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SAAA puts hope in fundraiser

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL - The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging faces a long road out of its financial woes.

Staff and the agency board on Monday expressed hope that a professional fundraiser can bring the SAAA into the black and help pay off debt incurred in 2011 when it was discovered that nearly $300,000 in unsent checks were made out to vendors and other bill collectors.

Jonathan Price, SAAA's director of fiscal operations, said staff met with John Borders of BDI Consulting on Thursday to draft a fundraising plan they expect to finalize this week. Fundraising activities should begin shortly thereafter, he said. The board contracted with Borders to spearhead fundraising efforts, with a goal of $600,000 in 18 months.

Price added that part of the plan includes using board members to play a leadership role in fundraising activities. The initiative at first should involve the agency and the board not only looking for donors and sources, but also the vendors to which the SAAA still owes money, he explained.

Also on Monday, Price explained the agency should be drawing as little from its main state-funding source, the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, as possible. The fundraising effort needs to draw unrestricted revenue that the agency then can use for its operations, Price said. This would reduce the amount of cash that the agency has on hand.

The agency also needs to bring the amount of state funding level with its federal income, Price said. Unrestricted funding can eliminate the gap between federal and state sources, he explained. As of the previous meeting in January, the agency had $25,000 in unreserved funds, according to Price.

Board member Teresa Strohmeyer expressed concern about the time it may take for the agency to come out of the red.

"How long do you think it's going to take before we rectify this and have it done the way it really should be?" she asked.

Price replied, "If everything goes as our contract says with the fundraising professional, hopefully 18 months," Price said.

Strohmeyer added, "So we're going to be in the boat for quite a while then."

During a report to the board, Price noted changes made to the agency's financial reporting to correct errors done in the previous administration. For instance, staff renamed certain line items to make it easier for audits and when the agency makes requests for grants, Price explained.

Some board members said they found the format hard to read and at least one person suggested they receive a more traditional statement of expenses and revenues.

Board member Wanda Shoemaker noted, "It's not user-friendly" and added, "I'm not a budget person so I had a really hard time."

Price advised against transferring the financial information to other formats.

"This is what comes directly out of our financial system," Price said. "I don't want there to be any gray area where anything could be manipulated. Not that that would happen, but just to have that liability."

Strohmeyer noted that, over time, procedures and documents have changed.

"Before we were given, I think, more of a narrative and it wasn't explained as well," Strohmeyer said. "I think it's being explained better now."

Shoemaker added, "That's why we missed so many things and what was going on exactly."

Also on Monday, the SAAA board approved a revised employee handbook with the caveat that members would have 90 days to review the document and pose questions or express concerns.


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