Nonprofit group says despite snag, it has been able to do its work

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D9

Date: Thursday, May 17, 2012

ALBANY -- The IRS has released a $167,000 federal tax lien against an Albany County-funded Ontario Street nonprofit after the county made an $85,000 payment on the group's behalf out of money the organization was owed, according to public records.

In late March, the same day the Times Union reported that county officials were poised to re-issue about $150,000 worth of checks to Project Strive after discovering the payments had been cut but never cashed, the IRS sent the county a bill -- or levy -- for $85,830 looking to recoup what it was owed.

The county paid that bill, Comptroller Michael Conners said, and on May 8 the IRS filed a "certificate of release" in the county clerk's office.

Dianne Besunder, an IRS spokeswoman, declined to discuss Strive's case specifically, but she said liens are typically released when either a taxpayer's debt has been fully paid or the payment has been guaranteed by a bond.

A third possibility is that time has run out on the IRS's window to collect, which doesn't appear to have been the case because the agency typically has 10 years to pursue payment.

"I believe that we are clear, as I understand it," Project Strive's Executive Director David Bosworth said. "My understanding is that we are concluded with the IRS and that the process was that the lien would be released."

In December, federal tax officials lodged the hefty lien against the nonprofit, also known as the Center for the Advancement of Family & Youth, alleging nonpayment of withholding taxes dating back to June 2010, making public financial problems at the organization, which provides counseling to keep kids out of foster care.

Bosworth attributed the financial difficulties to cuts in the organization's main source of funding, its contract with Albany County, and resulting thinning of Project Strive's administrative staff that oversaw bookkeeping.

But the tax lien also served as a vehicle for some county lawmakers already skeptical about the county's relationship Project Strive and Bosworth, who is also chairman of the Guilderland Democratic Committee, to renew calls for the county to sever its relationship with the nearly four-decade-old nonprofit.

Project Strive has also paid $8,000 to 17 workers for minimum wage underpayments and unpaid mileage reimbursements, said Leo Rosales, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor, which conducted an investigation of the nonprofit independent of the federal lien.

Revelation of the lien has prompted the County Legislature to sit on a proposed renewal of Project Strive's contract through the end of the year at yet a further reduced amount. Lawmakers have approved reductions to more than a dozen agencies that contract with the Department for Children, Youth and Families amid county budget cuts.

Strive's new pact -- which should have taken effect in April -- has been hung up since February as lawmakers continue to ask questions about the agency's financial stability.

In February, the legislature passed a resolution asking the county executive to "verify the fiscal stability" of provider organizations like Strive, but McCoy's office has not yet done so.

Mary Rozak, a county spokeswoman, said the county was "beefing up our reporting requirements in a number of ways" but of Strive specifically said simply that the county had no problem with the services Strive is providing.

Bosworth, too, stressed that despite the organization's financial trouble it has continued to do its job, noting that only one young person in its care -- out of several hundred since January -- has been removed from his or her home.

"All of this hasn't affected our ability to stay in the 99 or 100 percent success category," he said. "The profile of youth that are being referred are much more demanding, much more complex than they were six months ago. ... and that is easily lost in these other issues." - 518-454-5445 - @JCEvangelist_TU