County audit delayed further

Auditor: $47.5M Funds Not Recorded

 WINNSBORO – Fairfield County’s already tardy audit could trickle into April before the final document is complete, further delaying the release of state funds and altering the 2023 budget process.

A series of last minute “adjustments” totaling $12 million forced the county’s auditing firm to recalculate the county’s financial picture three times from September to December, according to Grant Davis with Mauldin & Jenkins.

“Our workload is not conducive to stopping everything we have going on and trying to request something in December,” Davis told council members at the March 13 meeting. “This is basically our third shot at field work for the 2022 audit. This is our third try to get it right.”

Councilwoman Peggy Swearingen voiced concerns about the $12 million in adjustments. She asked what sort of spending resulted in that amount.

Davis said spending alone didn’t generate the $12 million figure. He attributed it to a combination of unaccounted expenses, revenues, assets, and other budgetary items.

 “I would not characterize it as the county spent $12 million in the interim that was not picked up,” he said.

Not long after the grim forecast, council members learned about another series of financial discrepancies.

$47.5M Funds Not Recorded

Interim administrator Laura Johnson said $47.5 million in sewer plant funds from Dominion Energy settlement money hasn’t been recorded. Another $7.5 million in bond refinancing, also from the Dominion settlement, was recorded, but hasn’t been posted at the bank.

$12M In Last Minute Adjustments

Lastly, Johnson said accommodations and hospitality tax funds are being kept in the general fund account instead of separately as required. She said the discrepancies were discovered in the past 1-2 weeks, and would certainly alter the budget preparation schedule.

“Trying to prepare a budget without an audit report is somewhat taxing,” Johnson said.

Davis said it’s unclear whether the newly discovered discrepancies would push the audit into April, but noted it’s possible.

In January, council members learned the audit would be late for the second year in a row, resulting in the withholding of state funds.

The audit staff attributed the missed deadline to insufficient staff and a last minute data dump that made it impossible to finish the audit on time.

State law requires counties to submit their annual audit by December. Counties that are late risk having the state funds until the audit is submitted.

In 2022, the state withheld $1.5 million from Fairfield until the audit was delivered in April of that year.

Speaking in public input, Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said Fairfield’s trend of late audits has been embarrassing.

“We never seem to know where we stand financially,” Bright said. ”I would like the auditors to actually give us a suggestion so we know where we’re going and where we’re headed. The citizens deserve it.”

Council members later directed Johnson to start delivering monthly financial reports, including status updates on the fund balance. Davis said it’s vital for any government to know how much money exists in reserve.

“You shouldn’t have to wait until the audit to find out what your fund balance is,” Davis said. “You all should know pretty closely what your fund balance is every month.”

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