County joins call for audit of Sunshine

WARREN – Trumbull County commissioners are joining some members of Warren City Council in their desire to see a review of the finances of Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Inc. But at least one council member and the mayor are not so sure about the commissioners’ help.

The three commissioners Wednesday agreed to ask Warren to require a ”full financial audit” of Sunshine’s involvement with the Warren-Trumbull HOME Consortium, a partnership between the county and city that receives and uses federal money for affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents.

Warren is the lead agency in the partnership, which is why commissioners are seeking the city’s help to get the audit done by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s Office.

The request is the result of issues surrounding Sunshine’s delinquent $188,000 tax bill on some properties owned by the nonprofit agency.

”If there is a problem, we have to get to the bottom of the problem and move forward really,” Commissioner Frank Fuda said.

Said Commissioner Paul Heltzel, ”We just felt there should be some sort of comprehensive audit to get to the bottom of what’s going on there.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said he had not seen the May 6 letter by commissioners until it was presented to him Wednesday. He questioned why the commissioners did not talk to anyone within the administration before voting on it earlier that day.

“I talked to some members of council who attended the meeting discussing Sunshine’s 2011 audit and they seemed satisfied with what was presented to them,” Franklin said. “I want to have a conversation with the county since they did not see that audit.”

Councilman Jim Valesky, D-at large, said he believes Iannucci when he says Sunshine is on the road to recovery.

“While I understand why the county is asking for a state audit to be done, I’m not sure I support it,” he said.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, said he intends to send letters requesting an audit to both the Ohio Auditor’s and the Attorney General’s offices, asking them to investigate not only the operation of Sunshine, but also Warren Redevelop and Planning and Warren Parking Systems Inc. Each of these agencies are operated by Anthony Iannucci Jr.

“I will be sending these letters with or without the support of the administration,” Novak said. “I’m hoping an audit can be done at no cost to the city, because we do not have the money to pay for one.

“I think having an audit done is in the best interest of everyone that this be put out in the open,” Novak said. “We were given a three-year-old audit. We were not even given copies of it, so we could look at the details of what was being presented.”

At least two other council members – Greg Bartholomew and John Brown – have said they would support the letter, Novak said.

Sunshine of Warren Trumbull buys and repairs houses with the stated goal of providing affordable, safe housing for residents in need. It’s received little more than $118,000 from the HOME partnership since 2008, including administrative dollars, said Mike Keys, director of Warren’s Community Development department. Over the same period, the consortium received $3.7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD requires 15 percent of the HOME dollars go to a certified housing development organization, which Sunshine is, Keys said. When the money started flowing to the consortium sometime in the 1990s, Sunshine was the only certified housing development organization in Trumbull County and used most of the money to buy homes and rehabilitate them to rent.

HUD has let Warren pass on the 15 percent requirement in some years because the city gave Sunshine more than was necessary in prior years, Keys said.

Also, Sunshine isn’t directly given the 15 percent. Instead, Sunshine provides Community Development with a list of projects that will be done with the money and the two sign a grant agreement stipulating how the money will be used, Keys said.

”It’s not like we write them a check and say, ‘here,”’ Keys said. ”That money has to be used for specific purposes and we want to see that.”

Still lingering is the question of whether the state can audit Sunshine, a private, nonprofit agency, on the basis that it receives public funding. A spokesman for Yost has said the office would evaluate the request, if one is made, for fitness to audit the agency.