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Audit firm reapproved

JACKSON —The Northampton County Board of Commissioners are debating whether or not to continue to utilize their long time auditor.

At a recent meeting the commissioners decided to keep their contract with Martin, Starnes & Associates, CPAs, P.A., but to include an option to terminate the contract, with or without cause, each June 30.

The firm has been with the county since 1999.

“The new agreement extension is for three years with two, one year renewals options within the original agreement,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins said the fees associated with the agreement include the following:

2010-$41,000

2011-$42,000

2012-$43,500

2013-$44,500

2014-$46,000

“It is the opinion of the Finance Officer (Dot Vick) and shared by myself that, especially during these economic times, it’s important we recognize these difficulties; we have stability, familiarity, and extreme confidence in our auditor and those who are providing financial advice and guidance to the county,” said Jenkins.

He then recommended approving the agreement with Martin, Starnes and Associates.

Commission Chair Robert Carter asked for County Attorney Charles Vaughan for his opinion because the county has had excellent service with the firm, but if the board approved the extension Martin, Starnes and Associates would have been with the county for 15 years.

“I would ask of the attorney his opinion on an audit firm serving more time than this,” said Carter.

“The concern I would have would be to retain the rights to terminate a contract,” answered Vaughan. “Generally, you put 30 days on a contract, but with an auditor’s contract I would say at least annually; to retain the rights to change the contract would be my only concern.”

Carter asked for his colleagues opinions on the matter.

Commission Vice Chair Fannie Greene said she was in agreement, but also addressed her concerns over how long the firm had been with the county.

“I think it is a good practice to partake in the change of auditors because we have been with the same auditor so long,” she said. “But I do, based on the information you have given us today with the budget crunch we’re in, think it is not good time right now. But I think it’s something we need to look at.”

Carter asked if the board could accept the agreement, but place language in the contract so the board could “walk away” from it over a period of time.

Vaughan agreed.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill said it was the first “extension” kind of letter the board had received from the auditor in finding out what they do, how and why they do it.

“I was quite impressed with the letter,” she said.

She added she agreed with the county manager’s recommendation as well as to include Vaughan’s recommendation on including a termination clause in the document.

Jenkins noted that though the county has had the same auditor, there is a different lead auditor assigned to the county each year.

“Secondly, we benefit from the vast service space Martin, Starnes provides,” he said.

Jenkins explained the firm serves 35-40 counties in the state.

“So we benefit from lessons learned elsewhere,” he said. Jenkins asked Vaughan if the termination should include with just cause or to openly cancel.

Vaughan said with or without cause.

Greene asked Jenkins if the approval was for five or three years.

Jenkins said the approval was for three years, with two optional one year renewals with the price set as is.

Greene said she brought up the point of changing auditors every so often as, to her knowledge, the Local Government Commission recommends it.

Spruill said the LGC does not recommend it. Jenkins agreed with Spruill.

“I’ve always believed if it’s not broke you don’t have to fix it,” Commissioner James Hester interjected.

“I think it’s always good to have competition when you’re using taxpayers’ dollars,” said Jenkins. “I think you as commissioners have to evaluate the value of that dollar that is being expended for the most expert, quality service that you can provide.”

“I agree, because I also have been very pleased how we have handled the contract over the period of years I have been here,” said Spruill. “The letter did state that, it is not always good to bid out these contracts, these services, but to look at those services and accept them based on their quality.”

Hester questioned that if the stipulation was placed in the contract allowing the county to cancel their contract each June, if the auditor would have the same.

“Then we’ve got to get out and find another auditor,” he said.

Spruill motioned to approve the agreement extension with Martin, Starnes & Associates for the years 2010-2014 conditioned upon the county’s ability to cancel with or without cause each June 30. Hester seconded the motion.

The motion passed without objection.