Thursday, December 20, 2007
County nixes Yates’ funding request
By SUE WATSON
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors said no to a request from Betty Yates with Building and Developing Communities LLC, a consulting group organized by Yates to help match job seekers with employers.
Yates passed out job descriptions and an expenditures report at last week’s board of supervisors meeting and asked where BDC consultants stood with its request for an annual appropriation of $120,000.
BDC consulting has been partially funded through Three Rivers Planning and Development District and by private industries such as Caterpillar.
“I came here to see where we are,” Yates said. “You said you were trying to get the money legally through IDA (Marshall County Industrial Development Authority).”
Yates said she was told by IDA director Bill Renick that the county has authority to approve or deny a funding request.
Speaking for the board, attorney Kent Smith explained that the county could not legally give money to IDA for her for-profit without joining in a contract.
Yates said she thought the county could legally give money to IDA to distribute to BDC in the same fashion that Three Rivers Planning and Development District has through the IDA acting as a fiduciary pass-through.
Smith said an investigation into the legality of such an appropriation from the county showed the county would have to contract with BDC for specific work.
“It cannot be a gift or a donation,” Smith said. “If we give to IDA, the money cannot be earmarked with strings attached (meaning the contract would have to be put out to bid).”
Yates said she needs money for salaries to stay open.
Unable to obtain a partnership to set up forklift and welding training courses, Yates said BDC is working with industries to provide job seekers who are trainable on the job.
Her organization has chosen to screen job applicants and provide softskills or academic skills training, she said.
Yates has maintained that with the consolidation of workforce training in centers like Oxford, Southaven and at community colleges, job seekers have to travel a good distance to seek assistance through Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Sherman Williams and Caterpillar are taking applications with her on-line, she said.
The Key Training program she uses prepares a report card on an applicant that shows what types of skills they bring to the marketplace, she said.
Supervisor Willie Flemon told Yates that the county cannot lawfully give money directly to IDA that is earmarked for her organization.
“Where would people go for their training?” he asked. “If it is earmarked, it would go to Northwest (Community College).”
Yates said her organization takes applications for jobs and now operates as a workforce placement organization under the same rules as required by Three Rivers PDD.
“It’s not that supervisors don’t want to help, but I want to do it legally,” Flemon said, adding that supervisors would be required to pay back money from their pockets if money is spent without legal authority.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett told Yates the county already provides dollars (through millage assessment) to Northwest Community College for workforce training.
“You are not in workforce training, correct?” he asked. “What did you tell me at the IDA meeting?”
“I said I did not do training, but workforce placement,” Yates answered.
Bennett said Yates’ organization was already getting $50,000 a year from Three Rivers and she is asking the county for $120,000.
Supervisor George Zinn recalled the meeting.
“In the meeting, it was stated it was a conflict of duties,” Zinn said. “It was decided Yates would be a workforce training provider, that these two entities (BDC and Northwest) could work together. She would work with workforce placement. Northwest was asked what they are doing for that $700,000 (in ad valorem taxes). And he read a list which included GED and on-the-job training programs.”
Bennett said he did not think the discussion should be about Northwest without their representative at the meeting - that his concern is about how taxpayers’ dollars are spent.
“Bring Northwest up here and let them defend what they are doing,” he said.
“We are all concerned about taxpayers’ dollars,” Zinn added.
Yates alleged that Northwest had promised her forklift equipment but she had not gotten it.
“All they are doing is on-the-job training for those who already have a job,” she said.
“The money we give to Northwest is statutory money (collected by law),” Bennett said.
County administrator Larry Hall joined in the discussion.
“To set the record straight, the $700,000 Northwest gets has nothing to do with workforce training whatsoever,” he said. “The money is sent to Northwest to supplement the school for the education of our kids.
“What Northwest is spending on workforce is coming from Three Rivers. They are contracted with Three Rivers to do workforce training. It (Northwest’s workforce training budget) has nothing to do with the county’s millage. It’s through Three Rivers, Northwest and Mississippi Department of Employment Services.”
Yates said her program has been successful and she thought supervisors wanted to support her program but were merely concerned about the legal aspects.
“The motion (to fund BDC) was made and failed,” said Supervisor Eddie Dixon. “We have discussed it (already).”
“So you are saying the county will not support me in this endeavor,” said Yates. “I pay tax dollars, too. I think there should be a place for people to go to (to apply for a job).”
Flemon asked Yates why the City of Holly Springs is not participating in her program.
“They get taxpayers’ dollars in, as we do,” he said.
Yates said she asked for $120,000 but “y’all set aside $60,000.”
“That’s what we are talking about, getting jobs for Marshall County people,” Flemon said. “I’m looking at the legal part. If we don’t take the advice of the attorney general, we have to pay the money back. Whose pocket is it coming out of? These five supervisors’.”
Attorney Smith summarized the matter saying the county could contract with Yates’ organization for a specific purpose, but it could not just send money to IDA without a stipulation of how it would be spent.
Disappointed, Yates said BDC may be a private entity but does not charge a fee for its services.
“I had to come up with a way for the money to be distributed,” she said. “It is not (intended to be) a for-profit entity.”
“If we send it (money) to IDA, where is it going?” Flemon asked.
“It would be disbursed just as is now with Three Rivers,” Yates said.
Yates said she has $50,000 a year for three people’s salaries.
“You can’t say I’m in it for the money,” she said. “You are saying this is dead?”
“Yes, it’s dead,” said Dixon.
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