Maryland will not use sanctions against Dorchester County, following assurances from county finance officials that the pending financial audits for FY 21 and 22, which have been long-standing concerns, are nearing completion.
During Tuesday’s county council meeting, council president Lenny Pfeffer confirmed that a combination of an independent audit firm, consultants, and county staff are close to finalizing the oldest missing financial audits.
“We are informed that the financial audit for fiscal year 2021 is 99% complete, with just around two more weeks needed for the final submission,” Pfeffer commented. He expressed optimism that this progress would pave the way for timely completions of the audits for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
Pfeffer went on to detail a series of challenges that stymied the county’s efforts in ensuring timely audit submissions. Key staff departures, coupled with Dorchester’s salary caps making replacements difficult, posed significant hurdles. The county’s transition to a new accounting system, which lacked adequate training, further compounded the problems. A particularly concerning event was a ransomware attack on the county’s computer system, forcing the destruction of 24 data servers to safeguard the personal information of Dorchester’s residents.
Acknowledging the oversight, Pfeffer stated, “The responsibility for not meeting audit submission deadlines rests with the county council, both past and present. However, our present council recognizes this and has prioritized rectifying the situation.”
Reassuring the community, Pfeffer emphasized, “No funds are missing, and there’s no sign of any criminal activity. Dorchester County continues to meet its financial obligations and maintains a good rapport with local banks. We’ve been transparent with state officials about our progress.”
As part of its ongoing efforts, the county has engaged a second audit firm to speed up the process for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. Furthermore, the National Government Finance Officers Association has been contracted to conduct a thorough review of the finance department, ensuring all best practices are in place.
Pfeffer concluded with a plea for understanding, “We urge our residents and stakeholders to be patient. We’re dedicating all necessary resources to address these issues and learn from past mistakes.”
By Jim Brady