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Inspector general finds Baltimore County fails to collect debt from recreation councils

Baltimore County has been paying salaries and benefits for employees of some recreation councils without being reimbursed by the groups as required for several years, according to a new report by the county’s inspector general.

Since the county cut recreation spending around 1992, according to the report, the councils have been responsible for reimbursing the county for wages paid to recreation council employees.

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The report says the county pays wages and benefits for the recreation councils’ employees even though those employees skirt requirements applied to other county employees, including properly documenting hours worked, drug testing, employee orientations, performance reviews and other training.

“Despite having no say in the hiring, retention, or training of the ... employees, the County assumes all of the risk and related liabilities that come with being their employer,” Inspector General Kelly Madigan wrote in her report. “This includes workers compensation claims and employment related lawsuits.”

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County government has long paid for “part-time leadership” for out-of-season sports, adult recreation programs, tournaments, and childcare and specialized programs.

The local councils, which operate independently from each other, organize and operate youth sports such as lacrosse and soccer, for which participants pay fees. The councils are responsible for fundraising for materials and equipment and for securing volunteer leadership to operate programs.

The reimbursement program with the county is meant to function like a debit card, Madigan wrote; councils would fund their accounts with the county before the county pays expenses on their behalf. Instead, it’s operated more like a credit card program “that does not charge its customers interest or fees,” Madigan said.

The councils collectively owed more than $453,000 in April, but the debt was reduced to $139,000 in July as they rushed to pay it off, according to the report.

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Madigan wrote that the issues — and debt — are inconsistent across the councils. Of roughly 34 councils that owed money in April, their debts ranged from around $185 to more than $98,000.

Eighteen of the county’s rec councils were still in the red in July, the report shows. Several councils that reported significant deficits in April pared the debt and reported surplus balances three months later.

Other than refusing to process a council’s payroll, Madigan wrote the county has “essentially no recourse” to enforce payment.

Documents in Madigan’s report show county officials were emailing individual recreation councils to collect debt as early as 2004.

Taking any action that affects that group’s programming ability “could be perceived as contrary to the [Rec and Parks] Department’s mission,” Madigan wrote.

In a letter to Madigan, county administrator Stacy Rodgers wrote that the Recreation and Parks department has worked with councils to pay off debt owed since April.

As of Aug. 1, Rodgers said, 14 councils still have outstanding balances, she said.

Starting this month, councils that owe will be required to make payment plans within a certain timeframe, Rodgers wrote. Those that continue to miss payments will have their accounts forwarded to the county’s collections division, Rodgers wrote.

The councils also have been directed to provide “pay-as-you-go” revenue to fund all staff wages. A memorandum of understanding will be drafted outlining how the councils should operate, Rodgers said.

“Councils will no longer be permitted to accrue balances throughout the remainder of the program,” she wrote.

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