(12/26/2008)
By Jim Cooper, Editor
www.thetimesrecord.net

The executive director of Community Resources Inc. thinks a letter written by a state official two years ago should clear up any financial obligations to the Little Kanawha Bus Company.

Some board members for LK Bus have been pressing CRI to repay $85,000 in perceived debt. The money in question represents half of a $170,000 grant in Medicaid funding for transporting patients for medical care that was issued when LK Bus was a subsidiary of CRI. LK Bus became an independent transit authority with its own board of directors in July.

CRI executive director Steve Ellis said Candace Westfall, who serves as Roane County's representative on both the CRI and LK Bus boards, recently produced a letter from Susan L. O'Connell, director of the state Division of Public Transit.

"Little Kanawha Bus and CRI should agree on a financial plan that will provide both CRI and Little Kanawha Bus with sufficient operating funds using this money for cash flow needs," O'Connell wrote in the letter dated Nov. 29, 2006.

"I called Susan and asked her and she had no recollection of the letter," Ellis said. "I've sent a letter to her stating that in light of the directive she provided in 2006, I don't believe there's any debt owed. I'm certain there's no debt owed to Little Kanawha Bus."

In a letter to Ellis dated Nov. 21 of this year, O'Connell stated that $85,000 of the original funds had been forgiven CRI and that the remainder was "still under discussion."

The funding was received when Melanie Pagliaro was heading CRI. A state audit reported critical management problems during Pagliaro's tenure.

LK Bus manager Darlene Harris has complimented Ellis on easing the transition to a transit authority after he replaced Pagliaro.

"The bottom line is, I can see how the previous executive director perceived the money could be used as cash flow," Ellis said.

Ellis said CRI does not have the funds available to pay $85,000 to LK Bus. O'Connell is expected to make a decision in the case in the near future.

CRI, an anti-poverty agency based in Parkersburg, operates in 11 counties. Its deficit has been placed anywhere from $100,000 to $750,000.

"It is significant debt," Ellis said. "I'd rather not say how much. I'm just trying to salvage the ship and keep it running."

Ellis said that LK Bus had sufficient funds to start as a transit authority and noted that CRI had made regular payments to LK Bus during his time as director. LK Bus operates in Roane, Calhoun and Jackson counties.

Ellis said he planned no more meetings with the LK Bus board and would await O'Connell's ruling.

"In the future I will deal with the Division of Public Transit," Ellis said. "My dealings with Little Kanawha Bus have been completed."

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