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United Way of the Bluegrass reducing donations; chief resigns

The United Way of the Bluegrass, feeling the pain of the community that supports it, is laying off four employees, cutting $300,000 from its budget and reducing the amount that it gives to area agencies.

Agencies supported by the United Way, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army, will take a 9.39 percent cut from July 1 to June 30, 2010, said board treasurer Lindy Karns.

With many Central Kentucky corporations laying off workers, Karns said, "We think we are promised dollars that we might never get."

Karns said there is no link between the financial issues and the resignation on Monday of Kathy Plomin, president of the local United Way.

Plomin, who had requested family medical leave at the beginning of March, resigned for personal reasons, said Laura Voss, chairwoman of the United Way board of directors.

The United Way of the Bluegrass supports 84 agencies in nine counties.

The latest campaign, which began in September 2008, raised $6,991,792. That was down 4 percent, or $319,610, from the previous year.

Keeping the failing economy in mind, and knowing that they would not collect from laid-off workers in the Bluegrass who made pledges before they lost their jobs, United Way officials have budgeted for an additional 5 percent loss. That means cuts to its operating and programming budget.

"We don't have a way to forecast how much we will be able to collect," Karns said.

If the United Way ends up collecting the 5 percent in pledges, it will give the donations back to the agencies, said Karns.

Lisa Minton, executive director of the Chrysalis House, a substance abuse treatment program for women and their children, said her agency will definitely notice the reduction in funds from the United Way.

"It will be felt," said Minton. "These are tough economic times, and everybody is working as hard as they can to provide the best services possible."

Karns said that, given the economic climate in Lexington and surrounding counties, she was proud that the United Way's staff was able to raise what it did.

In addition to less money given to agencies, one major program will be eliminated. The United Way will no longer operate a program called gifts-in-kind that allows businesses to donate tangible goods, such as furniture. The goods were kept in a warehouse where agencies could pick them up.

"Agencies will miss it," said United Way Director of Marketing Carrie Boling, "but we can still match people who want to donate items with groups who need them."

Boling said goods that have already been donated will be given to a group called Christian Appalachian Project for distribution.

A United Way program called Get on Board, which trains people to serve on non-profit boards, will undergo changes that are still being determined, said Boling.

The United Way layoffs included a coordinator for the in-kind donation program, a staff person who focused on development, a receptionist and a part-time employee who answered an information and help line, she said.

A fifth position will be left unfilled.

"This has been a very caring community, but we have to be conservative," Karns said.

Meanwhile, board chairman Voss said the board's executive committee will meet Thursday to discuss an interim director and a search committee.

Kathy Plomin is now out of the country and was not available for comment on Wednesday.

Plomin joined United Way in September 2000 as president and chief professional officer. Before that, she volunteered for the United Way while working at WKYT-TV as a vice president of marketing and community relations.

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