by the Lee County Board of Commissioners and Sanford City Council.