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Jobs Center, County Square Off Over Funds

June 25, 2002|CHRISTINA L. ESPARZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a Catch-22 that could lead to the collapse of an El Monte-based job-training center, the county and the center owe each other money, but neither is willing to be the first to write a check.

The result: The Mid San Gabriel Valley Consortium could lose all county funding.

The Los Angeles County Department of Community and Senior Services said the consortium was given almost $1 million in "excessive revenue" that the training center has not accounted for.

The center said it would gladly give the county the money, and would certainly have the money to pay if the county first reimbursed the agency for services it provided clients last year. The county countered that the center has to pay its debt first.

"All we're trying to do is clean up this mess," said Eudora Ang, the consortium's finance and human resources manager. "We told the county we have stopped all the practices of the past. It's time to fix it and move on."

Ang, who started working at the consortium in January after the fiscal year in question ended, said previous managers overbilled the county each month to provide a cushion for the next month. The money, she said, can easily be deducted from the money owed the consortium for this fiscal year. She said new record-keeping procedures will prevent future overbilling.

The consortium's job-training center is used by about 2,800 mostly working-class people a month--people like El Monte resident Rachel Topete.

Topete, a 47-year-old mother of grown children, is unhappy with her job. Hoping to find a position in a factory, she went to the consortium to use its resources.

"This is cool. I'm going to bring my husband tomorrow," Topete said Friday as she surfed a job-search Web site. Topete, who had never used a computer before, said job-searching at the consortium is a lot easier than scanning the classifieds and pounding the pavement. The agency "gives people access to computers, faxes, lists of jobs. It's nice."

The county gave the consortium until Aug. 15 to pay off a $979,018 debt incurred when an audit, covering the 2000-01 fiscal year, found that the agency has been overbilling the county for services.

The first installment of that payment, $489,509, was due June 15, but the county received only $180,000 and a request for a revised payment plan, said Adine Forman, a spokeswoman for the county department.

Although the county rejected the consortium's request for a new payment plan, it gave the agency until today to pay the remainder of $309,509.

"If we do not receive a payment of $309,509 by June 25," Forman said, "we will take appropriate administrative and/or legal action to recover the full amount overpaid to the consortium, as well as consider other potential actions, including but not limited to terminating their existing contractual relationship with the county."

The consortium is contracted to provide services to the county department's clients. The county then reimburses the agency for its services. If the contract is voided, the consortium could lose its primary source of revenue.

Besides the $6.5 million the consortium is set to receive from the county for the 2001-02 year, the consortium receives about $14,000 a month in fees billed to schools that use the agency's crossing-guard program, Ang said. The money is mostly for salaries.

The consortium provides services in El Monte, South El Monte, Baldwin Park and elsewhere.

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