Fairfield’s late audit expected about mid-June

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County’s oft-delayed 2022 audit that was supposed to be submitted Jan. 1, 2023, now won’t be ready until mid-June at the earliest.

Interim Administrator Laura Johnson issued the revised forecast during Monday night’s council meeting.

Johnson said she expects county staff to receive a draft document soon from the county’s auditing firm. County staff will then review the audit before the auditor makes a formal presentation to county council, she said.

That prompted Councilwoman Shirley Greene to press for specifics.

“How long do you think that’s going to take? Because we’re pushing it,” Greene said.

“I know,” Johnson responded, estimating a formal presentation date of June 12.

“It may take us a week or so [to review],” Johnson said. “After that, we can get a final answer.”

Council Chairman Douglas Pauley told The Voice last month that the county’s finances were in disarray but that instead of hiring an outside accounting firm, Johnson was working to right the county’s books in addition to her interim administrative work. Johnson previously served as the county’s finance director before leaving the county in 2021.

This is the second consecutive year the annual audit has stretched well beyond the due date.

In 2022, under the previous administration, the final audit wasn’t finalized until April, prompting the state to withhold $1.5 million in funding until Fairfield submitted the audit.

The State Comptroller’s office had withheld almost $5 million from the county since the first of the year because of the current overdue audit.  In a surprise move, however, Senior Assistant Comptroller General Ronnie Head informed Johnson in a letter dated April 26, 2023, that the state is releasing $4,870,188.11 it was withholding from the county even though the audit has not yet been submitted.

No reason was given for releasing the funds other than to relieve the increasing financial burden on the county.

“We regret the unfortunate delays your county is experiencing in providing us its June 30, 2022 audited financial statements,” Head wrote. “We recognize that your reporting delays are likely causing you severe challenges in funding county operations, while inflationary pressures are simultaneously straining your budget. Because of the financial stresses the county is likely incurring from these overlapping negative factors, to avoid the risk of vital county services being interrupted, we’re arranging the release of your state funds that we’ve been withholding since you missed the Jan. 1 reporting deadline.”

Johnson breathed a sigh of relief.

“I am pleased that the State is releasing our funds,” Johnson said in an email to The Voice. “With the fiscal year-end closely approaching, this will allow us to potentially avoid any interruption of county services.”

Johnson said, then, that the county was on target to submit the audit sometime in May.

Earlier Monday night, Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said during public input that a completed audit is crucial as the county develops its 2023-2024 budget.

“For two and a half years the county has been flying in a financial fog, not knowing whether we have the money,” he said. “It is imperative that part of the audit – the major part of the audit – [include] how do we fix [the county’s] financials.”

“I have great concern the auditors are going to deliver a cavalier, non-urgent, corrective response,” Bright said. “We need real standards, real processes to fix our county’s finances.”

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