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Just before nonprofit merger, employees rack up $221K in bonuses

They're not in the realm of stratospheric Wall Street bonuses. But in a period of pay cuts, staggering layoffs and strained social service budgets, the nonprofit Family Service Centers — which gets assistance from property tax revenues — recently handed out big bonuses to about 100 employees.

The grand total of the largesse was $221,308.

The payout came Nov. 30, one day before Family Service Centers, which has clients throughout Pinellas County, merged with the Suncoast Center, an outpatient community mental health and social support services agency.

The Suncoast Center, whose main office is in St. Petersburg, also gave out bonuses, but its 202 employees got a maximum of $150 each for a total of $30,000.

The Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board, which funds programs for children and families with property tax revenue, will give the newly combined agencies — operating under the Suncoast Center banner — $5 million this fiscal year.

Family Service Centers' six-figure November payout runs counter to JWB's response to the current economic crisis, said JWB spokesman Ben Kirby.

"In the human service, nonprofit field, that is an unusual amount,'' he said. "At JWB, we have not given out any raises for two years now, and we have not given out any kind of bonus. We've had staff who have had to go half-time. This is a difficult financial climate we are in.''

Since 2005, JWB has stopped funding 24 programs because of declining revenues. The tough economy was one of the reasons JWB gave for supporting the Dec. 1 merger of Family Service Centers and the Suncoast Center. The agency provided $49,000 to help pull it off.

When negotiations on the merger fell apart some weeks earlier, JWB board member Bernie McCabe said the organization did not authorize money "to explore a merger. We authorized the money to accomplish a merger.''

Mary Jo Monahan, president and chief executive officer of Family Service Centers at the time, told the JWB board that the Suncoast Center had "different perspectives on how to work together.'' Family Service Centers officials say they felt their agency was being absorbed rather than moving toward "a true merger.''

When discussions threatened to fall apart a second time, this time over the bonus issue, the Suncoast Center acquiesced to Family Service Centers' payout plans.

"We decided we would approve the merger because we thought it was the best decision for the community,'' said Barbara Daire, Suncoast's CEO and president.

"They stated that they had some unrestricted funds and they felt like they had to give their employees a bonus,'' Daire said. "We told them that we preferred they not do that. We told them that over time, we were going to do an analysis of everyone's salary and make sure they were all equitable."

Daire said Family Service employees got an average bonus of $2,200 and received their checks on Nov. 30, a day before the merger.

The Suncoast Center's employees got their bonuses in October, Daire said, adding that the extra money is not given every year.

"One year we gave time off instead. And some years, we give nothing. It is part of our performance-based plan. We have to have the money available,'' Daire said.

"The bonus given to Family Service Centers employees was just a decision made by their board with not a lot of rationale attached to it, from our perspective. They felt that their staff had been through a lot this past year and they wanted to thank them.''

Kirby, who has said JWB is interested in "efficiencies'' created by merging agencies and programs, noted that savings from the Suncoast Center and Family Service Centers merger is estimated at $1.2 million just for information technology.

Family Service Centers is the second agency to merge with the Suncoast Center this year. Citing economic uncertainties, Help A Child in Pinellas Park merged with Suncoast in the spring.

The consolidation of the three agencies cost few jobs, officials said. Help A Child kept its 60 employees.

Fifty-eight employees from Family Service Centers moved to the Suncoast Center, while those who worked on the Healthy Families contract for the Pinellas County Health Department were absorbed by that agency. Monahan resigned ahead of the merger.

Just before nonprofit merger, employees rack up $221K in bonuses 01/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 3:30am]
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