from EDWARD BUTZ
To the Editor:
I was disappointed to read the innuendo and implications in the May 1 story, “Sixth Ward Neighbors Complain to Seward About RSS’s Record.” As we celebrate our 40th year in existence – including more than 30 years in Oneonta and Otsego County – Rehabilitation Support Services is exceedingly proud of its sterling record of providing essential programs and services that have enriched the lives of families, friends and neighbors in our community for decades.
No organization would last a year, let alone 40 years, without a clear and consistent record of strong financial policies, procedures, controls and management. This is particularly true for an organization such as RSS, which receives public funding to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals and families. As such, we are subject to, and welcome, regular financial audits – and through dozens of audits conducted over the past 40 years, the conclusion reached time after time is that public dollars under our stewardship are well spent.
Citing just one such audit, conducted by the state Comptroller’s Office into state’s Supported Housing Program, does readers a disservice by ignoring the full scope of our work. In fact, in this case, the state Office of Mental Health, as well as several other nonprofit agencies across the state, joined us in taking issue with a number of the findings and recommendations.
The Supported Housing Program was designed to give agencies flexibility in implementation in an effort to provide the highest level of service. As a result, guidance was general in nature and non-specific in many cases. The audit itself reviewed a mere 60 of the thousands of budget transactions contained in the program, and we strongly refute the observations cited in the story, including:
- An off-site retreat intended to educate board members is not entertainment – it is a vital part of ensuring that RSS is prepared to address the increasing complexities of doing business in New York State;
- Recognizing community leaders who share their time and expertise with our clients with small honoraria (a plaque, a bouquet of flowers) is not only the right thing to do, it is allowable under program guidelines;
- We regularly follow established procurement policies in regards to purchases, including competitively bid contracts. The instances cited in the audit were either not subject to bidding requirements, or required special expertise that results in cost savings in the long run;
- Retaining staff motivated to work for low wages requires an organizational culture that reinforces, on a daily basis, that employees are valued. Providing low-cost refreshments (coffee and water) and recognition (an employee-of-the-month gift card) are reasonable approaches to do this; and
- There is firm documentation that gift cards provided to clients to help them live independently were used appropriately, even as there is no specific guidance on this procedure.
Not reported in the story, which cites funds that comprise less than .01 percent of the total RSS budget, was that the same audit demonstrated that RSS provides a high level of service to our clients. Also not reported was the final outcome of the audit: There were no disallowed expenditures, and no requests for reimbursement, for any of the items cited.
Finally, it is important to directly address two points in the story.
First, regarding state funding that would be used for this project: if it is not spent in Oneonta, it will instead be utilized for similar projects elsewhere in the state – to lose that funding is to lose a golden opportunity to support our community.
Second, RSS has and continues to be transparent about this project. We have presented plans publicly before the city planning commission on multiple occasions, met regularly with elected officials, community leaders and others, addressed media questions, and set up a public website, www.riversideoneonta.com, with specific plans and related documents. As our great U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
No one would disagree that affordable housing is badly needed in Oneonta. Similarly, among the thousands of people and organizations we have worked with for decades in Oneonta and beyond, none would disagree that RSS is the right organization to take on this important project.
Rehabilitation Support Services, Inc.