Senior Center blueprints

Horry County Council on Aging’s executive director Ray Fontaine looks at a blueprint for the new Carolina Forest senior center. Construction on the center should begin soon.

The Horry County Council on Aging’s executive director will step down at the end of the year, the organization’s chairman confirmed.

Ray Fontaine, the longtime leader of the group that serves Grand Strand seniors, plans to retire in December, said Bobby Jordan, who chairs the nonprofit’s board.

“He’s been telling us for two years that he was retiring,” Jordan said, adding that Fontaine outlined his specific exit strategy at a recent committee meeting. “He’s just burned out.”

Jordan said he didn’t want to say much about Fontaine’s departure because the outgoing official does not want anyone to conclude that his pending retirement stems from a State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation of the nonprofit’s finances.

Jordan said that inquiry is not related to Fontaine’s retirement and he praised the director for his efforts.

“He should have been paid twice what he was making,” he said.

Fontaine did not respond to requests for comment.

The Council on Aging provides meals, activities and other services to the county’s seniors.

The nonprofit runs 10 senior centers throughout Horry and is trying to secure a loan to build a larger center in Carolina Forest.

The organization receives local, state and federal money, including funding from county property taxes. The local funding amounts to about $900,000 per year.

The council’s board is responsible for managing its budget, policies and programs, but the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments (COG) also provides some oversight to the organization.

The COG is a quasi-governmental agency that works with agencies in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

Mark Hoeweler, the COG’s assistant executive director, said he didn’t know about Fontaine’s plans to retire. Hoeweler did say he was aware of the SLED investigation into the group's finances.

That investigation began after a former Council on Aging employee sent a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel, SLED spokesman Thom Berry has said.

SLED agents looked into the matter and decided to launch a formal investigation on Feb. 14.

Berry has not provided any specific details about the allegations, but Fontaine told the Chronicle last month that he provided an agent with records that showed how many meals the organization provided to seniors and how much the state had reimbursed the council for those meals. Fontaine said he also gave the investigator two years’ worth of bank statements.

Jordan, the organization’s chairman, said the group is still waiting to hear more from SLED about the status of the investigation.

“I’ve not heard a single thing,” he said. “It’s just quiet as a mouse.”

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