County bringing in help to get books up-to-date

The financial picture of Grady County government continues to be unclear with bank accounts not reconciled as far back as July and now it has been learned that it took approximately eight months to take action on updating computers to speed up the backlog in the county’s finance department.
During a special called meeting Friday, the Grady County Commission met with its auditor, Tom Carmichael, of Carr Riggs & Ingram, to discuss revisions the auditor had been forced to make to the long-delayed 2013 audit as well as discuss the need to bring the county’s books up to date.
The county is facing the potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased interest expense if the county commission cannot present bond underwriters with adequate financial data for 2014 in advance of a proposed bond issuance early next year.
The Grady County Lake Authority recently approved the issuance of up to $10 million in revenue bonds to be used to construct the amenities at Tired Creek Lake. Those bonds must be backed by the full faith and credit of Grady County.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley pointed out to county commissioners last week that the lack of up-to-date financial data on county government could adversely effect the pricing of the bonds.
Cauley told Carmichael the county commission was depending on the auditor to advise the county as to how to bring its financial records up-to-date as soon as possible.
Cauley said that the most up-to-date and accurate information the county could provide would translate into better pricing for the bonds and lower overall interest expense on the debt.
“We have got to get a handle on this,” Cauley told the auditor.
Carmichael said that very few counties the size of Grady County could present interim numbers that would be accurate since most counties do not accrue on a monthly basis, but primarily operate on a cash basis. He said he felt comfortable focusing on the revenue side and could give an accurate number for annual revenue.
The county attorney noted that county officials have been discussing the issues in the finance department since February, but now there are only a couple of weeks left before the bonds will be priced and 2014 financial data would be required to be disclosed.
“We don’t have the luxury of time anymore. We need to clearly understand where we stand and only disclose what we can disclose accurately,” Cauley said.
According to Accounting Manager Connie Blackman, the county’s books are up-to-date with the exception of bank statement reconciliations.
Commissioner Charles Norton said that the general fund accounts are the only ones that remain to be reconciled and Cauley pointed out that those are the largest accounts and the ones the credit rating agencies would be most interested in.
Reconciliations dating back to July remain to be completed and Blackman said that the issues with the computer server in the commissioner’s office have hampered her progress. She also said there were issues with the county’s accounting software provider not being able to remotely access the county’s system.
According to Ms. Blackman, the server has been an issue since she came on board in February of this year. It was not until Oct. 16 that County Administrator Tobar brought a recommendation to the board to purchase a new server.
The new server arrived Nov. 3, but on Nov. 6 Tobar said he was notified by Rumbles, a Thomasville firm that provides the county with IT support, that the server was defective.
According to Tobar, Rumbles technicians attempted to repair the server, but it was not until Dec. 3 that Rumbles ordered a replacement. The new server arrived Monday, according to the administrator, and Rumbles personnel were working quickly to install the server software and load the county’s financial data onto the new computer.
Once she has a computer operating efficiently Ms. Blackman said she could complete a monthly reconciliation in two to three days and that once she gets to September, October and November statements she can reconcile them in a day to a day and a half without interruptions.
Ms. Blackman also called for a reorganization of the finance office and suggested it be moved out of the commissioners’ office. The accounting manager also requested an additional employee who would serve as a receptionist and administrative assistant to the county administrator.
Another issue Ms. Blackman pointed out was the lack of accounting procedures for the county.
An exasperated Commissioner Elwyn Childs demanded to know what was the problem with the accounting backlog. “Is it computer or personnel?” he asked Tobar.
“We have had challenges with the server,”Tobar said.
Childs suggested that if he had problems with his car and his mechanic could not resolve the issues he hired another mechanic who could.
The county administrator said that the Rumbles’ technician working on the county’s project was sick, but had continued to work on the problem from home while out sick.
Tobar said in addition to the server issues Ms. Blackman had had to add new accounting codes in the system to accurately reflect where money was being spent.
However, Ms. Blackman said the adding of codes had nothing to do with the backlog in her being able to complete the bank statement reconcilations.
“Adding codes, that’s easy. It’s the issues with the software and the server and the interruptions that have held me up,” she said.
Attorney Cauley reminded board members that they had approved up to $3,200 for additional accounting in August, but no additional professional help was ever brought in by Tobar.
Commission Chairman T.D. David also questioned if Tobar ever contacted the owner of Rumbles to push for quicker response on resolving the server issues.
“Have you called Fortson (Rumble) and talked with him about our issues?” Chairman David asked. Tobar indicated he did not know who the owner of the company was and admitted he had not talked to him.
The county commission chairman said that he had been the one to suggest bringing in additional accounting help months ago, but he said now the county had to take action no matter the cost.
“We are at the point now it could cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s past time to do something. We need to pick up the phone and get whatever is needed to get it done and get these things done now,” David said.
Auditor Carmichael was asked what his office could do to assist the county in bringing its financial records up-to-date.
Carmichael said the first thing that must be done is for the county to have on-line access to its bank accounts. Ms. Blackman said she has on-line access to all accounts except those at Ameris Bank.
Chairman David instructed her to establish on-line access with Ameris immediately.
Carmichael suggested that any work that could be done manually by interns or temps should be done as soon as possible.
The county’s auditor also said they could not do the reconciliations for the county and still remain independent as the county’s auditors, but he said they could assist and offer suggestions as to how to expedite the process.
Carmichael said it was difficult to estimate the time it would take or the cost of what it would take to help get the county’s records up-to-date.
“A fee of $10,000 would be a very low fee compared to what we could save on the bonds. This must be done,” Chairman David said.
The county is facing a deadline of between Jan. 10 to Jan. 15 to provide the most accurate 2014 data to the bond underwriters.
Vice Chairman Copeland offered a motion to approve up to $10,000 for additional accounting assistance from Carr Riggs & Ingram and her motion was seconded by Commissioner Childs and passed unanimously.
Chairman David instructed Tobar to assign someone to handle receptionist duties to free up Ms. Blackman and her clerk and intern to work on catching up the financial records.
“I want it known that Connie (Blackman) is not the problem. Supervision and assets of what is needed to do the job has not been available and Carlos is working on this, but he is working on 10 different things,” Chairman David said.
“He needs to be working on one thing at a time,” Commissioner Childs responded.
When commissioners were questioned by The Messenger why it took eight months before they took action to approve the purchase of a new server they all indicated they had not been made aware that the server was hindering Ms. Blackman’s progress.
“The administrator didn’t tell us,” Vice Chairman Copeland said.
“I was not aware of the critical nature of the server and the need for its replacement,” Chairman David said.
Tobar spent the better part of a year trying to decide whether to install a single server to service all county offices or putting in multiple servers. He also admits he spent a lot of time himself trying to transition county computers from Windows XP to Windows 7 and Windows 8.
“I was trying to save the county money by doing it myself during the day and after hours,” he said.
Tobar says in hindsight Rumbles should have returned the first server and immediately ordered a new one when problems with the first one were found.
“I give Rumbles credit for wanting to make the repairs to the server on behalf of Dell, but it did not work out,” Tobar said.
The county administrator also said, “We are stewards of the public funds and we should not make knee-jerk reactions or work in ‘silos.’ We all make up Grady County and we need to see if there is a way to operate more efficiently and effectively.”
Tobar expressed confidence Monday that the county will be able to produce updated 2014 data to bond underwriters by Jan. 10-15.
The county administrator contends that even if the server issues had been corrected earlier and that the bank reconciliations had been completed sooner the county would still need the additional accounting help to prepare for the bond issuance.

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