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Hall County blames audit delay on housing grant
Commissioners took control of Neighborhoold Stabilization Program three years ago
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A housing program with strict reporting standards is to blame for Hall County missing a deadline to submit its annual audit to the state, according to local officials.

While county leaders said they expect to finish revisions and submit the audit within a few days, now a month past due, the delay is symptomatic of other problems.

“There’s two things that come around every year: a budget and an audit. So how can you be late?” Commissioner Scott Gibbs asked rhetorically. “I know that we probably don’t have any problems, but how am I supposed to right the ship if there were a problem?”

The county wrested control of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program less than three years ago from a contracted firm with the aim of providing more efficient distribution of grant money to purchase and rehab foreclosed and abandoned homes.

It was a move made to counter the lingering effects of the economic recession on the local real estate market, a way to prioritize affordable homeownership. Public pressure also played a role, officials said.

There were warnings, however.

Tom Oliver, then the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, cautioned that the county was taking on more liability with the $1.9 million grant.

The program is messy because of both federal funding requirements and state review standards, and certainly complicated by the recent memory of fraud and fallout in the housing market.

There is a large volume of paperwork, officials said, and the county’s own personnel shortages may have contributed to the holdup.

Officials said they are considering whether to fill a vacant position to better manage the NSP and avoid similar problems next year.

“I think finance realized there was a difficulty with that” lack of manpower, said commission Chairman Richard Mecum.

Commissioner Jeff Stowe said the audit was late getting started to begin with, as the finance department and BatesCarter, the auditing firm, had conflicting schedules in the fall.

County officials then requested and received an extension from the state, and said they will likely publicly discuss the audit findings at the first commission meeting in February.

Officials said there would be no increased cost for the delay.

Officials said they do not believe there is anything improper occurring with the NSP, but will know more when the audit is complete.

“Without having the final results of the audit, it’s hard for me to actually come to any conclusion,” said county Administrator Randy Knighton. “There is no indication that there are any funds missing, or anything of that nature. Nothing like that.”

Knighton said he expects to make a few changes to improve the audit process going forward.

“I think whenever there is enhanced communication with our auditor, it can only be beneficial,” he added.