It would be easy to underestimate the value of the county’s recent upgrade to its bond rating — unless, perhaps, you are a property owner.
It is not hyperbole to say that the improved bond rating could save millions of dollars in interest over the life of the financing of a single capital project. With the county facing the possibility of two such projects, a new jail and a new high school that combined could cost as much as $85 million, that algebra might eventually be applied.
County officials seem surprised at the recent news of the upgrade, with Finance Director Kellie Blue saying she feared a downgrade. She and County Manager Ricky Harris believe the upgrade, which comes despite a depressed local economy, is a result of efforts to rebuild the county’s reserve fund, which is now comfortably above what the state insists upon.
They dutifully deflect some of the credit to the county commissioners, for whom they work. So we will give the administrators a round of applause here.
The commissioners, we agree, have been frugal in recent years in their approach to running the government — except, of course, for the way they pay and provide benefits to themselves, a horse that isn’t dead but we won’t beat today beyond that mention.
In fact, Robeson County in recent years has sidestepped some of the hard decisions that have been made by local governments, mostly layoffs, through several initiatives, consolidating services, delaying capital projects and leaving unfilled or eliminating vacant positions.
This is all good news for property owners, especially those with homes, businesses or both. Robeson County’s tax rate of 77 cents for every $100 of property remains in the Top 20 in the state, and although the commissioners wouldn’t dare suggest an increase with the primary in May, this dike could eventually burst.
So far all the talk of the best method of paying for a jail or high school has been an increase in the sales tax, a method we would endorse. But a sales tax takes more from the rich while hurting the poor the worst, so it’s not like that revenue route is without pain.
We will have to see what happens, but it’s safe to say that should the county cave to pressure from the state and build a jail, or construct a tech high school as an investment in our future, the improved bond rating will keep millions of dollars in the pockets of this county’s residents.
On this day, that is worth a smile.