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January 08. 2013 3:15PM

Tri-County CAP lays off three, furloughs eight

Three workers at the Community Action Program that services the North Country were laid off last week, another eight were placed on a furlough and most workers can expect pay and benefit cuts, as the agency seeks to restore its financial footing, its special trustee said Tuesday.

The layoffs at the the Berlin-based Tri-County Community Action Program included the elimination of the economic and community development office and its one-person staff, said the trustee appointed last month to run the organization, Concord lawyer Todd Fahey.

And clients in a long-term drug-and-alcohol transitional housing program at Friendship House in Bethlehem were warned Monday that it will probably not be viable in the future, Fahey said. Two of the seven clients left on their own accord, and the staff will assist others find other housing, he said.

The announcement is the first since mid-December, when the Coos County Probate Court stripped the Tri-County Community Action Program board of directors of its powers and appointed Fahey its trustee.

The New Hampshire Attorney General took the action after learing of financial difficulties involving debt, misuse of dedicated funding and other financial troubles. The $18 million organization provides government benefits such as fuel assistance, weatherization, Head Start, transportation, and drug/alcohol treatment in Coos, Grafton and Carroll counties.

Fahey said the steps taken since mid-December include:

-- The permanent layoff of three people in the organization, which employs about 275 workers.

-- A four-week furlough of eight workers in the weatherization program. They are eligible for unemployment, and their benefits will remain while on furlough.

--Pay cuts for everyone in the organization whose hourly rate exceeds $10. Fahey said people with higher salaries will receive larger percentage pay cuts. He said the cuts do not affect chief operating officer Peter Higbee, whose salary was reduced 20 percent shortly before the trustee appointment.

. Employer contributions to retirement programs and a dental plan will be suspended as of Feb. 1. Vision coverage will lapse some time in the future. Health care will continue.

The statement also said that Tri-County CAP is meeting its payroll obligations and payments to vendors and lendors. Fahey credited that to "Herculean efforts" by state agencies and private donors to expedite payments to the CAP.

"To date, service disruptions have been minimal, thanks to the dedication and cooperation of staff and government agencies who fund and/or monitor (agency) programs," the statement reads.

With finances stabilized, Fahey said all programs are under review. He said he lacks information at this point to make any final recommendations.

If cuts must take place, TriCAP will avoid programs that provide food, shelter and heat to people enrolled in the programs, the statement said. Fahey said any recommendations he makes will be done in consultation with funding agencies, TriCAP managers, the Coos County Probate Court and the charitable trusts division of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office.

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com&



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