The clock is ticking.
The North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG) is still waiting to hear from Gov. Robert Bentley on whether or not he will allow Morgan County to join the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments (TARCOG). With the end of the fiscal year coming to a close in a little over a month and still no word, NARCOG consultant Kenneth Kilgo feels there's still a possibility things can be worked out and gotten back to normal by the time the new fiscal year begins October 1.
"I recommended to Senator Paul Bussman that the prudent thing to do would be to leave them as they are," Kilgo said. "Realistically, I believe it's too late in the fiscal year to allow any structural changes to take place in the council of governments.”
Morgan County decided to cut its ties with NARCOG in April when the commission voted unanimously to pull out of the organization. It was a move that was anticipated by many board members for months, after Decatur voted to withdraw in late January. The separation stemmed from growing frustration with its limited influence over the decision-making process of hiring a new executive director in December of last year.
Though Morgan County is technically no longer a part of NARCOG, they still have state contract obligations through Sept. 30. Currently NARCOG is still operating as a three-county organization.
"I feel our (Cullman) relationship with Lawrence County is rock solid," Kilgo said. "And we continue to provide all support required to Morgan County. They still are continuing to pay all dues and fees in a timely manner. We are still functioning 100 percent with all NARCOG services being provided to Cullman, Morgan and Lawrence Counties."
There was also talk that Morgan County's pullout could greatly affect all employees of NARCOG. In addition to state budget cuts, NARCOG would lose roughly $2 million if allowed to move the aging program. Financially, Kilgo said NARCOG is currently "rock solid."
"We just recently received our final audit for 2011," he said. "It was clean and had the highest ‘unqualified’ rating, compliant with all General Accepting Auditing Standards (GAAS) of the U.S. with no deficiencies noted.”
Meanwhile, Kilgo said operations have been reduced $400,000 in the last six months as anticipated. Roughly $88,000 is the salary for aging program director Rodney Gann, who’s position NARCOG isn’t re-filling after he was terminated in March for allegedly giving service vouchers to his mother who was not in the agency’s coverage area.
Because they are unsure of what ruling the governor will make, Kilgo said beginning this week, the agency will be focused on two and three county budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I have draft re-organization charts, pay plan, and job descriptions that we will continue to work on,” Kilgo said.
He added should the ballot initiative on Sept. 18 get voted down, an additional 30 percent cut across the board would take place.
Neal Morrison, a former director of NARCOG who now serves as Alabama Commissioner of Senior Services, said in a recent interview that the governor is continuing to evaluate the problems that led to Decatur and Lawrence County voting to leave the organization.
“The governor has to be certain that the senior programs are protected and that some seniors who receive services currently don’t get left out by these proposed changes. And even if the governor approves of the move, federal approval could take months because of the programs they oversee,” Morrison said. “I’m still wondering if these relationships can be repaired and NARCOG remain in intact.”
Morrison said the governor is also concerned about the precedent that would be set if the breakup goes through.
“If this happens, does this mean other governments can be disgruntled and start leaving their organizations?” Morrison questioned.
* Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by e-mail at email@example.com. David Palmer contributed to this report.
The clock is ticking.
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