An audit of Johnston County’s 2015-16 finances found healthy coffers and no surprises.
The auditor, Alan Thompson of the accounting firm Thomspon, Price, Scott and Adams, said there were no significant findings or contradictions.
“The audit report is good,” he said.
Thompson walked the Johnston County Board of Commissioners through the highlights of the audit during its meeting earlier this month. Perhaps most important, Johnston has money in the bank. Its fund balance, essentially the county’s savings account, stands at $61.68 million, or 23.04 percent of general fund spending. The county’s savings have grown by $21 million since 2012, and Johnston’s cash reserves remain well above its required minimum of 15 percent of spending.
Johnston has maintained the same 78-cent property-tax rate for more than a decade, but in the last five years, county property values have grown by nearly $2 billion, adding more than $16 million to in annual tax revenue. This past spring, Johnston approved a $211 million budget, a figure that’s grown roughly $24 million in the last five years.
Thompson attributed much of Johnston’s financial security to the fact that citizens pay their taxes on time. He said his firm does the books of 12 counties and many towns and that Johnston’s tax-collection rate of 99.86 percent is “off the charts.”
“This is probably a bad analogy in this professional environment, but the only thing I can say negatively about the tax-collection percentage, it’s like being in school and you have this really smart kid who always screwed up the curve for everybody else,” Thompson said. “Well, that’s Johnston County tax collection.”
Thompson said a high collection rate helps the county save money because it factors into bond ratings and therefore interest rates the county pays when it borrows money.
“With the size of the county and the income disparity you may have, to get that type of tax-collection rate is phenomenal,” Thompson said. “It has an impact on your bod rating, which does lower your debt cost, which does return to the citizens of the county more money because the tax-collection percentage is so high, because that is something the debt agencies are looking at.”
The commissioners took the collection rate as a sign of support from residents.
“It tells me they’re agreeing with what we’re trying to do as a county,” board chairman Jeff Carver said.
The total debt in the county stands at $462 million. The audit report noted that about $321 million worth of debt belongs to school assets. Johnston County has committed itself to paying for capital projects through bond referendums, and Commissioner Cookie Pope said she believes it’s been a success.
“There were those who said early on when we started our bonds for eduction, ‘you can’t do it, you’ll not be able to do that,’ but we’ve proven them wrong,” Pope said. “But thanks again to the citizens of this county for approving our way of doing things.”