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PACOIMA : Agency Closes Amid Dispute Over Finances

October 25, 1994|TIM MAY

Their hammer-wielding employees have donned surgical masks and goggles and smashed apart toilets for recycling, distributing thousands of free ultra-low-flush toilets to replace the old water hoggers.

They've also provided computer training--including how to use the Internet--to community members and taught teen-agers valuable job skills.

But Friday, Debra J. Santos, executive director of Keeping the World at Peace Inc., a nonprofit agency in Pacoima, told her 11 employees to put down their hammers and keyboards and go home: The agency is broke.

What's more, the company that provides funding has begun sending invoices seeking repayment of thousands of dollars provided to the nonprofit agency since last August, Santos says.

All 11 of the employees showed up Monday morning, however, saying they'll work until the last toilet is delivered and there's nothing more to do. Santos was heartened by the employees' response, but said she feels betrayed by CTSI Corp., an Orange County company that manages a joint conservation program for the Metropolitan Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. CTSI provides Santos' agency and other area nonprofit organizations with funds to operate the toilet exchange program, giving the agencies a rebate of $25 for every toilet they replace with a low-flush model.

After paying operating expenses, funds left over can be used by the nonprofit groups to fund other community services, such as the Community Information Center the Pacoima agency has operated since September. The center provides residents with training including "Internet for Beginners" and Wordperfect.

But a few weeks ago, CTSI sent no rebate funds in exchange for the toilets that Keeping the World at Peace replaced, Santos contends. "We replaced 180 toilets last week and over 200 the week before, but we haven't received any money," she said. "And they aren't sending us enough toilets to meet the demand. They're slowly squeezing us out of business."

CTSI Corp. officials acknowledge there are problems with Santos' agency, but won't say what those problems are. "Our situation with KTWP is extremely touchy at this moment," said Alan Roth, CTSI's financial operator. Rick Ruiz, program manager for CTSI, said: "Whatever the problem is, it's on her (Santos') end. If they're not getting as much funding as they were, it's because they're not distributing as many toilets. The organizations we fund get $25 a toilet. There's no other funding through us."

But Santos contends CTSI had been funding her agency at a level of about $10,000 a week to operate the toilet exchange program, and supplied the agency with even more funds after the January earthquake.

Officials at the Metropolitan Water District had no comment on the dispute. "We're taking the position that the problem is between the program manager (CTSI) and the community-based organization--unless it goes to a lawsuit," said Kathy Gibson, associate resource specialist with the water district.

Employees at KTWP milled about Monday and discussed the future.

"We don't know what we're going to do," said Ascencio Flores, who helps break apart the old toilets and distribute new ones. "I was out of work for three months before this job. I don't have a family of my own, so I'm not as bad off. But it still hurts, all the way around."

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