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County: It doesn't owe SER

May 03, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

The county rejects an accusation it owes SER Jobs for Progress $49,134, county Office of Employment Training Director Sam Couchman said Thursday.

The county announced last week it has cut off its relationship with the SER Jobs for Progress program. The county is also reimbursing the state of California $48,094 to cover SER's debts.

The county withheld money from SER to pay back some of the costs it incurred when it had to pay the state on the program's behalf, Couchman said.

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SER Jobs for Progress is a national organization that provides job referral and training and Hispanic recruitment services through state and federal grants. SER subcontracted job training programs for the county since 1973.

The organization was repaying the state $64,000 for over-billing but only $16,000 has been paid. The last payment was made in May 2000, county documents state.

SER Imperial County Director Ruben Garcia said he didn't know why the county withheld the money. He thought the county was working with him and state Sen. Richard Polanco to try to get a waiver for the money owed.

The jobs program inadvertently overcharged the county $51,094 in FICA payments over a four-year period, a February 2001 letter from Polanco to the U.S. Department of Labor states.

Couchman said it's too late to get a waiver.

"The state demanded payment," he said. "At this point in time, I don't think the state will allow any waivers."

Couchman said the main problem was the overcharged money should have still been in SER's accounts, but it wasn't. It was inappropriately spent.

SER was responsible for the misspent money but the county is liable. That's why the county took the steps it took, he said. The county withheld money from SER but not payroll portions of SER's claim with the county, on the advice of the county's lawyers.

"There was no other way to collect the money SER owed," Couchman said.

Even though the money was withheld by the county and paid to the state, it does not release SER from the debt, Couchman said.

Couchman's department found the error after an audit by a CPA firm missed it.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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