Viewpoint: A New Year's message from Chairman Mallory
BY JAMES B. MALLORY III
As Iredell County rings in the New Year we can count the blessings of the past and look forward to the opportunities that will unfold in 2019 and beyond. Ever-increasing change will challenge us to creatively manage and deliver required services to our citizens, solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.
All of these endeavors depend on the revenues that are generated primarily from local property taxes set at 52.75 cents per $100 of assessed value and augmented by sales taxes of 6.75 cents per $1.00 of covered sale. It’s important to realize that in North Carolina most teacher salaries, public health, social services, ICATS and the court system are paid for by the state or federal governments with some cost sharing or supplementation by the county. Roads, water and sewer are the responsibility of the state and municipalities. The county is responsible for providing the facilities for many of these services, plus a significant portion of education funding, public safety to include the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Communications, Emergency Management, Parks and Recreation as well as solid waste disposal, zoning and building code enforcement. Volunteer fire departments are supported by a separate property tax ranging from 6 to 7 cents for areas outside of Statesville and Mooresville.
With that being said, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners has a long history of delivering these services in a cost-effective and efficient manner as witnessed by the fact that we have a lower tax rate than any of the nine contiguous counties and one of the lowest in the state. We have achieved this by focusing on creating conditions conducive to economic development in an effort to grow our tax base and generate good-paying jobs for our citizens. Increasing the tax base is critical to maintaining our low tax rate.
Economic development is Iredell County’s first strategic objective. During the past three years, we have worked closely with Mooresville, Statesville and Troutman to unify efforts to support potential business relocation and expansion by combining two separate economic development corporations in July 2018 into the new Iredell County Economic Development Corporation. The synergy of a unified economic development approach is already paying benefits.
Iredell County’s unemployment rate is less than 3 percent and based on North Carolina’s criteria for economic health (unemployment rate, population growth, median household income and per capita to tax base ratio) we rank No. 5 out of 100 counties, edging out even Mecklenburg County.
As we look to the future it is helpful to examine how we have arrived at our current position. An available and ready workforce is the No. 1 site selection criteria for business. In fact, over 20,000 employees commute from other counties to work in Iredell County. However, we can’t count on this pipeline for the future and must therefore invest in education to prepare our students for college and create and sustain a local employment-ready workforce. In short, Economic Development and Education are joined at the hip and are mutually dependent. I am happy to report that the Iredell-Statesville Schools, Mooresville Graded School District and Mitchell Community College have answered the call and are working diligently with the county, economic development community and businesses to achieve these results.
The aforementioned sets the table for everything else we do. Although we adopt an annual budget, the parameters of the annual budget are essentially determined within a four-year budget cycle, which is driven by a quadrennial property tax revaluation. On February 1, 2019, property owners will be notified of the new valuations of their property. In 2015 we experienced a slight increase countywide, but values actually dropped slightly in the majority of the county’s townships. This year we anticipate a much more robust result that will enable us to maintain our healthy fund balance, which helped us to achieve a AAA bond rating from one of the three rating agencies.
The healthy fund balance also allowed us to build a new Public Safety Building and County Detention Facility, which will both be completed in 2019, as well as issue bonds to begin building a Allied Health Services building for Mitchell Community College on the Old Davis Hospital site and two new I-SS middle schools as well as renovating and expanding Mooresville High School, South Iredell and North Iredell high schools and Cool Spring Elementary and assorted other projects. Renovations to the Old County Courthouse, which houses the Iredell County Government Center, as well as Government Center South are proceeding apace. Expansion of the Iredell County Parks and Recreation system with the new Jennings Road Park, East Iredell and Barium Springs Recreation Center are taking our ability to provide recreation to a new level.
Like most communities, we do have problems to solve. A collaborative effort to address the devastating effects of the opioid and meth crises are gaining steam, and the county is participating in a nationwide lawsuit against drug companies and distributors to recoup some of our expenses. We are working closely with our state representatives and local communities to determine the nature and extent of higher than normal cancer rates in some areas of the county and decide what actions can be taken to protect our citizens. We will work with the schools and law enforcement to determine the best strategies to achieve safety and security in our schools.
In summary, as a Board of Commissioners, we look forward to working with all of our stakeholders and citizens to continue to posture Iredell County as the premiere location to live, work and raise a family.
James B. Mallory III is the chairman of the Iredell County Board of Commissioners.