Turner clarifies audit issues

Published 11:03 am Thursday, October 26, 2017

JACKSON – The delay in Northampton County’s audit for the 2015-16 fiscal year has been an ongoing topic of discussion for months. County Manager Kimberly Turner spoke to the News Herald and provided additional information in order to alleviate concerns about the county’s finances.

“Northampton County has always been and will continue to be transparent,” Turner said, pointing to the previous article printed in July by the News Herald where she explained the facts which had been provided to her by the auditor and CPA firm.

The first issue she addressed was an October 2016 budget amendment for the amount of $1,083,351. This amendment was mentioned during the public comment portion of the most recent Board of Commissioners meeting with a concern of how it affected the county finances.

“That amendment was done because of direction given by the Local Government Commission to rectify deficits within funds that had been on the books for previous years,” Turner explained. “As a result, it reduced our fund balance; however, our fund balance for fiscal year 2014-15 was at 33 percent, which is well above the required percentage recommended by the Local Government Commission.”

Turner also acknowledged there were previous delays of budget amendments and receipting revenues.

“When you have an employee to retire with 42 years of service, that employee takes with them history and years of knowledge,” Turner said.

Turner went on to explain that the former Finance Office retired on August 31, 2015 and, though the current Finance Officer was hired on July 1 of that same year, she was not appointed until September 1, 2015. During the period between date of hire and appointment, Turner said the new Finance Officer was not completely or properly trained.

“At the time, the Finance Department had five other employees,” she continued. “Within that department, we had an employee that went out on medical leave in December 2015 and did not return until August 2016, an employee that resigned in October 2016, an employee that resigned in November 2016, and an employee that retired in December 2016.”

These circumstances—the incomplete training, seeking outside assistance, the absence of a key employee, and turnovers—were why the workload got behind, Turner said.

“The current Finance Officer had and still has a monumental task in keeping our finances in order,” she explained.

According to Turner, the county notified the Local Government Commission about the circumstances affecting the audit, and then received a letter in return dated August 14, 2017.

The letter, signed by LGC Director of Fiscal Management Sharon Edmundson, explained how Northampton County’s current finance officer contacted the Fiscal Management division because of concerns she had over prior years’ accounting records.

“She then requested the names of accounting firms that would be able to examine the county’s records and determine if, in fact, there were issues with the records. Independence standards do not allow the county’s audit firm to do this type of work,” Edmundson’s letter stated.

Her letter also explained the audit was still not complete because the CPA firm was doing additional work to ensure that the county auditors would not have to issue a “disclaimer of opinion” with the financial statements.

“I at no time felt like the audit was not a priority or that the county was not taking the appropriate steps to move towards completion,” Edmundson continued. “While no one is happy that the county’s 2016 audit is late, I believe it is more important that the county and its auditors believe that the records and resulting financial statements do materially represent the financial position of the county.”

Edmundson concluded her letter with the expectation that the future audits will be completed in a timely manner.

Turner wrapped up her own statement with similar sentiments.

“The bottom line is our bills are being paid, employees are getting paid, and services are continuing to be provided,” she said. “We have had a difficult time within our Finance Department, but we have competent staff that is working hard to ensure that finances are accurate, general statutes and policies are being followed, and accounting for every dollar spent.”

“We are charged with being good stewards of taxpayers’ money and that is what we are doing by making sure our audit is prepared accurately,” she concluded.