RALEIGH -- The North Carolina Rural Center is expected to survive the loss of state funding and a massive reorganization.
The agency was the center of a scathing audit a few months ago, leading to several of its leaders stepping aside.
Then the new state spending plan cut dollars going into the agency. The board of directors said it has a plan on how to proceed.
A recent state audit the center was not doing a good enough job keeping track of the millions of dollars in grant money it was handing out on behalf of the state. That led to the resignation of its longtime president, and later also the board chair. In addition, state dollars were cut out in the current budget.
“We are looking at a reduced program, and a revitalized center- reinvented,” says Brian Crutchfield, who chairs the Rural Center Transition Team.
Step one is cutting staff. Right now, the center has 47 employers, but pink slips are being handed out. By the end of the process, the center will be down to 12 to 15 employees, but
Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said more than a dozen of those being cut will move to her agency.
“There is a large portion of what the rural center has done here that will now exist in the Department of Commerce,” said Decker.
Under the center's new mission it will concentrate on loans for small businesses and building leadership in rural areas. Under the direction of the General Assembly, the
Department of Commerce will now handle the grant process.
“Those who had committed grants from the rural center have received those grant payments where appropriate,” says Decker. “So the process is operating well.”
The other question the board is dealing with is what to do with the severance package for former president Billy Ray Hall. He said he is due $221,000 for the severance package. The board attorney said to hold off on paying it, or else it might have to answer questions to the Internal Revenue Service in an audit.
However, he warned if the board didn't pay it out, it might be answering some questions to an attorney in the courtroom.
The board meets again to continue to discussions in three weeks. Without state dollars going to the center, there is still some question of how long it can sustain keeping its doors open. But leaders said they will continue to work on funding issues.