By MARINA WATERS
Washington County received its audit report for 2017 from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury and it includes 25 findings — the highest number the county has received in the last 10 years.
This was the first time in recent years that the audit was conducted by the state rather than local accounting firm Blackburn, Childers and Steagall. Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said the county has used the local auditors for about 50 years before the state required the audit be completed by the comptroller’s office for 2017.
Eldridge cites a software conversion throughout county offices as a factor in the number of findings.
“I think the things we’re seeing in this audit report, a lot of it can be attributed to the accumulation of difficult circumstances that we’ve been working under for the past year plus to an extent,” Eldridge said. “The issue with the state comptroller taking over our audit was just the timing of it. All of our accounting systems, payroll systems for the entire county was being converted for the first time in 35 years. That conversion was a remarkable stress on our system, on our processes, and particularly, on our people.”
The 25 findings include eight from the offices of the county mayor and director of accounts and budgets, seven from the office of the director of schools, six from the office of the trustee, two from the sheriff’s office, one in the office of clerk and master and one from the offices of the county mayor, highway superintendent and sheriff.
The office of the county mayor and director of accounts and budgets faces findings such as accounting deficiencies, as well as deficiencies in budget operations and the administration of payroll, and failure to maintain adequate controls over its capital assets records.
The report also says accounting records were not made available to auditors until Oct. 23, 2017. The records were to be closed and available for audit by Aug. 31, 2017. In the report, the state comptroller cites the system conversion as a contributing factor in the finding. Eldridge also told the Herald & Tribune that the county needed extra time to make sure the numbers in its financial statements agreed with the numbers from the trustee.
The office of the director of schools included audit findings such as a cash overdraft of $243,598 in the school federal projects fund, the purchase of used vehicles without competing bids and deficiencies in budget operations and maintenance of capital asset records.
However, Washington County Department of Education Finance Director Brad Hale said all of the findings had been corrected and the only item still being corrected is the formal documentation of internal controls.
“I’m staying in close contact with the auditors, both local and the state auditors. That way if we have questions, we’ll call them and be proactive if we’re unsure how to handle something to get direction ahead of time so we can minimize future audit findings,” Hale said. “Ultimately, we would love to be one of the very few systems that have no audit findings. That’s our goal.”
The full audit report, which also includes corrective action plans for each county office, is available at http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/CA/2017/FY17WashingtonCAFR.pdf.