Originally created 02/02/05

County finds budget problems



AIKEN - An independent audit of Aiken County's budget from last year shows the county in sound financial shape, despite ending the year with $605,000 less than it had at the start.

The shortfall and other uncertainties in the audit, however, raised red flags for several Aiken County Council members, who reviewed the document during a Tuesday work session.

They learned that about a third of the financial loss was caused by complications with new billing equipment within the Emergency Management Services division, which led to a several-month backlog of unpaid bills for paramedic calls.

Finance Director Terry Bodiford told council members that the county had worked out kinks in the equipment, which was installed about a year ago, and that most of the money would be collected by June.

"By June, you'll recapture 99 percent of it," he said.

The problem occurred when the county simultaneously installed new computer equipment that paramedics used to document their work and separate billing software that didn't communicate effectively. Officials were told beforehand that the technology was compatible, but it took about six months to make it work.

"A regular business would have gone belly-up using that kind of thinking," Councilwoman Kathy Rawls said.

Council members also questioned why $2.3 million was transferred into the county's general fund, which appeared in the audit to be making up for a $2.2 million shortfall.

They also questioned why the $811,000 fee in lieu of taxes paid by Savannah River Site wasn't listed in the same account as other companies that pay similar bills.

"I'll be honest, I don't know where we are," Councilman Eddie Butler said about shifting money from one account to another.

He and Councilman Scott Singer invited the accounting firm that conducted the audit, Baird & Co., to further review the document at an administrative subcommittee meeting in two weeks.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com