Audit late, expected in March

WINNBSORO – Insufficient staff and a last minute data dump by the finance department onto the auditor contributed to Fairfield County missing its annual audit deadline for the second year in a row.

Now the county’s auditing firm won’t be able to present its findings to County Council until sometime in March, said interim county administrator Laura Johnson who was hired last week. The audit was due to the Comptroller General’s office Jan. 2, 2023.

The county received an email from the Comptroller General’s office on Jan. 3, stating that the county’s audit was overdue and that the state would begin withholding funds from the county that day. It also means the state will likely withhold Fairfield’s federal stimulus payout as it did in 2022.

“I’ve spoken with the auditor to include me on all emails regarding the status of the audit, whether additional reports or information is needed,” Johnson said. “This will ensure a quick turnaround from our staff to prevent any more delays.”

Council members voiced dismay over the tardy audit.

“This happening the second year in a row is not a good look for the county,” said Councilman Dan Ruff.

Councilwoman Shirley Greene suggested county staff submit monthly financial reports, something the 2022 audit had recommended to the previous council that Greene sat on.

 Council Chair Doug Pauley asked that, starting Sept. 2023, every council member receive regular reports on where the audit stands.

The 2022 audit, which wasn’t delivered until April last year and resulted in the state withholding $1.5 million in stimulus money, recommended the county reconcile its general ledger accounts to subsidiary ledgers on a monthly basis to minimize errors and quickly make any corrections.

It also stated the county should seek to reinstate and fund a staff analyst or fiscal analyst position previously frozen in the 2022 budget. This would develop monthly financial closing processes, according to the audit.

But former county administrator Malik Whitaker previously told council members the position would not develop monthly financial closing processes. Instead, Whitaker said in April, 2022, that the staff position would be “responsible for reconciling all general ledger control accounts to subsidiary ledgers or other detailed schedules on a monthly basis.”

Whitaker also said the county would set benchmark dates to ensure future audits are filed on time. That did not happen.

Johnson, the current interim administrator, said Monday night that additional finance staff was only recently hired.

“A plan was in place and it included having additional staff separate out the duties so the work would be produced more quickly,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately the new staff didn’t begin until a couple of weeks ago.”

Johnson said the county’s auditing firm also received a large amount of last-minute paperwork from the county in December, creating more delays.

“The auditors didn’t expect to receive such a large number of adjustments, and to receive them so late,” she said. “So, as a result, the auditors now need to re-audit the updated numbers and they also have to audit the new numbers that they received for the first time.”

Whitaker’s last scheduled day with Fairfield was Jan. 15. But Whitaker didn’t attend the January 9 council meeting, and Johnson was voted as interim administrator on January 13.

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