County’s bond rating bumped up

First Posted: 11/4/2013

LUMBERTON — Robeson County for the first time in more than a decade has seen its bond rating increased from A to A+ by two major financial services companies — Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.

Kellie Blue, the county’s finance director, delivered the news to the county Board of Commissioners on Monday.

Blue said it is the first time in the 16 years she has worked for the county that the county’s bond rating has been upped from an “A with a positive outlook,” to an “A+ with a positive outlook.” The county was notified on Sept. 30.

“The stable outlook reflects our expectation that Robeson County will maintain its strong financial position supported by its strong liquidity and budget flexibility,” said Blue, reading from Standard & Poor’s summary of the county’s financial state. “Also, given the limited debt plans, we expect its debt profile to remain strong.”

According to County Manager Ricky Harris, the improved rating could save the county a lot of money down the road.

“It means our credit worthiness is better, it means the loans we get and the refinancing we get will be at better rates,” he said. “It’s really a big thing for us.”

Harris said the county’s fund balance is about 22 percent of the overall budget, and that the county’s has risen in recent years while fund balances for many local governments have suffered because of the poor economy.

Blue said that the financial companies realize there are significant financial restraints placed on the county, such as a weak economy, that cannot directly be influenced by local financial decisions.

“We, however, believe that the limitations of the local economy, coupled with the high unemployment rate, will continue to constrain the rating,” Blue said while reading from the Standard & Poor’s summary. “As such, we do not expect the rating to change within the outlook period.”

Blue credited the commissioners.

“You had to tighten your belt when spending,” she said. “You had to say ‘no’ when it wasn’t always the most popular and political thing to do.”

In other business, Commissioner Hubert Sealey joined the other seven members of the board and voted in favor of extending to June 30, 2016, the contract of MED1, the county’s current provider of non-emergency convalescent ambulance services.

Last month, Sealey voted against extending the company’s contract by two years, urging that the county itself look more closely at providing the service or consider rebidding the contract. Sealey made no comment Monday when the commissioners voted on the issue. He told The Robesonian after the meeting, however, that he did not push the other commissioners to rebid the contract.

“Those guys had their minds made up,” he said.

A vote on extending the contract had to be taken again Monday because a unanimous vote was needed to approve the contract on the first reading.

No one spoke at public hearing Monday concerning Med1.

On Monday, the commissioners also:

— Appointed Kimberly Jones as interim attorney until a full-time attorney can be hired to replace Hal Kinlaw.

Jones, who currently is attorney for the Department of Social Services and the Lumberton Housing Authority, joins former Superior Court Judge Gary Locklear as an interim county attorney. County Manager Ricky Harris told The Robesonian that Jones was hired because Locklear is not available to attend commissioner meetings on the first Monday of the month, while Jones cannot attend meetings on the third Monday of the month.

— Approved a request for the Southeast Area Transit System to apply for Community Transportation Program funding. The requested grant is for $280,909, with the local share being $38,090.

— Approved conditional-use permits for American Towers LLC to establish telecommunications towers on property located in the Whitehouse and Gaddys townships.

— Approved a proposal from the N.C. Department of Transportation to acquire right-of-way for improvements of a bridge located on Leesville Street and Happy Hill Road.

— Approved a conditional-use permit request from Phillip and Amy Locklear of Union to allow for the establishment of a photography studio on .89 acres in a Residential Agricultural District.

— Approved a request by Jerry Cummings, of Burnt Swamp, to rezone a 5.23-acre tract in a Residential Agricultural Area to Residential District to allow for the establishment of apartment buildings.

— Approved a conditional-use permit from Gerald Strickland, of Smiths, to allow for the storage of commercial vehicles on a 3.77-acre tract and a 4.38-acre tract in a Residential Agricultural District.

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