The Rating Outlook is Stable.
The bonds are general obligations of the county secured by its full faith and credit and unlimited taxing power.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
STRONG FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: Financial flexibility is ample, as evinced by robust reserve levels, high liquidity levels, and sizable discretionary spending for pay-go capital.
LIMITED ECONOMIC PROFILE: Manufacturing continues to play a large role in the local economy, though this concentration is somewhat offset by large higher education, healthcare and local government sectors. Economic indicators remain slightly below average.
LOW DEBT AND CARRYING COSTS: Debt levels are very low and direct debt is expected to remain so given minimal capital needs and rapid principal amortization. Pension and other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities do not represent large cost pressures and overall carrying costs for debt service, pension and OPEB are low.
The rating is sensitive to shifts in fundamental credit characteristics including the county's stable economic base and strong financial management profile. The Stable Outlook reflects Fitch's expectation that such shifts are unlikely.
SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL FLEXIBILITY
The county maintains significant financial flexibility as evidenced in its large general fund balances, relatively low tax rates and ample taxing margin. Fiscal 2013 general fund balance was
Reserves have increased in five of the last seven fiscal years, with draws in fiscal years 2009 and 2013 for capital. Expenditure reductions have been minimal, retaining considerable flexibility going forward. Officials expect to close fiscal 2014 with a
The bulk of county revenues are derived from property taxes, so its positive financial performance has been aided by sustained tax base growth. Taxable assessed value (TAV) increased steadily throughout the recession with 2014 marking the first decline in six years, for which a slight drop of .9% is projected.
Fitch views positively the county's preserved taxing flexibility as a cushion to offset unanticipated expenditures in future years. The county's conservative financial management has long held tax rates flat. The available margin under the fiscal 2014 tax cap is 4.2 mills, which represents potential additional revenue of
MODEST ECONOMIC GROWTH
Economic growth has been somewhat hindered by the county's distance from
The local employment base remains centered on government and education, though the county's economy has shifted away from small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies, which have declined among top employers, offset by expansions in health care. Duke Energy and
Wealth indicators for the county are below state averages and at least 20% below national averages. Population growth over the past decade has been modest, as strong growth through 2008 gave way to recessionary softening. The county's unemployment rate has traditionally exceeded that of the nation; however, as of
EXCEPTIONALLY LOW DEBT AND CARRYING COSTS
Overall debt levels are very low at
Retirement costs are manageable. The county participates in two state-administered pension plans, the South Carolina Retirement System (SCRS) and Police Officers Retirement System (PORS), both of which are cost-sharing, multi-employer defined benefit plans. For fiscal 2013, the county contributed an aggregate
Fitch views positively the county's prudent management of its OPEB liability. The county eliminated OPEB for employees hired after
Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'.
In addition to the sources of information identified in Fitch's Tax-Supported Rating Criteria, this action was additionally informed by information from Creditscope,
--'Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (
--'U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (
Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
Source: Fitch Ratings
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