The East Baton Rouge Council on Aging has laid off 20 employees because of its financial situation, the agency’s new executive director said Wednesday.

Tasha Clark Amar said the layoffs stem from a council-wide “systematic reorganization.”

Amar said the council is facing a shortfall of at least $200,000 for the new fiscal year.

“If I didn’t make the cuts that I made … we weren’t going to be able to make our payroll,” Amar said.

Amar said she eliminated positions “from the top down,” starting with her administrative staff.

Amar said some employees will also face salary changes based on how long they’ve been with the council.

More layoffs may come in the future, Amar said, adding that, “It’s probably just the beginning.”

Amar’s selection two weeks ago came after a tumultuous COA annual membership meeting at which three new board members were elected to open seats and three sitting members were re-elected to serve three-year terms. The new board members are to take their seats in August.

Ernest Stephens, the council’s board chairman, said he thinks the cuts were necessary because of the council’s dire financial straits.

“I’m satisfied with the cuts she made,” Stephens said. “I think they were needed, and I think we’ll be alright.”

Stephens also said he thinks the council’s services will not be affected by the layoffs.

“I think this is the step to assure that they wouldn’t be,” Stephens said.

The nonprofit COA gets federal, state and local tax money to help seniors lead independent and active lives. Its programs include Meals on Wheels for the homebound; the Senior Olympics; and social activities at senior centers.

Amar said the cuts will not affect the services the council offers and that she wants to increase the amount of services the council provides.

She said the council will do so by training some employees to do more tasks.

“What I found was, we had a duplication of employees, where we have two employees doing two jobs, when in actuality one employee could have done it,” Amar said.

Amar also said the council will increase its outreach efforts to attract more people to its services.

Amar said she has reached out to hospitals to establish a “memorandum of understanding” to provide basic medical care for elderly and help reduce in-house costs. The council currently pays for its own nurses, Amar said.

Such services would include blood pressure and diabetes checks to help reduce costs, she said.

“That’s going to have a great savings to the agency,” Amar said.

Amar said the employees let go could return to the organization if its financial situation improves.

“If we get our financial footing back, they’ll be the first people we look at” to rehire, said Amar, the daughter of 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark.

Amar, the former director of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, was chosen June 22 to replace Johnny Dykes, whom the 13-member board terminated at its last meeting, on May 24.

State District Judge William Morvant has ordered Stephens to comply with Dykes’ May 11 public records request for documentation of any formal or informal complaints made against him.

Morvant also ordered the COA to pay an undetermined amount of attorneys fees as well as a $25-a-day penalty for each day that the records are not produced.

COA attorney Jay Harris told the judge he will appeal his ruling.