CPA highlights Norwood’s struggles with retaining a full-time finance officer

Published 2:48 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

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Ken Anderson, a CPA from Anderson, Smith and Wike in Rockingham, told the Norwood Town Council during a special called meeting Thursday that there were several issues he found with the audit of the town’s 2021 financial statements, including expenditures exceeding authorized appropriations and failing to have accounts audited on time.

Most of the issues he attributed to the town’s inability to retain a finance officer. Anderson estimated that over the past three years, around five officers have come and gone, making it hard for Norwood to have any consistency when it comes to accurate governmental accounting.

Part of the problem has been Norwood has not been paying enough for the position, Anderson said.

The average salary for finance officers working in municipalities with a population of around 2,500 or less is about $61,000, yet Norwood has been paying its officers about $40,000. It was not mentioned why so many finance officers have left the town within such a short period of time.

After one of the town’s previous finance officers left, Anderson said he was asked if he knew of someone who could take over. He did have a candidate, but this person had been previously paid $65,000 and when he told the individual what Norwood’s typical salary was like, “that was the end of that conversation,” he said.

“I think you’re going to have to pay more money to find someone who’s really qualified and can really do the job,” Anderson said.

Norwood’s current finance officer, Sarah Richards, commutes to the town and works part-time. She is expected to leave sometime this summer.

For the fiscal 2021-22 budget, the town allocated $699,060 for general government but ended up spending $43,396 more. Expenditures also exceeded authorized appropriations in the town’s culture and recreation department by $37,499.

Anderson said Norwood was found to be in noncompliance with several state statutes, which he said was due largely to the town not being able to retain finance officers. Norwood was supposed to have its audit completed by Oct. 31, 2021, but the town did not meet that requirement, and as a result the audit was not completed until March. Also, the town’s LGC-203 Cash and Investments report was due by July 31, 2021, but Norwood did not file the report until November.

The town advertised the job opening for a new finance officer through the North Carolina League of Municipalities, The Stanly News & Press and the employment website Indeed in January, but has received little response.

“The problem that you’re having is not uncommon,” Anderson told the council, though he had not seen a municipality suffer from quite as much turnover as Norwood has had in such a short time.

“We’re not looking for warm bodies anymore, we need a qualified applicant,” Mayor Linda Campbell said.

Anderson mentioned a CPA from Monroe or Charlotte could come to the town for a few days a week, but that would be a temporary solution. The town could also hire an outside CPA firm to substitute as a finance officer, but that would be really expensive, he said.

Anderson also brought up the town rejoining the The Centralina Council of Governments (CCOG), which could help it find a long-term solution. Campbell said the town left the organization because it always seemed more focused on helping bigger municipalities like Charlotte.

“Every single time we called and needed their help, they didn’t have time for us,” Campbell said.

Councilman Wes Hartsell brought up the idea of hiring an accounting student fresh out of school at Pfeiffer or UNC Charlotte who could start their career in Norwood.

For a young person who had just graduated, $50,000 could be a nice draw, but it would likely not appeal to a more experienced CPA.

“It would be ideal if we found a sharp young person that was mobile and maybe out of school and wanted to move to a lake community and live in a small town,” Town Administrator Scott Howard said.

Though staff turnover has been a problem, Anderson said, financially speaking, the town was in “pretty good shape.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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