Beth Wood during Zoom meeting

North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood speaks to participants of a Zoom meeting hosted by the Currituck and Outer Banks Chambers of Commerce, Tuesday.

State Auditor Beth Wood said last week her office already has been asked by state lawmakers to audit the federal money the state has received for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That is already an audit on my list of things to do,” Wood said.

Wood, who has been North Carolina’s state auditor since 2009, was speaking during a Zoom meeting hosted by the Currituck and Outer Banks Chambers of Commerce on Tuesday. Wood provided a 30-minute overview of how the N.C. Office of the State Auditor saves taxpayers money by sniffing out wasteful spending.

After her presentation, Wood fielded several questions from meeting participants.

When asked about her office’s most memorable investigations, Wood said one involved a community college that was granting its staff 11 more paid holidays than workers at other state agencies received.

In 2017, the state auditor’s office received a complaint that staff at Central Carolina Community College were given 11 more paid holidays than the standard 12 paid holidays state employees at other agencies are granted. That’s according to a report of the investigation.

Her office’s ensuing investigation revealed that the college had granted employees a total of 23 paid holidays in 2016-17, Wood said.

According to the report, the extra 11 paid holidays resulted in the college paying its employees more than $862,000 for days they did not work. The report also found that the approval of the extra holidays was the result of the State Board of Community Colleges’ lack of a specific policy stating the allowable number of paid holidays.

Wood said the investigation of CCCC, which has campuses in Chatham, Hartnett and Lee counties, revealed that a total of 32 of the state’s 58 community colleges had provided employees more than 12 paid holidays a year. According to the report, College of The Albemarle was not among those 32 colleges.

Responding to the state auditor’s findings in April 2018, the State Board approved a policy directing community colleges to grant employees a maximum of 12 paid holidays a year, according to a news release at the time.

Josh Bass, president of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce, asked Wood how often her office conducts investigations.

“It’s not frequent but it’s not unusual,” Wood said.

An audit team consists of about three to four people and her office can have up to 30 active audits at one time in a year, she said.

The state of North Carolina operates on a budget of about $46 billion a year, Wood said. About $13 billion of that comes from state income tax, another $8 billion from sales taxes, about $2 billion in gasoline taxes and about a $1 billion from corporate taxes. The remaining $22 billion is awarded in the form of federal grants for Medicaid, food stamps, clean air and highway infrastructure, student loans and other projects, Wood said.

Whether that funding is directly from the state or the federal government, it all comes from tax-paying residents, Wood said. That’s where her office comes in.

“It’s our job to audit how those tax dollars are being spent,” she said. “That is the job of the state auditor.”

Wood’s office oversees the spending of several state agencies, such as the departments of Transportation and of Public Instruction, plus all 17 of the University of North Carolina System institutions and the state’s 58 community colleges.

That oversight is done through different types of audits and investigations, she said.

Wood said her office has nearly 150 employees, of which 126 are auditors and about half of them are certified public accountants.

One question Wood said she’s often asked is, “Who audits the auditors?”

Her office is required by the federal government to undergo an independent peer review audit every three years, she said. However, she said she doesn’t think that audit is enough.

That’s why she also seeks independent reviews of an audit before releasing its findings, she said.