Whitaker: We’re in a mini crisis

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County is facing a financial “mini crisis” after failing to timely file required financial statements. That failure has resulted in the county’s FY2021 audit being held up, according to emails obtained by The Voice.

In an email to council members, County Administrator Malik Whitaker said the county is six months tardy in submitting its audits, potentially jeopardizing critical infrastructure projects dependent on state money.

 “We have a mini-crisis situation with our audits being six months behind,” Whitaker wrote in an email to council members on Feb. 1. “Our team is committed to getting us through this situation with lessons learned so this will not happen again. Your patience is appreciated. I will keep your [sic] posted.”

However, the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office is withholding payments to Fairfield pending receipt of the required financial statements, according to the S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority, or RIA.

Among the Fairfield County projects potentially impacted is a proposed water main project at Peach Road, said Kendra Wilkerson, a program manager with the RIA.

“We have been informed that the [Comptroller General’s] office is currently withholding state payments to a number of counties, including Fairfield, pending receipt of FY21 financial statements,” Wilkerson said via email to Fairfield County leaders.

“So, if you submit a request for payment to RIA for the Peach Road Water Main project (RIA grant R-21-2057), that payment will be withheld until this situation is resolved with the CG’s office,” the email continues. “RIA does not have any control over this situation, but we wanted to make sure you were aware of it.”

Whitaker said the county is working on an 18-day action plan to bring its financials up to speed.

“I have committed our finance team to a February 28th deadline for submitting our audited statements to the State,” Whitaker said. “We now have an action plan with weekly steps and two accountability meetings a week.”

Council chairman Moses Bell called the county’s predicament “unacceptable.”

Councilman Doug Pauley suggested that the loss of top tier county employees over the last year has exacerbated matters.

Since the installation of the current council, there have been a number of high profile resignations. Those resignations were most of the top county administration officials.

They include former County Administrator Jason Taylor, former Assistant Administrator Laura Johnson, former county attorney Tommy Morgan,  former Clerk to Council Patti Davis, former Community Services Director Chris Clausen, former County Parks & Recreation Director Russell Price and former Building Official Chris Netherton.

“We lost Laura, who was a big help in getting things like this done, and now all of it falls on [Finance Director] Ann [Bass],” Pauley said. “She now has to answer the many demands for information from council members and new members of the administration.”

During citizen comments, Ridgeway resident Randy Bright blamed council’s willy-nilly approach to budgetary and planning matters.

“We don’t even know where we stand financially. We haven’t done an audit in over a year,” Bright said. “Now and then we quote a one-day figure of the fund balance, which is mostly meaningless.”

Though not directly addressing the money being withheld by the state, Councilman Clarence Gilbert said on Monday that employee morale is worsening.

Gilbert suggested hiring an outside firm to anonymously poll staff about morale issues and how to solve them.

“It’s obvious that our county government is suffering from low employee morale,” Gilbert said. “Good or bad morale is contagious. If the soldiers are not happy, then the generals will fall on their face.”

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