State releases almost $5M to county; audit lingers

WINNSBORO – As the county rolled from April into the fifth month of its overdue audit, the SC Comptroller’s Office was withholding $4,870,188.11 of the county’s state funding. Section 4-9-150 of the state code mandates that if a county’s audited financial statements are late, the state must withhold its state funds pending receipt of the audited statement.

In a surprise move, Senior Assistant Comptroller General Ronnie Head informed Interim Fairfield County Administrator Laura Johnson in a letter dated April 26, 2023, that the state is releasing the $4,870,188.11 to 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 the state had requested an update on the audit.

“After they received it, they emailed the letter to me,” she said.

Johnson said, at present, the county is on target to submit the audit sometime in May.

Council members voiced dismay when it was announced in January that the audit was tardy.

“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 2021 audit had recommended to the previous council that Greene sat on.

“If those monthly reports can be rolled up, we can have an easier time closing our books at the end of the year,” Greene said.

The 2021 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 said that additional finance staff was not hired until January, 2023.

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