A late county audit prompted a strongly-worded letter from the state and concerns echoed by commissioners, who shared disappointment with the tardiness in submitting financial documents.
Bryon Scott, a CPA with Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams & Co., PA in Elizabethtown, hit the highlights of the audit for a few moments during the Board of Commissioners recently monthly session. However, it did not take long before discussion turned to a letter sent Feb. 29 to Chairman Billy Lockamy and various other county officials and administrative staffers.
The letter from Sharon Edmundson, director of the LGC’s Fiscal Management Section, notes that analysis of Sampson County’s financial documents from 2014-15 “revealed an area of concern regarding the county’s financial operations.”
“The county’s audited financial statements were not received by our office until Feb. 11, 2016, three months after the due date of Oct. 31, 2015 and over seven months after the fiscal year end,” Edmundson stated in the correspondence. “As stewards of the public’s resources, the governing body is responsible for ensuring that the audited financial statements are available to the public in a timely manner.”
Edmundson cited the LGC’s records, noting that Sampson’s statement also was received late in two of the last three years.
“Information in the report is needed by you and your board in order for you to take prompt and effective corrective action on any deficiencies noted,” she stated. “Various external groups such as the North Carolina General Assembly, federal and state agencies that provide funding and other public associations need current financial information about your county as well.”
In her letter, she urged the board to determine the reason for the delay and take the appropriate action to ensure audited financial statements for the current year are completed and submitted by Oct. 31, 2016.
Commissioner Clark Wooten referenced the letter before addressing Scott.
“I’m going to make this short and sweet … when this comes around next year, if it’s not on time, the people that are riding this bus will no longer be on this bus,” said Wooten. “We will file on time. You may not file it on time, but it will be filed on time.”
Scott began to offer an explanation, before Wooten interjected, saying there was no reason for it not to be on time.
“Things do happen,” Scott said.
“Six years in a row things happen?” Wooten shot back. “The best thing you can do is let that dog lay. I’ve said my piece and I’m hot to trot about it. I’m done.”
Scott said County manager Ed Causey was “very much hot to trot” on the issue as well. Causey and Finance officer David Clack have put timelines into effect to ensure the deadline is met, Scott told the board. Wooten said Scott was depended on, along with county administrative staff, to ensure financial documents were in order and submitted within the parameters required.
“Timeliness is important,” said Wooten. “In fact, it is paramount.”
“We’re on board to do that,” Scott noted.
In an email from Scott to county commissioners and staff following the Monday meeting, he took issue with portions of Edmundson’s letter and offered further explanation.
“I am in complete agreement regarding the timeliness of the audit, however in the letter it mentions not providing the board with information that the board needs in order to make prompt and corrective actions,” Scott stated. “This part is incorrect, we audit over 50 entities and only a few have no audit adjustments.”
He said there has been no posted adjustment to Clack’s records in several years and “therefore I believe the information David is providing on a monthly basis is correct and enables informative decisions.”
Additionally, any deficiencies are dealt with in short order, he noted.
“All deficiencies we have discovered during our field work portion of the previous audit have been addressed with management very timely and, through the work of management, have been corrected before the audit is complete,” Scott stated. “So looking back over Ms. Edmundson’s letter, the purpose of having a timely audit is actually met even though the process of getting the audit complete is not working. And I agree, the audit should be on time.”
Scott also misspoke during the meeting, noting Sampson’s fund balance was 6 percent of expenditures, which he explained was below the required LGC mandate of 8 percent and below the average mark of comparable counties in the state. He corrected himself in his email that Sampson’s fund balance percentage was actually 22.46 percent.
At the end of the meeting, commissioners preached the importance of timeliness, in accordance with federal and state mandates.
“We’ve been slapped on the hand a time or two,” Lockamy remarked, “but it’s a slap in the face when we receive a letter with my name at the top as chairman. It’s not good. The report is in and everything is good, and thank goodness it is. But the (tardiness) is inexcusable.”
“We need to see it on time next year,” Commissioner Sue Lee echoed.
Scott concurred. March is tax season, he noted, “so I’d much rather see you in January than in March.”
“I may not be sitting here next year,” Lockamy said, “but I go along with what the other commissioners are saying. This is not good. We’re better than this and we’re going to straighten this out.”
The board accepted the audit and also approved extending the contract with Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams & Co. Wooten offered the stipulation “only if it’s on time.” The vote was unanimous.
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