Monday, March 24, 2014
A warning of potential fraud probably was not what the Williamsburg County Council wanted to hear from their auditor during their March 18, meeting. Robin Poston, CPA with Harper, Poston & Moree presented a summary of an audit which included the financial transactions through June 30, 2013. Poston's summary of the county's finances was positive overall. The County has gone from a BBB investment grade rating in 2007 to the current A rating which provided for the opportunity to receive a 30 million bond used to implement the capital improvements. With the exception of expenditures of the net proceeds from the bond for the construction of the building projects, all governmental funds show a positive balance.
In addition, the county's 8 percent debt limit is slightly under $8 million and of that the government is using only $880,000 which means approximately $7 million is at the county's disposal in the event, for example a catastrophic emergency arises. "This is really unprecedented," said County Supervisor Stanley Pasley in a later interview. "It is unconscionable what we've done from Williamsburg County's finances over the last seven years."
However one of Poston's concerns is the existence of 97 bank accounts. Poston said having that many bank accounts and making certain the treasurer knows when deposits are made so that no one is out of compliance come June 30, is very difficult.
Poston suggested streamlining accounts and upgrading the outdated system as the county realizes the completion of its capital improvement projects. "This is the time where you are in a new building, technology has certainly improved from where you were, and you're able to communicate more effectively with each other," said Poston. "I think that every account should be addressed and determined do we really need this account? Is it doing what it is supposed to do? Is there a rational reason for it? And if there's not a rational reason for it - combine it with the general operations, so that we don't have so many accounts that they become unmanageable."
The county's finance director Walt Ackerman agreed. In a later interview, Ackerman said the more that has to be looked at the harder it is to keep your eye on the ball. "Even traffic controllers, as good as they are, they have a limit on how many planes they can watch in the sky at one time. It's kind of the same thing with checking accounts," said Ackerman. He said though many accounts are necessary prescribed accounts, many others contain about $1,000 which need to be addressed. Proposed policy changes that will do that are being discussed.
Poston continues to recommend on a monthly basis the trial balance be reviewed and compared to supporting documentation. She said the most important thing is everybody getting on the same page and providing the information in a format that can be readily assessed. "The departments kind of hang on to the old way of doing things," said Poston. "It's time to move forward and embrace the computer technology that we have and do things more efficiently." Encouraging council to embrace that technology may be easier said than done considering a system-wide upgrade will cost around $300,000. A workshop scheduled for County Council to meet with Poston to address the gravity of the issue was canceled due to Winter Storm Pax.
Another potential issue falls under program revenues. Business activities such as Transit Authority and Water/Sewer should generate enough revenue to pay for themselves. Poston's concern was with the Water/Sewer fund. The County experienced a tremendous amount of debt through loans to build miles of water lines that reach nearly 95 percent of the county. Supervisor Pasley said while he understands the auditor's concern regarding the water/sewer fund, the county will be all right. We're going to be ok with the debt service," said Pasley. "She wants folk to understand that this is something we need to be conscious of and we are."