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County in strong financial shape, audit says

POSTED: July 8, 2013 7:04 p.m.

As Effingham County commissioners await the results of a special audit, they have the long-awaited general audit in their hands.


The county’s 2012 audit, originally due at the end of 2012, was delivered to commissioners at their June 18 meeting. The county’s general fund is in strong position, auditor Donald Caines told Effingham County commissioners, but there are concerns about the proprietary funds.


“Your government funds are in a strong position,” he said. “Your proprietary funds are in a weak position.”


Auditors stated the county’s overall financial “appears to have diminished” during the last fiscal year. The county also has a shortage of $1.2 million for its business-type activities, such as water, sewer and sanitation.


Effingham County has been providing water and sewer service for nine years and operated a 1 million gallon-per-day wastewater treatment plant. Operating revenues for water and sewer were approximately $1.2 million for 2011 and 2012, but expenditures topped $3.85 million in 2012 and $2.8 million in 2011.


County finance director Joanna Wright said there is a three-to-five-year plan to address the water and sewer funds.


The county took in $855,000 less in property taxes for 2012 than the year before but expenses were 98.9 percent of projections. An increase in tax receipts, fines and intergovernmental receipts resulted in revenues amended upward by more than $1 million.


Caines and his staff found what they determined to be more than three dozen findings, and the final audit also included management responses to those assertions.


Among the auditor’s findings was a potential conflict of interest with the county administrator and county clerk being married to one another. Though each answered separately to the county commissioners, the audit called into question their relationship as spouses.


The audit pointed out the county’s revenues are “heavily reliant” on property and sales taxes, providing nearly 72 percent of proceeds. “As a result, the general economy and the local businesses have a major impact on the county’s revenue stream,” according to management responses.


David Crawley resigned as county administrator and his wife, Patrice Crawley, relinquished her job as county clerk.


“We let two people go over this audit,” said Jack Garvin. “Where is the smoking gun?”


Neither of the Crawleys has been charged with any wrongdoing to date. The county also has Caines and Hodges conducting a special audit of the sanitation fund.


According to the audit, the county’s net assets, including property and equipment, totaled $70 million. There are $9.1 million in unrestricted net assets, which allow the county to meet continuing obligations to citizens and creditors.


The county’s fund balance also grew by 15 percent, from $30.3 million to $34.9 million. The restricted fund balance from the general fund is nearly $4 million, while the unassigned fund balance is just more than $3 million.


A “rainy day” fund of $4.2 million is available to carry the county government through unforeseen emergencies.


With local option sales tax and special purpose local option sales tax proceeds included, the county took in nearly $41.7 million in revenue for fiscal year 2012 and spent almost $37 million, including debt service and SPLOST capital outlays.


As of Jan. 1, 2012, there were 563 participants in the county’s retirement plan, and plan members are expected to contribute 3 percent to the plan.


Commissioners have approved reducing the county’s match to a 1-to-1 basis, with a cap at 3 percent.

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