April 4, 2013

State withholds money from Atlantic Beach

The town of Atlantic Beach is missing out on some money it could receive from the state because it has not filed audits with the state treasurer’s office in years.

The town of Atlantic Beach is missing out on some money it could receive from the state because it has not filed audits with the state treasurer’s office in years.

The town learned last month in an email from its accountant to its interim town manager that money was being withheld by the state treasurer’s office because of the audits. On Monday town council members discussed the email and the status of the town’s audits, and decided to ask a Columbia-based accounting firm to handle audits for the town.

In the email, which The Sun News requested from the town, accountant Kimberly Vinson, said the town has not completed an audit in nearly a decade and the state is withholding revenue to the town until the audits are complete.

It wasn’t clear Thursday when the state began withholding money. State law says 25 percent of the money can be withheld for reports more than 90 days late, and all funds can be withheld if an audit has not been filed within 13 months of the end of the fiscal year. Atlantic Beach’s fiscal year ends in June.

“We’re approaching eight years without audits,” Vinson wrote in the email. “I believe this leads others to believe that the town is not able to perform its duties as required by the law.”

According to the State Treasurer’s office the town is delinquent for the years 2007 to 2011.

The money being withheld is from court fines or remittances, including things like traffic tickets, said Brian DeRoy, public affairs director for the treasurer’s office.

“The municipality has to have an audit to confirm to the state ‘this is what we made, this is where it all went,’” DeRoy said. “If we don’t get that audit, we can’t be assured that the municipality is getting its money in the right manner that it should.”

The amount of money being withheld from Atlantic Beach was not immediately available Thursday. According to the town’s current budget, the expected revenue from court fines and assessments for 2012-2013 is $20,000.

“We need this funding, especially since we cannot count on the town’s businesses to pay their business license fees on time,” Vinson said.

During Monday’s Town Council meeting, leaders agreed to have Interim Town Manager Linda Cheatham contact V.R. McConnell, the accounting firm that had been hired to audit the town’s books for fiscal years 2005 to 2009. Mayor Retha Pierce, Mayor Elect Jake Evans and Councilwoman Charlene Taylor agreed to ask the firm to complete those audits. They also said any additional costs for the services would need further council approval.

Pierce said Monday she thinks the reason the McConnell firm never completed the audits was because data wasn’t available.

“Now we’ve got a big gap and we got audits not done and the state is holding our money that we badly need for each year than an audit is not done,” she said.

The “severe delinquency,” of the audits would qualify as an emergency allowing the town to bypass the bidding process to hire a firm, according to Vinson, but she said two auditors contacted have “respectfully declined.”

Vinson said more trouble could be on the way for Atlantic Beach the longer the audits remain incomplete.

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