State withholding $6.1 million from Williamsburg County for late annual financial report

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 5:22 PM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 7:04 PM EDT
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WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Out of South Carolina’s 46 counties, three have failed to meet the January 1 deadline to report financial statements to the Comptroller General’s office, as required by state law.

The counties include Allendale, Orangeburg and Williamsburg in the Lowcountry.

But the state can withhold funding set for distribution to those delinquent counties. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom reports his office has more than $36 million on hold until they provide the required audits.

Broken down, it’s $2.7 million for Allendale, $17 million for Orangeburg and another $6.1 million for Williamsburg.

“I sympathize with the counties, [they] have a lot of work going on. But they ought to be able to plan for that work and what we see is that there are some counties that wait until the bitter end to start doing work, which is a is a huge mistake,” Eckstrom said. “It’s like waiting for a house fire before you check to see if you have the hoses or water pressure, you know the time to prepare for a house fire before that fire ignites.”

Supervisor Tiffany Cooks says it’s been a hectic ordeal attempting to meet this year’s deadline. That’s because the county uses an outside firm to complete its financial audits, and in 2021 they had to find a new firm to take on the job.

That firm, Love Bailey & Associates, wrote a letter last month explaining the delay was due to not being chosen until late October 2021, and a busy tax season.

Cooks says the county had to go through an RFP process and get council approval to hire the firm.

The county is also undergoing a switch to a new software.

“They’re at the mercy of a public accounting firm to set the time aside. This is not profitable work for CPA firms. Government work, it doesn’t pay as well as commercial work does and as a result of that some government clients get put off by a CPA firm until the CPA firm has time,” Eckstrom said. “Those counties really shortchange themselves, I think, in having to rely as heavily as they do on an outside accounting firm to do work for them.”

It’s unclear what exactly that $6.1 million is for. Cooks says it is not entirely for the county’s general fund, if so, the county wouldn’t be able to survive.

Eckstrom says reporting on time helps county councils set their budgets and keeps government operations transparent to the public. Without the state’s deadline, there might be no accountability.

He reports that last year, Williamsburg did not provide its financial statements until May as well.

The year before that, it was more than two months late.

Allendale has also been a “persistent late reporter” according to Eckstrom.

“If a county is unable to do it at all that county really runs a very, very high risk. That money’s going out the door somehow that shouldn’t be. And we’ve seen that happen, in Allendale,” Eckstrom said.

In an email written to Supervisor Cooks on Thursday, financial officer Liz Nelson reports that while the county’s finances have been strained, they have been “staying on top of our finances through weekly and monthly cash flow planning and analysis along with implementing and approving emergency spending only during the past quarter.”

Nelson reports they should have their full financial audit submitted by the end of next week.

Cooks also says she’s received council approval to hire a recruiting firm after Nelson retires this year.

She’s hopeful they can hire an in-house CPA to set things on track for the next financial audit season.

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