WINNSBORO — At a recent Fairfield County Council meeting Tom McNeish with Elliott Davis Accounting and Consulting Firm reported that the audit process went well and commended the county for improvements in methodology that allowed his firm to look past the initial facts and figures and examine county finances in greater detail.
Part of the role of the auditor is to check the balances and information in the county’s financial report to verify accuracy via an independent, third party and qualified opinion. That kind of validity and transparency could prove beneficial with the county’s creditors and if or when the county applied for grants and federal funding.
McNeish noted the audit raised “no red flags or major issues. It was an improved process so we could delve deeper to get to a higher standard (of evaluation and recommendation.
“Testing revealed the material was correct and consistent with accepted accounting principles,” McNeish said.
However, there were a few areas the county needed to improve upon.
He recommended a review and revision of the methodology for processing transactions be they paid with cash or with grant money. McNeish said that the county needs to be mindful to get three qualified vendors to bid on purchases over $25,000 whenever three vendors are available. If not, then the county needs to add documentation that they looked for three vendors but could not find them.
Tuition reimbursement is another area where different oversight and practice is needed. The county must comply not only with its policies but with the IRS requirements which set a $5250 limit on the amount someone can be reimbursed for tuition. If the reimbursement exceeded the allotment, then that money could become a tax free benefit or income for some, and that circumstance needs to be avoided. The county needs to comply with IRS caps and if the amount of compensation is above that amount, have the funds noted on the employees W-2 form.
The audit showed a need for more detailed record keeping in the magistrate’s office with regard to the $82,000 the office has on hand. Detailed record keeping about what funds are from bail bonds versus what funds are from taxes and income.
Another concern was the property tax general ledger system because it was developed by a single vendor. The auditors are worried that if a vendor goes out of business or if there is employee turnover that there would be a lack of support for the system.
The recommendation was for the county to form a contingency plan complete with identifying vendors that could offer support.
The auditor also noted a simple fix that needed to occur at the planning and zoning department whereby when the department takes in cash it needs to detail by deposit to trace that cash into the bank and to make sure that complete collections are received by using receipts.
“We are glad to see an audit looking this clean and looking better and better,” Council Chairman David Ferguson said.
County Administrator Phil Hinely believes the recommendations are doable over the next twelve months. “The real key, he said, “is not to have errors repeated with finances. The administrators and the financial folks have been proactive with the firm and that is a good sign.”
McNeish agreed, saying “Throughout the year you stay in touch about risk areas and keep us engaged and being kept up to date throughout is a positive with Fairfield County.
The county treasurer will develop a written plan to address the software situation with vendors and council noted it was in the last leg of a transition in that area.
Hinely said that the audit goal for 2014 is to have all of the audit done by the end of October rather than the end of December.
“October is about the best you can hope for,” he said.
Completing a thorough audit on that time frame would be another indication of the health of the county’s financial management.