In the dark on Sunshine

WARREN – Several council members want answers about the operation of Sunshine Inc. following revelations that the agency owes $188,000 worth of back property taxes and fees to Trumbull County.

Council’s Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Helen Rucker is asking Sunshine director Anthony Iannucci and Community Development Director Michael Keys to answer questions about the agency.

“I’m concerned about the financial situation of Sunshine and the tax credit homes,” Rucker said. “I’m concerned about the possibility of residents losing their homes because of the tax delinquencies and what the organization’s plan of action is going forward.”

Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa recently gave the nonprofit organization two weeks to find a way to pay $188,000 worth of delinquent property taxes and fees or to get into a repayment plan that would allow it to repay the back taxes over a five-year period.

The City of Warren and Trumbull County created Sunshine in 1993 using federal HOME grants to provide housing for low-income residents. Sunshine obtained money from the city and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase, rehab and construct homes, mostly in Warren. Iannucci said he doesn’t know how much money Sunshine has drawn since its inception, but the nonprofit continues to draw government funds.

Iannucci has acknowledged the organization is behind on its property taxes. He says the organization has had a cash flow problems, in part because it no longer is receiving administration fees from HUD.

Also, the agency has been using some money to pay down on older financial obligations, he said.

Iannucci last week said he expects to be able to present a plan to the county treasurer that will enable to the organization to pay the property taxes. He also has emphasized that the agency has done nothing illegal.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward, said his initial concern is for the people who are purchasing their homes under land contracts.

At least one of the property owners, Penny and Bacil Rogers, said they have been paying on their property taxes and insurance every month to Sunshine with their monthly mortgage payments.

The couple expressed fears that they could lose their home to foreclosure due to the back property taxes.

“Where did that money go?” Bartholomew said. “These people are paying money to Sunshine in good faith believing the money is being used to pay their taxes.”

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, suggests a performance audit should be done on the agency.