Beaufort County Council reviews annual financial report, purchasing rules

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Beaufort County was issued a clean bill of financial health Monday by auditing firm Cherry Bekaert.

"We are ready, or will be in the next week or so, to sign off on a clean audit opinion," said Bonnie Cox, a partner with the firm's Augusta, Ga., office.

Cox and Jessica Cawley, the firm's senior manager, presented their findings to Beaufort County Council at its meeting Monday in Beaufort.

Each year the county hires an external firm to audit the county's finances, in addition to its own internal audit, to identify any areas of concern and make recommendations for any necessary fixes.

This year's clean report further demonstrates the county is in good financial health, said county chief financial officer Alicia Holland.

"I think we've done well financially with what we've had to deal with," she said. "With rising costs, we've still managed to be fiscally healthy with the same millage rate."

The comprehensive annual financial report details increases in both the county's revenues and expenses, which showed the county increased its net position by $28.2 million in fiscal year 2013, which ended last June.

Additional revenues included a $1.2 million increase in collected property taxes, a $2.4 million increase in charges for services and a $10.9 million increase in capital grants and contributions for projects such as the Bluffton Parkway flyover and S.C. 170's widening.

Additional expenses in 2013 included a $3.5 million increase on public works costs, including road improvement projects; a $1.2 million increase in public safety expenses; and a $2.2 million increase in cultural and recreation expenses, mostly for supplies and materials at the new St. Helena library, according to the report.

Cox and the external audit presented a handful of recommendations, including producing more itemized receipts for the finance department.

As part of one change, for example, the county finance department will create an additional field in its data to more efficiently track where federal dollars are spent in the county, Holland said.

Because fiscal year 2013 ended in June, the fiscal year 2014 comprehensive review will be the first to include approved tax increases after the county's property value reassessment last fall, Holland said.

"The fiscal year '14 review that we come out with this fall will tell the true picture," Holland said.

In other action, the council gave preliminary approval to changes in county purchasing policies that require certain levels of approval for increasing purchase sizes.

Under the current rule, purchases of more than $10,000 require county administrator approval; purchases over $25,000 require council committee approval; and purchases of more than $50,000 require County Council approval.

The proposed rule would increase those limits, so that purchases above $100,000 would require County Council approval and above $50,000 would require council committee approval.

The council is required to vote on the new rule three times before it takes effect, and hold a session for public comments. Monday's vote was the first on the changes.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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