Hertford County’s bond rating rises

Published 10:04 am Monday, September 24, 2012

WINTON – A national firm with a successful 152-year history of tracking the finances and debt of public and private corporations has given Hertford County local government a “thumbs-up.”

Standard & Poor’s Rating Services has increased the county’s rating to A+ from A. Company officials say that Hertford County has a stable outlook, despite being in an area of the state where unemployment is higher than state and national averages.

Despite those jobless numbers (11.3 percent as of June 2012) and the county’s rural nature, Standard & Poor’s was impressed with the diversity of companies now calling Hertford County as home. It was especially noteworthy that their report mentioned the recent influx into the county of renewable energy companies, aiding in what is now $1.4 billion of assessed property in Hertford County, a 13 percent increase over the 2011 numbers.

As far as finances, S&P officials said Hertford County’s debt burden remains low at $400 per capita and less than one percent of market value. Those officials also praised the fact that, historically, the county utilizes very little, if any, of fund balance amounts appropriated. At the end of FY 2011, the county had a fund balance of $5.8 million, or what they called a, “very strong 26 percent of expenditures.”

S&P’s report also noted the county’s plans to seek a private lender for $12 million to support the new courthouse/administrative office project. Thanks to a quarter-cent sales tax hike approved by the voters in 2010, the county immediately began banking those funds as a means to help pay the debt service on the two new facilities. Bids on that project are expected to be advertised in early October.

“(S&P) officials expect minimal impact on the county’s general operating budget (with the courthouse/office project),” as written in an Aug. 27 letter from Standard & Poor’s to Hertford County Manager Loria Williams. “Given that there are no other significant capital needs identified by (county) management, we expect the debt burden to remain low, even after the courthouse financing.”

In closing, S&P officials said that Hertford County’s stable outlook, “reflects our expectation that the county will continue to maintain a strong financial position and structurally balanced budget within a two-year horizon.”

The news of the rating increase was shared by Williams with the Hertford County Board of Commissioners at their regularly scheduled meeting held Sept. 17.

“This reports shows we have good financial footing and good, sound financial practices; it’s something I’m very proud about,” Williams said. “This is our second bond rating increase over the past four or five years.”

“This is great news; you (Williams) and your staff are doing an excellent job in watching over our finances,” said Commissioner Howard Hunter III.

“We took a pounding, took a lot of abuse, back when we first hired Ms. Williams,” Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman recalled. “Well, this shows the type of person we hired and put at the helm of the ship was very capable of doing her job. Ms. Williams and her staff are doing a great job.”

Even the county’s attorney, Chuck Revelle, weighed in on the good news.

“This is a big deal,” Revelle said of the rating increase. “The folks at lending institutions look at the same things that Standard & Poor’s looks at. This means real savings in real money for all Hertford County taxpayers over a period of time.”

“I could not do this without the support of this board, and the staff, to include (Economic Development Director) Bill Early,” Williams responded to the accolades. “Ya’ll let us do what we do best….look for every means to squeeze out every penny of every dollar.”

“Reading this report makes me very proud to be a commissioner in Hertford County,” remarked Johnnie Ray Farmer. “We’re seeing so many public and private entities being downgraded in their ratings. Hertford County is moving in the right direction.”

“Look at the counties around us and compare them to Hertford County,” Freeman added.

Hunter jumped on that comparison, noting that Hertford County “has not raised taxes since I’ve been a commissioner; we haven’t laid off any county employees; we’ve given to our employees.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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