TRENTON, N.J. - Mercer County has earned its second consecutive "clean" audit after the independent audit group that reported on County finances found only minor issues, illustrating the County continues to improve its financial standing despite difficulties caused by the recession.
The audit was performed by The Mercadien Group of Hamilton, which reviewed the financial statements of Mercer County from Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2007. The auditors also examined the County's compliance with state and federal laws, gauged its internal control over financial reporting, and measured the accuracy of its stated financial strength.
Mercer County was given a "clean opinion," the highest opinion possible at the conclusion of an audit, according to Gene Elias, a partner of The Mercadien Group, who delivered the audit to the County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders Dec. 16.
"Your records have improved. Just a few years ago, we were not able to issue a clean opinion of Mercer County's finances, which is significant," Elias said. Mercadien has audited Mercer County for the past decade.
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said in a statement that he was extremely pleased with the result of the audit at a time when both the public and private sectors are suffering from an unforgiving economic climate.
"In the past five years, Mercer County has worked diligently to restore integrity and transparency to County finances. It is remarkable that we have been able to achieve a second near-perfect audit in back-to-back years while also constantly balancing our budget to adapt to the recession," Hughes said. "We will continue to work hard to improve so that our own economic future remains bright."
The audit found Mercer County should resolve two outstanding issues from prior years, but Elias described these "findings" - the term used by the auditor to describe potentially harmful reporting problems - as minor.
The first finding calls for the County to annually update its "fixed assets inventory," which lists properties, vehicles, equipment and other assets owned by the County. The audit said the inventory was current at the end of 2006 but not at the end of 2007.
The second finding recommends the County review old grants receivable and old authorizations for improvements and either collect on those grants or cancel the old authorizations in order to streamline finances.
Mercadien representatives also reported to the freeholder board Dec. 16 that the firm required no audit adjustments for the County, that there were no questionable accounting practices, and that there were no disputes with the Hughes administration during the audit process.
At its agenda meeting Dec. 16 at the County's McDade Administration Building in Trenton, the freeholders praised both the administration and Mercadien for working closely together.
"We're certainly glad to see the audit getting (submitted) in a timely fashion," said Freeholder Chair Lucylle R.S. Walter.
Freeholder Pat Colavita agreed and said consecutive clean audits would have been considered too lofty a goal even a few years ago.
"I can remember five years ago what that audit looked like," he said. "We've come such a long way in such a short period of time."
The audit performed by Mercadien on the County's 2006 finances and presented in October 2007 was clear of any "findings," marking the first time in many years that Mercer County achieved a clean audit report.
Last year, Mercadien reported the two findings from 2005 had been resolved. The first, that the County had not installed a fixed-asset accounting system, had been a finding in at least 10 prior audits, and the second, that general capital fund activity was not completely maintained in the County's computer system, dated to 2001. In 2004, there were four findings that have since been resolved.