Energy grant questions fielded by commission

PARKERSBURG – Officials with West Virginia Sustainable Communities, which awarded a $5,000 grant for the SMART Energy Solutions program, had some questions for Wood County commission President Wayne Dunn relating to the handling of the grant funding.

During a teleconference Thursday with commissioners, Kelly Jo Drey, director of the Sustainable Energy Program at Bridgemont Community and Technical College, said she doesn’t believe there was any mishandling of the funds.

“Until somebody proves to me otherwise, I don’t believe there was anything misintentioned with the grant. It think it’s just a matter of inattentive record-keeping, and I’m pretty confident we can get it figured out to the satisfaction of everyone,” she said.

“I apologize personally for any misunderstanding or miscommunication in the paperwork, and I take responsibility for that. I didn’t do my homework on that,” Dunn said.

Questions arose after Dunn, who has spearheaded the local energy program from its inception, provided a final report to the agency that showed expenses in excess of income, alluded to the county commission as the sponsoring entity for the grant, when the grant was originally awarded to Community Resources Inc., and Dunn denied any conflict or personal gain because he had three of his own properties audited through the energy program.

Dunn earlier provided documentation showing he and Gary Thompson, with the energy assessment program at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, had energy audits completed on their properties. Thompson said earlier he paid for the audit on his property and Dunn produced canceled checks showing he paid for the audits on his properties. Dunn said Thursday none of those audits was part of the grant program and he had the audits performed on his properties to try and lead by example, encouraging other homeowners to have the audits done on their homes.

Wood County grant coordinator Toni Tiano had no part in applying for the grant or any administration of the West Virginia Sustainable Communities Technical Assistance Mini-Grant, which was apparently awarded to CRI in February-March. But after learning of the concerns from the granting authority last week, the commissioners asked her to review the documents and see what recommendations she would propose to address the problems.

Tiano reported Thursday no record could be found that the county ever applied for or had any connection with the $5,000 grant.

“There was no record of the grant officially being transferred to the county commission. It was never turned over. Technically this is not our grant,” Tiano said.

Dunn said when the program first began, CRI was going to conduct the energy audits. The agency pulled out of the program “because they felt it was going to cost them money,” Dunn said.

Dunn said he then met with WVU-P officials about having students do the audits instead.

In a letter signed by Dunn, as Wood County commissioner, and dated Sept. 30, Dunn stated, “I have received no benefit from any part of this $5,000 grant through the Wood County Commission. I had three audits done on my properties and paid all costs myself. According to Gary Thompson, $50 was used for supervision of each audit other than mine. Those homeowners involved are listed on our report,” Dunn’s letter said.

Through the SMART Energy Program, education and energy assessments for middle-income homeowners were provided in partnership with the Energy Assessment Program at WVU-P. Students in the program were paid to conduct the energy audits and provide reports and recommendations to the property owners, under Thompson’s supervision.

In January, the county was awarded two $10,000 grants through the federal energy department for the SMART Energy Program. After Dunn set up a checking account in the county’s name without authorization from fellow commissioners, wrote checks to himself for reimbursement of expenses he said he and his dental practice incurred, hired one of his dental practice staff to manage the program and some other issues raised red flags, in mid-September, just before the grant was set to expire, the commissioners voted 2-1 to pull out. No funds were received from those grants. Dunn cast the dissenting vote.

Tiano said Thursday Thompson had submitted a grant extension request later and Dunn had as well for the Sustainable W.Va. grant.

“CRI was originally to oversee the program, but the overall intent was that the county commission would be the umbrella agency for the program,” Dunn said Thursday.

“CRI had opened an account at the bank, then when they decided to leave the program, we opened up another account under the county commission,” Dunn said. “CRI cashed the grant check and put it in their account then funds were transferred to the new account in the county commission’s name.”

Drey said she needed documentation relating to the transfer of funds to provide a paper trail for the grant.

“I need enough to show it was the intention of both parties to transfer the money,” she said. “My question is who actually spent the money; who signed the checks,” Drey said.

Dunn said a total of $11,849 was transferred, which included grant money, some funds from the Dunn Foundation and $2,000 contributed by DuPont Washington Works.

Dunn’s fellow county commissioners said earlier the checking account set up in the commission’s name was done without their knowledge or consent.

“Providing supervision for the energy audits was an allowable expense, do you have a total on that?” Drey asked the commission, noting she needs invoices on WVU-P letterhead to make it an allowable expense.

“It’s my understanding WVU-P is going to withdraw their request for audit supervision,” Tiano said.

Drey also said some marketing expenses are allowable, but not all the ones submitted by Dunn in his final report qualified under the grant provisions.

Dunn said Thompson was not paid for the audits.

“Software and template development would also be allowable expenses, but not direct advertising,” Drey said. “If you want to invoice, we need itemized costs,” she said.

She told officials payment for supervision of audits was also an allowable expense, but an itemized invoice needs to come from the college itself, not from Thompson.

Drey said development/administration of a homeowner’s survey was an allowable expense and the original intent of the grant application. Development of a brochure for the program, billboards, a website, social media, software development, and some other costs would be eligible for coverage under the grant, others would not qualify, she said.

Following the teleconference, the commissioners asked the county administrator and Tiano to revise the budget and provide documentation to justify the expenses and receipts submitted.

Drey also told Dunn, as part of the documentation needed, Dunn’s statement that he did not personally benefit from the grant funds needed a second signature. “You need to have someone witness that, to back that up, so it’s not just your signature,” she said.

Prosecutor Jason Wharton earlier told Dunn he needs to submit originals of program records to the county as requested earlier, not just copies.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Steve Gainer asked Wharton if he had any comments.

“I think it appears there is some direction to go in now,” Wharton said.