October 4, 2012

ComLinks still teetering


---- — MALONE — ComLinks will remain open three days a week instead of five as it awaits final word on whether it can retain any programs that support low-income families.

“We’re still hoping for a last-minute reprieve to keep part of our services going, but it seems unlikely,” said Joe Selenski, president of the Board of Directors for the Malone-based community-action agency.

The board continues to work with the State Department of Health and State Attorney General’s Office on the legal steps it needs to take to disburse its assets and pay off its debts before determining if the agency should dissolve and close for good.

ComLinks has been teetering on the edge of extinction since a 2010 audit from the State Comptroller’s Office accused former Executive Director Nancy Reich of using more than $100,000 in grant funds on herself for massages, home appliances, groceries and golf-club memberships.

Reich pleaded guilty in December 2011 to grand larceny, was fined $1,500 and will have her case dismissed if she stays out of legal trouble for three years.

No one has been able to determine exactly how much Reich embezzled, but the agency is about $200,000 in debt, with about $40,000 of that owed to local vendors.


In the meantime, programs and services ComLinks once offered — domestic violence; management of low-income-housing units in Malone and Saranac Lake; weatherization for the poor and elderly; and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Business Center — have either been turned over to other entities to run or closed down.

The final two housing units it was managing, Windmill Estates in Malone and Helen Hill in Saranac Lake, were put in the hands of other entities this week.

Negotiations continue on which nonprofit would take over the Gleaning Program.

Selenski said two regional agencies are interested in taking on at least some portions of the program and that the state may carve up the services among the two rather than select one to manage it all.


The existing food pantry is now called Consumer Choice Food Pantry and is run by volunteers.

The Backpack Program, which feeds 400 local children on weekends during the school year, has been separated out with its own budget.

Selenski said several nonprofits have offered to absorb the Backpack Program, but a decision had not yet been made. In the meantime, children will still get their backpacks each week, and any money raised toward that service will be held in a separate account.

Two employees remain at the office Monday through Wednesday to refer clients to services, and Chief Financial Officer Bill Kelting is working on a consulting basis. 

If ComLinks were to dissolve, it would sell off its assets and liquidate equipment to help pay its vendors, Selenski said.

But it is going to take time during the legal process.

“Under our legal advice, we’re not allowed to work with the vendors,” he said. “Dissolution is another word for bankruptcy. But we want to make sure everyone is taken care of.

“As much as we’d like to give preference to local vendors, we have to wait until the assets are sold off and make sure everything is divided up equally.”

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