Representatives of the Brickfire Project say they were given an opportunity to go through a finding-of-fact hearing with Mississippi Department of Human Services regarding the latter agencyâ€™s objection to the projectâ€™s administration of funds from two grants. If the project had done so, however, it would have cost the city of Starkville more money. Brickfire Project Executive Director Cheikh Taylor said the organization instead opted to pay the $7,699.24 it owes.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen approved a memorandum of understanding with the project last week for the repayment of that balance to the city from a Mississippi Department of Human Services grant audit finding.
The Brickfire project, a non-profit which works with the city to obtain grant funds for providing child care services, is a sub-grantee for MDHS. Starkville provides the organization $5,000 annually to assist in its objectives, which are to â€śprovide child care, after-school tutorial services and summer enrichment programming directly to over 150 low and very-low income students per day,â€ť according to a release.
Taylor said the disagreement with MDHS was over two line items: the leasing of a copier and a contract with AmeriCorps, a federally-supported community service entity.
â€śWe used AmeriCorps to help us with our student-teacher ratio. We did it to have better quality and to broaden the horizons of our students. It didnâ€™t benefit any one individual,â€ť Taylor said. â€śThe option was to go ahead and pay it or to potentially incur additional fees the city would have been on the hook for. At some point we didnâ€™t want to continue to go any further with it.â€ť
â€śThe only reason Brickfire did not pursue pressing (M)DHS about how these items were declared as ineligible line items (is because doing so) would have cost the city of Starkville financial burdens as the lead grantee,â€ť the release states.
The finding, Taylor said, was out of an $800,000 budget awarded to Brickfire by MDHS for the past 20 years and has since been awarded after the dispute for the past three years.
â€śThis speaks to accountability, organizational leadership and strong community partners,â€ť the release states.
Brickfire Chief Executive Officer Helen Taylor said she thinks in time the organization will be able to have the balance removed.
â€śI feel like down the road I can get this taken off. (The disputed funds didnâ€™t involve) anybodyâ€™s travel,â€ť she said. â€śIt was just a dispute. (MDHS) didnâ€™t want to pay it and we thought they should.â€ť
Cheikh Taylor said he wanted to offer the projectâ€™s side of the issue because it had not previously been made public.
â€śWe just want to make sure we are always represented in the best of light because we do great work in the community and also because of the relationships with our community partners,â€ť he said. â€śWhen youâ€™re a community partner like we are and depend so heavily on community funding, sometimes the temper and the tone of certain things can put a bad light on our organization. We wanted to make sure there was some clarity.â€ť
He said while most who are familiar with the Brickfire Project primarily as a child care organization, but there are many objectives the group addresses on a regular basis.
â€śThe whole idea about Brickfire Project is weâ€™re actually a community development firm, not just childcare. Most people associate it with childcare because itâ€™s the easiest thing to do,â€ť he said. â€ś(The project addresses) economic development, small business, after-school arts agencies, (as well as) home ownership â€” things that empower small families and low-income individuals to move out of their condition into something more.â€ť
Helen Taylor said sheâ€™s thankful to all entities the Brickfire Project has worked with over its more-than-20-year span.
â€śThe city, the board of aldermen (and) all of our funding partners have always been supportive,â€ť she said.