CANTON — The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to increase the funding for a forensic audit into the county’s failed partnership with Ball Ground Recycling by about $80,000.
Commissioners voted unanimously at their meeting to raise the price cap on the audit being conducted by McClendon and Associates from $319,000 to $400,000, bringing the final price tag in at more than five times the original bill of $75,000. The board approved the additional funding while setting a completion deadline for the audit of Sep. 12.
County Manager Jerry Cooper told the board that Rhonda McClendon, owner of the Newnan-based firm, has advised that the extra money will be sufficient to complete her audit into the county’s failed partnership with Ball Ground Recycling, which has left the county on the hook for $100,000 in monthly lease payments on the facility.
“She is confident that she’ll be able to complete her work with those dollars,” Cooper said.
Cooper added that McClendon plans to have the audit completed no later than Sep. 12, at which time the results will be handed over to District Attorney Shannon Wallace.
Commissioner Brian Poole made the motion Tuesday night to approve the price increase.
Poole said Wednesday that although the latest price is steep, it is important for the county to find answers to its questions about the deal, no matter the cost.
“I feel like it’s the right thing to do,” Poole said. “We need to have a completed audit, we need to have it finished to know if there was any wrongdoing. This whole ordeal has been a big cloud hanging over us. The citizens have a right to know where their money went.”
Commissioner Harry Johnston, who reacted with frustration when the auditor asked for its last increase in April, was more receptive Tuesday night.
Johnston said if Wallace is supportive of raising the cap on the audit, then he is as well, because she is overseeing the process.
“It’s my understanding that the district attorney, who’s really in control of this audit, is supportive of the need for this additional funding and in fact believes it’s necessary,” Johnston said.
Johnston asked Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens, who had discussed the matter with Wallace, if his understanding was correct. Ahrens later confirmed that she appeared to be receptive to the measure, assuming the audit is thorough and turned in on time.
Because Wallace is controlling the audit, Johnston said the board should honor recommendations.
“We’ve turned control of this audit over to the district attorney, and I think we should (look) to her to tell us if it’s really necessary to spend this additional money,” Johnston said. “Really, we’re subject to the audit more than we’re controllers. Unfortunately, we’re also the funders of it.”
Wallace said Wednesday that while she does want a deadline and wants the audit to be completed efficiently, she cannot tell the commission what to pay for the audit.
“It is not within my purview as the district attorney to authorize or approve of the amount of county funds that will be paid for this audit. The sole position I can take and have taken on this issue is that it is my hope and expectation that the audit will be efficiently performed and a written report be issued to me without delay,” Wallace said Wednesday. “To that end, I did recommend a deadline be issued for the conclusion of this audit.”
Wallace said that she has been in contact with the auditor, but did not know how much is left to be completed on the audit.
During the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night, the board also:
• Announced another rescheduling of a public hearing on the plans for the Etowah Community Development. The hearing on the almost 1,400-acre development with a proposed 1,800 homes will now be Sep. 3. Ahrens said the county will make documentation of the plans available to the public during its Aug. 20 meeting;
• Announced a public hearing for its meeting on Aug. 20 on a new capital improvement element and the 2013 annual impact fee report, which will be sent to the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Department of Community Affairs for review;
• Voted unanimously to approve a proposal from Moreland Altobelli Associates to perform a road design for Old Doss Lane under their annual contract in the amount of $11,000;
• Unanimously voted to authorize Cooper to execute the annual sub-grant contract with the ARC and amend the contract to decrease the county’s senior services budget by $17,144;
• Unanimously approved the fiscal 2014 annual contract with the Department of Human Services for $159,104 for funding to support the Cherokee Area Transportation System;
• Voted unanimously to change the effective date of a new tax collection commission rate charged to the Cherokee County School District from Oct. 1, the date previously approved, to Sep. 1. The new rate will be 2.3 percent; and
• Unanimously voted to submit a list of 16 roads totaling in at 25.74 miles to the Georgia Department of Transportation for resurfacing funds under the 2014 Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant in the amount of $1,592,611.