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TRUMBULL COUNTY Health board plans to reprimand commissioner



Published: Mon, April 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A written reprimand will be added to the health commissioner's personnel file.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- The Trumbull County Health Department failed to ask for $25,000 it had coming last year, despite repeated reminders.

The department finally turned in most of its invoices last month, but only after the agency that owed it the money put its Cleveland lawyer on the case.

"They did excellent work," Gregory Kovalchick, compliance manager at the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District said. "They did the services and we wanted to pay them."

The money was for the inspection of landfills, waste transfer stations and trash complaints by the health department.

"There is no excuse," said Jim Walters, a member of the health board. "With all the letters, phone calls, two letters from the attorney, there is no excuse for not sending the invoices in properly."

What's being done: The board of health will reprimand Vincent Catuogno, the health commissioner, for irregularities with the solid waste contract when it meets April 16, Catuogno said.

A written reprimand was drafted during a closed-door session last month, after apparent discrepancies in the minutes from the January meeting prompted Walters to research the solid waste contract and bring what he found to the board.

The reprimand will not become public until it is signed by board members at the upcoming meeting.

The contract calls for the health department to send invoices four times a year, within 15 days of the end of each quarter, listing the number of inspections done.

A signature is also required on a photocopied form.

"A kid could do it," said Scott Thompson, a health board member. "I don't know what the problem was."

A bill for the first-quarter payment was sent three weeks late by George Buccella, health department administrator, but rejected by the solid waste district as being incomplete.

"I'm not responsible for financial stuff," said Buccella, to whom many of the letters from the solid waste district were addressed. "I don't have all the information in my file."

An invoice for the final quarter of 2001 was received by the solid waste district Feb. 7, three weeks late, but still weeks before the arrival of invoices for the second and third quarters, or the revised invoice for the first quarter.

These bills were eventually sent in March, apparently crossing paths in the mail with a letter from the solid waste district's Cleveland attorney threatening to take the money away.

The problem, Catuogno said, was the result of turnover in the position of director of environmental health. The position was filled in October.

Catuogno said invoices had also been submitted to the solid waste district in late October, but were apparently lost in the mail.

Walters recalled that Catuogno told the board in January that the health department was current on its invoices for the contract.

When no mention of the conversation was included in the minutes of the meeting, Walters says he took it upon himself to look into records for the contract kept at the solid waste district office.

"My bottom line right now is, where did the money come from, and out of which account, for the work performed?" Walters said. "If you have a program that is funded out of the grant, the money is only to be used for that program."

Response: Catuogno said no other health department programs suffered because of the delayed payments.

"We haven't lost money and we haven't taken money from other programs to operate this," Catuogno said. "What's the foul?"

In October, waste district officials discovered the health department had not set up a separate fund to receive money under the contract, which has been in effect since 1997.

In a letter dated Oct. 15, Kovalchick threatened to terminate the contract unless the health department established such a fund.

On Nov. 30, the solid waste district's lawyer wrote to Buccella that "the spirit and intent of the contract" calls for the establishment of the special account.

Two weeks ago, a day after meeting with the health board, Catuogno asked the county auditor for a "solid waste assistance account" to be added to his books.

siff@vindy.com




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