Beaufort News

Beaufort County to consolidate accounting functions

Beaufort County will consolidate all of its accounting personnel into one department, a move designed to increase efficiency and oversight of financial transactions, officials say.

An accountant with the county airports joined the Finance Department about a month ago, and three more -- from Emergency Management, Stormwater Management and Parks & Leisure Services-- moved in this week.

"This is just the first pass at it," said chief financial officer David Starkey. "By the end of all this, most departments will not have any fiscal staff."

Starkey said layoffs are not planned but may be considered as consolidation continues.

"We're looking at all options," he said. "As time rolls on, we're going to be more and more figuring that out."

Administrators also aren't sure how many accountants will ultimately be included in the restructuring. Starkey has said perhaps "a dozen" employees would be affected, but officials gave no precise figures Tuesday.

"What we're doing is we're assessing the work volume and the workload," deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said.

Many county departments have their own accountants, which has been problematic, Starkey said. "It just kind of becomes chaos."

For example, financial information isn't in one single place and can take time to percolate through the system. A centralized accounting staff will have such information more immediately available.

"We can figure out what is going on on a day-by-day basis, as opposed to a week or two later," Hill said.

Centralizing financial information solves another problem, too, Starkey said.

"You get out of the redundancies of two sets of books," he said.

Starkey said consolidation will allow heads of other departments to focus on their operations and make accountants answerable to finance professionals.

"You've got a ton more oversight," Starkey said.

Hill said he and Starkey have been working to improve county operations since they were hired two years ago.

"During that time, we've been going through every area of operations trying to streamline and be more efficient," Hill said.

The consolidated accounting staff will work out of the Finance Department's offices in Beaufort. To make space for the additional accountants, the Purchasing Department was moved to an adjacent building. Hill said those employees now occupy space vacated last year by Engineering Department layoffs.

The accounting consolidation won't include anyone working for an elected official, such as the county treasurer. Under South Carolina statute, Hill said, "those folks are employed by the elected officeholder."