Though saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, new management at a nonprofit in Hammond is helping the organization claw back toward the black.
If they are successful, it could mean more services for struggling children and their families throughout the Florida Parishes.
Founded in 1976, New Horizons Youth Service Bureau provides counseling to children struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying, abuse and other problems. Employees also meet with families facing legal trouble, mental health issues and other concerns to try to help teach them parenting skills and keep the families together. They work in five parishes including Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany and Washington.
Clients are referred to the nonprofit by judges, the Office of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children & Family Services, among others.
The Bureau was $19,203 in the hole when its fiscal year ended on June 30, according to a legislative audit released this week.
It’s still an improvement over the previous year, when the nonprofit had negative net assets of $84,416.
“There was just a lot of fear going on this time last year,” New Horizons Executive Director Elizabeth Sawyer said.
She said on Tuesday she expects the organization to return to the black next year.
One of the biggest liabilities affecting New Horizons’ bottom line is unpaid payroll taxes from 2009. The Bureau originally owed just over $100,000 in taxes from that year, according to the 2014 audit prepared by Certified Public Accountant Phil Hebert, of Ponchatoula.
The past few years, the nonprofit has been working toward paying back those taxes and fines. In fiscal year 2014, the group paid $7,000, and had an ending balance a little over $86,000 — a contributing factor in keeping New Horizons in the red.
Sawyer said the group is working with a CPA to pay back the rest of the amount but has not set up a specific payment schedule with the IRS.
When asked why the payroll taxes were not paid in 2009, Sawyer deferred to Board President Mike Whitlow. He said new management had recently taken over at the bureau and “it really went sideways in a hurry. ... The record-keeping was just atrocious.”
When asked if the unpaid taxes were a result of fraud or mismanagement, Whitlow said it was hard to tell. Both he and Sawyer said no lawsuit was ever filed.
Whitlow and Sawyer were brought in to clean up in the aftermath of the unpaid tax fiasco. Sawyer had been a therapist and program director but became executive director in 2010. Of the six current board members, five have begun serving on the board within the past four years, according to the bureau’s website.
Sawyer said new leadership is trying to keep costs down, even if it means trimming a few positions.
The nonprofit currently has 14 employees, she said.
It also has benefited from recent legislation that is helping workers bring in more money for each case. In 2012, Louisiana passed a law that covered more mental health services under Medicaid, Sawyer explained.
It had the ancillary effect of allowing bureau employees to begin billing by the hour rather than by the case.
Sawyer said the group had a similar client load between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, but the revenue from government grants and contracts — which are reported together — jumped from $515,339 to $652,610 between the two years, according to audits. Sawyer said it demonstrated the difference from the new legislation.
Now leaders are confident in New Horizons’ direction.
“We’re doing fine. We keep moving along, and every year it gets a little better,” Whitlow said.
Sawyer hopes the Bureau can get back in the black so the nonprofit can offer more services.
At the top of her wish list is a program that would teach job hunting and personal finance skills to youths about to exit the foster care system or juvenile detention.
She also would like to offer them counseling to help them “get rid of their ghosts and their skeletons that are holding them back” and teach them how to manage their anger and depression.
“I believe so much in this agency,” Sawyer said. “I wanted to get it back on its feet.”