By Joel Hall
Clayton is off the blacklist of a state watchdog agency that monitors counties' eligibility for much-needed grants.
In order to keep its funding eligibility, and ensure its status in seeking future grants, the county must provide an independent, 2008 fiscal audit.
The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts (GDOAA) has erased Clayton County from its list of blacklisted governments with a notation that the county must complete an audit of its fiscal 2008 budget to receive funding through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
"Now that Clayton County is in compliance with the audit report submission requirements ... they are considered eligible for most state grant transmittals," said Ed Blaha, director of GDOAA's nonprofit and local government audits division.
"We still need a grant certification form on a local assistance grant from DCA, and under [the Official Code of Georgia Annotated], that impacts the county's eligibility for other local assistance grants and governor's emergency fund grants.
"The decision to fund grants awarded to the county during the period that the county was in noncompliance rests with the individual state granter agencies," Blaha added.
Blaha said in March that the GDOAA sent a letter to the county informing it that the GDOAA had not yet received its fiscal 2007 audit report. After the GDOAA received no response from a follow-up letter in July, the GDOAA flagged the county, he said.
Since Dec. 22, "we consider the county eligible for most state grant transmittals," said Blaha.
The Georgia DCA, a major state grants agency, however, has said it must receive the county's fiscal 2008 audit before it can disseminate funds appropriated to the county.
DCA is holding a total of $4,550 in grant funding, according to Kim King, DCA spokesperson. One grant is designated for Assist Choice Matters, Inc., for "technology upgrades," and the other is for Youth Under Construction, a character-building program for secondary students.
"There are a number of federal funds that flow through DCA," she continued. "Until they get that form, they aren't square."
King credited the county for taking the necessary steps to get back into proper compliance. She said that on Dec. 31, the county finance department delivered the DCA a check for $6,353.47 to pay off unused grant funding.
"When they could not show exactly where all the funds had been spent in their original purpose, they brought those remaining funds back," she said. "That is something that [other] local governments have done. They are just taking all the steps they need to get back into compliance. We definitely applaud their efforts."
Eldrin Bell, Clayton County Board of Commissioners chairman, said he is not yet ready to celebrate. The county has yet to submit its fiscal 2008 audit report.
In November, the GDOAA granted the county's request for a six-month extension on the submittal due date, which was originally Dec. 31, 2008.
"My concern is '08, because [the fiscal 2008 audit report] is not ready," said Bell. "While I want to rejoice, I am concerned about what penalties we may have for '08.
"I would like to have it already in [Blaha's] hands, but it is not prepared," he continued. "The finance department originally said it would have the '08 audit by Jan. 15. Now it appears it is Jan. 31. That leaves me uncertain."
Alex Cohilas, Clayton County's chief of staff, in addition to being its fire chief, said the county expects to have its fiscal 2008 audit report by the end of the month.
"The county finance department is working daily with the auditors, and we are making progress. We've been in good communication with them. I'm pleased that they are noting that progress has been made.
"We have begun the process of evaluating everything we have learned about this experience," said Cohilas. "We're going to continue looking into all of our practices and procedures to make sure that timeliness in reporting is never an issue again."
Angela Jackson, the county's finance director, was unavailable for comment on Friday.