Effingham County commissioners agreed, in a split vote, to engage the same accounting firm doing the county’s audit to look into the Keep Effingham Beautiful account — and there were plenty of questions directed at the auditor.
Commissioners voted 4-1, with Reggie Loper casting the dissenting vote, to have Donald Caines perform an audit of Keep Effingham Beautiful. That special audit won’t be undertaken until the county audit — originally due late last year — is finished.
“I would say we need to get somebody else to do it,” Loper remarked of the special audit.
Commissioners scheduled a workshop for May 28 to work on the management responses to the audit findings. Caines said the audit is not done and will not be so until management responses are completed and submitted. The completion of the audit also is not waiting on the special engagement to get under way.
“The audit is not final,” he said.
Commissioner Steve Mason asked Caines what assurances exist that the special audit will be done in a timely manner.
Caines responded there were several reasons the current audit has been delayed. He said it took a lot of time to investigate the audit findings and to gather documentation. The county was delayed on its part by a software conversion in the finance department. The county also was involved in negotiations on dividing local option sales tax proceeds and in financing the new jail.
Loper also objected to the audit being shown to not all of the commissioners. Caines explained he received a call from a commissioner, who asked questions. He later met with Chairman Wendall Kessler, and Caines said they agreed the prudent course would be to meet with commissioners two at a time, given the nature of some of the findings.
Caines added commissioners Phil Kieffer and Forrest Floyd asked to receive the same information.
“If a commissioner calls, I’m not going to tell him no,” Caines said. “I didn’t call a commissioner; I didn’t ask a commissioner to come see me.
“It’s not normal process,” he said. “But it’s not abnormal, either.”
Caines, though did express misgivings about being present for the commissioners’ preparation of the management responses to the audit findings.
“It would be very unusual for me to participate in responses to findings,” he said.
Added Mason: “I think this whole process is highly unusual.”
Kessler inveigled Caines to be present for the workshop, in order to answer questions commissioners may have on his reasonings for audit findings.
“I want to make sure we can get our audit done, so we can get it by the end of June,” Kessler said. “We need that done — the county needs that done. The commissioners need that done.”
The chairman said he didn’t want the audit to be submitted after June 30 and run the risk of the county losing its qualified local government status. Losing the status could make the county ineligible for a variety of grants.
“The buck stops with us,” he said, “so we need to get this done.”
“I do want this wrapped up — and I want the audit wrapped up,” Mason said.
The contract for the original audit called for a price of approximately $46,000.
Caines said there is an “internal control issue with a potential significant problem” in the audit. An audit a few years ago revealed a problem, and the county’s then-purchasing director was arrested and pled guilty.
“In that case, fraud was evident,” Caines said. “In this case, it’s possible.”
County finance director Joanna Wright said she has formulated responses to the audit findings but has not had the opportunity to review them.
Caines said he did not know what might be revealed in the audit of the Keep Effingham Beautiful account.
“We will follow the path that it takes us,” he said.
The cost of the special audit will be from $80 to $140 per hour, depending on the manpower.