Fairfax County supervisors voted last week to pay $83,000 in debts accumulated by the Saunders B. Moon Center, an antipoverty agency in Gum Springs.
The supervisors also may have to pay an additional $27,000 which the agency owes more than 50 businesses. Altogether, county taxpayers may end up paying $110,000 in debts the center accumulated before Jan. 1, 1979, when county supervisors became trustees for the center and took over day-to-day financial responsibility for the center.
County officials blame a lack of well-trained personnel and shoddy accounting practices at the center, which is in the Gum Springs Community Center on Fordson Road, for the loss of $110,000.
While county officials admit that money is missing from the program, they do not know how much is missing, nor do they charge program administrators with any "wrongdoing."
Nonetheless, for the last year, the supervisors have overseen financial operations at the center in an effort to prevent a recurrence of the problems that have plagued the center. For example, the county has assigned a fulltime accountant to the program who will make monthly financial reports.
John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax board, said, "I'm embarrassed, and I think the county should be embarrassed."
The center is part of a self-help program organized in the 1960s to assist the improverished, predominantly black community in the Mount Vernon District of Fairfax County. The center is one of a dozen programs under the auspices of the Community Action Agency (CCA), the county-sponsored umbrella organization that was founded in 1974 and annually disburses more than $1 million to the non-profit agencies. The Saunders B. Moon center, which serves residents along the Rte. 1 corridor, has a yearly budget of $500,000. Among the programs the center sponsors are a day care center, activities for the elderly and recreation.
When CAA conducted an audit of its member organizations nearly two years ago, the center came under heavy criticism for incurring large debts and for failing to keep adequate financial records.
The audit showed the center had not returned $13,000 in unused federal funds, as required by law, and had failed to forward to the Internal Revenue Service, $55,800 withheld for income taxes. Another $14,400 in Virginia state taxes also had not been paid.
The county supervisors already have allocated $83,000 to pay off the center's debts. Other money may be allocated to pay off more than $27,000 in debts to companies such as Holiday Inn and Hechinger's for services to the center.
In the wake of the problems at the center, the supervisors last week agreed to form a task force to review the entire Community Action Agency program.
The group, to be composed of leaders from civic organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, is to report to the board by April 21.
The task force is to consider whether day-to-day operations of all CAA programs should be placed under full county control, said Supervisor Sandra Duckworth (D-Mount Vernon).
Meanwhile, the future of the Moon center is in doubt, said Herrity, a perenial opponent of the antipoverty programs of the 1960s.
Carlton Ruthling, chairman of the Community Action Agency's board of directors, blames bad management and insufficient county supervision for the center's debts. He said Calvin Ferguson, executive director of the center for the past 10 years, "lost control of his ship," and the umbrella agency is "considering alternative leadership."
Ferguson refused to respond to the criticism of the center's losses or to comment on his performance as director of the center.
Doug Eastwood, a fiscal analyst the county hired to help CAA and the center get out of the red, said the center had kept virtually no records. "It was a real mess," he said, "I don't know how it happened."
"They (the center) had a high degree of turnover through the years in their accounting section, and most of the people had very little training," said Sam Tucker, executive director of the Community Action Agency.
James P. McDonald, deputy county executive, said an independent accounting firm had analyzed what center records were available and "could find no suggestion of wrongdoing." Both he and Eastwood said money is missing, but they said the cost of a more detailed audit would have exceeded the $110,000 in debts the county decided to pay for the Moon center.
Edmund L. Castillo, spokesman for the county, said the supervisors decided to bail out the center because "they have some very good programs. If you let the thing die, then it is the clients that suffer," he said.
Eastwood said a fulltime accountant has been assigned to the Moon program.
As of Jan. 1, 1979, the county became trustees for the agency and is involved in the day-to-day operation of the program. Since April, Eastwood has signed all checks issued by the center. He also has distributed a financial management handbook to the program's employes and is conducting seminars on accounting procedures.
Eastwood said the center's financial status is being reviewed monthly instead of every six months as it was before the programs began.
"They have a surplus of funds and are still in business. I think that says something for them, he said. "Now they are paying their bills."