Eastside Community Center, among key players in United Way of Bartholomew County’s financial literacy effort, tentatively has lost its United Way funding because of a failure to pay some 2011 and 2012 payroll taxes totaling about $60,000.
Mark Stewart, United Way president, said his board “cannot emphasize enough how serious this matter is.”
Eastside’s United Way allocation for 2013 of $36,000 represented about 12 percent of the neighborhood center’s $250,000 budget. The center has been best known in recent years for its financial literacy classes, foreclosure-prevention help and related assistance.
Its leaders said the center’s staffing and programs will continue as planned, since there are sufficient funds for both. The neighborhood center’s role locally is significant because 31 percent of the residents within its reach in east Columbus live at or below the poverty level — nearly triple the Bartholomew County rate, according to census figures.
However, the center will have a chance to appeal United Way’s decision at a December meeting, Stewart said.
“They’ve got a pretty steep hill to climb,” Stewart said, adding that a United Way grant could not be perceived as “bailout money.’”
“They have to present to us a very compelling case,” he said.
He said United Way leaders would have to take an-depth look at the center’s budget before reversing its current decision.
Priscilla Scalf, the center’s executive director, emphasized that Eastside “is using no program money” to pay its back taxes.
“We have to be accountable to all of our funders,” she said. “We definitely already have taken that into consideration.”
United Way had been aware of the community center’s situation for about a year, the center’s board president John Roberts said. The organization also was aware of Eastside’s steps to rectify the situation, including making monthly $1,500 payments to the federal government to make up for the missed payroll taxes, Roberts said. He and Scalf said the total amount should be paid before the end of next year and potentially within several months.
Roberts called the payment failure “a procedural error,” declining to identify the person responsible for the mistake.
Eastside has since contracted its bookkeeping with Mission Management in Columbus, which provides business and accounting services to several local nonprofit
“For us, this issue is old news,” Scalf said, acknowledging the seriousness but adding that the center is now in compliance with IRS guidelines. “We feel like everything has been put in place.”
Scalf said every entity whose mission depends upon detail and accuracy sometimes makes mistakes but does not decide to stop its work or mission after an error.
The United Way itself dealt with its own bookkeeping mistake discovered in 2008. It resulted in member agencies temporarily being allocated too much money before payments were adjusted to offset the difference.
The center, meanwhile, has faced United Way cuts before.
When Scalf was hired to resurrect the then-struggling operation in 1998, United Way had totally cut Eastside’s funding.
She later won praise from Eastside board members and community leaders for reviving the community center, which now features a refurbished facility and expanded programs and services.