Thursday, April 3, 2003

Money withheld, says head of disabled children's agency



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - The director of a social service agency for disabled children sent parents letters on Wednesday, notifying them services from Help Me Grow of Warren County might be cut soon because the county is denying the program access to its state funding.

If the allocated money for Help Me Grow is not used by June 30, its funding will go back to the state and, ultimately, be doled out in other Ohio counties for the same program, said Carolyn Tepe, program director.

Help Me Grow has earmarked funding of more than $400,000 from various state, federal and local sources. But now, because the county has not given the program access, the program has a more than $134,000 revenue shortfall, she said.

Help Me Grow assists 238 babies and families and is operated by Warren County Community Services, a large non-profit agency that receives state, federal and local funds for about 30 programs for seniors, children and housing.

"This is terrible. We are talking about laying off 70 percent of the staff and reducing services by 70 percent, which will impact 135 children," Tepe said. "These are families that have kids in crisis. That's why they are with us. So we are going to put them into another crisis?"

On Jan. 21, Warren County Commissioners Pat South and Larry Crisenbery voted to give Help Me Grow a $356,867 purchase change order.

However, Help Me Grow has not been able to access that money, reads the letter, written by Tepe and her boss, Larry Sergeant, executive director of Warren County Community Services.

Commissioner Mike Kilburn has strongly opposed funding for Help Me Grow. Now, the commissioners are examining all the county's social service programs to make sure services aren't being duplicated and taxpayers' dollars aren't being wasted.

Reached out of state on vacation Wednesday, Kilburn reiterated his stance against Help Me Grow, saying it duplicates services the county already offers. "People say Mike Kilburn doesn't want to help kids - that's bunk," he said. "But if we throw money away on programs that duplicate services, then we're going to have less of that money to help people and programs that really need to be funded," he said.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com




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