State warns Edgecombe County about late audits | Local News

TARBORO — Edgecombe County was called on the carpet Monday night by the State Treasurer’s Office.

Sharon Edmondson, secretary of the Local Government Commission and a deputy treasurer for the state and local government finance division of the treasurer’s office, put the county on notice that it is time to get its audit situation under control.

Edmondson, telling the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners that she hoped they weren’t hearing the information she was sharing for the first time, advised that the county was two years behind on its state-required audits — and that the situation was getting worse.

“You are two years behind on your statutorily required audit,” she said. “On Dec. 4, 2020, the 2019 audit was over a year late. Since 2015, you’ve been late every year.”

Edmondson said she had talked with Edgecombe County Manager Eric Evans about the situation.

She told commissioners that the consequences of the county’s not being able to meet its state-mandated deadlines could be great — and gave an example.

“If your audit is not approved by Feb. 22, the county will lose funding and be required to pay $3.7 million back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” she told commissioners and about 15 other county employees and spectators.

The $3.7 million grant was money made available by the USDA for improvements to the county’s water and sewer system.

Edmondson said that she didn’t see a realistic solution to what she called “the USDA situation” and suggested to commissioners that they look at a plan for repayment of the funds.

“You are showing a lack of accountability in the manner in which it is conducting its business with the state,” she told commissioners. “We need an audit that shows great improvement.”

She also pointed out that the county had been a help to the state over the years, citing work with Princeville and other communities in the county.

Commissioner Viola Harris, who serves on the Local Government Commission, asked Edmondson if she could suggest three things to try to address the problem.

Edmondson cited a change in audit firms as being part of the problem before suggesting the School of Government at UNC and the LGC as having “a ton of resources to analyze your staffing.”

She also suggested asking the audit firm for ideas as to how it could get the audit completed on time.

After Edmondson’s presentation and Harris’ question, Evans read from a prepared statement and cited a change in audit firms as well as a change of personnel as being the root of the problem.

“In 2016, we lost a long-time finance director, and it took time to find one,” he said.

He added that the current audit firm is working remotely — later responding to a question by stating that the current auditors have not been on-premises to date — and that the former audit firm has been working as bookkeepers to assist in the compilation of the audit.

He cited changes in the reporting procedures as another issue.

Board Chairman Leonard Wiggins told Edmondson, “We know the seriousness of it. We are going to get it fixed. It will be fixed, and we intend it to be fixed in the shortest time frame possible.”

Wiggins, who described Evans’ explanations as “excuses,” called Edmondson’s report a “butt-whipping.”

“I agree with everything Mr. Evans said,” Edmondson said. “They are all challenges, but we have to find a way to get it done and quickly.”

Edgecombe County’s inability to meet its financial reporting obligation could result in the LGC taking control of the county government, as it did with Princeville several years ago.