Counties work out solution to regional board’s woes

The Regional Center for Workforce Excellence (RCWE) has been voted out.

Following a damning audit that resulted in participant counties in the regional Workforce Investment Board (WIB) being required to pay back more than $200,000 in misused funds, the WIB’s chief local elected officials (CLEOs) have voted to terminate the RCWE’s status as financial supervisor.

A July Department of Labor and Industry Workforce Investment Act audit of the RCWE’s expenditures between July 1, 2009 and July 30, 2013, conducted by the Pennsylvania Congressional Budget Office, brought into question expenditures of workforce investment funds totaling more than $5.9 million.

Labor and Industry eventually approved a majority of the questionable expenditures, but ordered that the six counties making up the Northwest Workforce Investment Area served by the local WIB repay the remaining $227,476.29 deemed unallowable.

WIBs handle workforce investment funding and are responsible for job training in the counties within a given workforce investment area. All counties in the state are required to participate in a WIB. The Northwest Workforce Investment Area is comprised of Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Venango and Warren counties.

Labor and Industry, which oversees all regional WIBs across the state, also ordered the six counties to address the issues found in the audit or risk having the department take action on the matter itself.

“This is something that we’ve been working on since July,” Commissioner Stephen Vanco, Warren County’s representative to the CLEOs, said. “We knew basically right away we would want to switch financial supervisors.”

On Tuesday, the six CLEOs voted to terminate RCWE in the role of financial supervisor for the WIB and appoint Venango County to take its place following a 30-day transition period.

“After discussion with Labor and Industry down in Harrisburg and Venango County… Venango County offered to take over,” Vanco said. “They have experience with financial oversight matters.”

The move comes with the added benefit of cost savings, which will offset the fund repayment required by Labor and Industry.

The $227,476.29 deemed unallowable had been proportioned by county according to the same formula used to determine representation to the WIB. Warren County’s share of repayment would have been 8 percent of the total, or $18,198.10.

“You get an administration fee and it’s substantial,” Vanco said, referring to payment for financial supervision duties. “We looked at three or four options, but the two we came down to both basically saved us some money.”

Venango County’s preliminary budget for financial supervision is approximately $164,000, or around half of what was charged by the RCWE.

“It looks like we’ll be able to pay back what the counties would owe,” Vanco said. “We have four years to pay it back. It looks like it’s going to take about two.”

According to Vanco, the RCWE will also be losing its role in oversight of WIB programming.

He said the WIB will be forming a board made up of the CLEOs to oversee programming, which will be handled by Partners for Performance in the RCWE’s stead.

“We also made a change to programmatic oversight,” Vanco said, “which was being handled by the RCWE. I’m glad we finally got to this point.”

The change is only a part of overall re-organization of the WIB. Other efforts include re-apportionment of WIB representation to limit Erie County’s representation to a maximum of half of the WIB board and the appointment of an entirely new board.