01/27/08 — Duplin gets high marks on audit

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Duplin gets high marks on audit

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 27, 2008 2:00 AM

After listening to the 2006-07 audit report and hearing County Manager Mike Aldridge's "state of the county" presentation this past week, most of the Duplin County commissioners were inclined to agree with his assessment that things are "stable."

"It's stable," Aldridge said. "That was the word I used. I tried to think of what was the one word that could best describe our situation, and 'stable' was what I came up with, and that's good."

At the bottom of the pile, holding everything up, he explained, is the county's agricultural economy, which ranks No. 1 in tons of hay yielded, No. 1 in swine production, No. 1 in livestock, dairy and poultry and No. 1 in agriculture cash receipts. And, he continued, those industries -- Butterball, House of Raeford, Murphy-Brown and even the county school system -- are largely responsible for the county's unemployment rate being able to stay just under the state average at 4.4 percent in November.

But there are some challenges.

Median income and education levels are below the state averages, while poverty is above. School test scores also are in the bottom third of state rankings.

The percentages of uninsured children and adults are well above state averages. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity rates are higher than the state average, as are the percentages of teen births and births with no or late prenatal care.

"All those things put us in neighborhoods we don't want to be in," Aldridge said.

Adding to the pressure of correcting those problems is the fact that the county's population is expected to grow by at least 20,000 people in the next 20 years, eventually reaching more than 70,000 residents, he said. And with that growth will come the need for additional investments, particularly in infrastructure areas such as schools, water and sewer.

"We've got some areas we need to make an investment in and that we can make an investment in that should provide some dividends," Aldridge said. "We're pretty well able now to move forward with a number of issues we've been needing to move forward with."

Among those are the continued development of the airport, the improvement of the animal shelter and the creation of an animal control ordinance, the renovations and increased marketing of the Duplin Events Center, the improvement and increased marketing of Cabin Lake, the need for a larger jail, the continued concerns about drainage, the completion of water systems and the need for sewer, the re-organization of the economic development department, and the need for improved school facilities.

Helping the county face those issues, though, is the 2006-07 audit report by Pittard Perry & Crone that showed no red flags.

"Duplin County ... received unqualified opinions," certified public accountant Dean Horne told the commissioners.

That means there were no concerns.

"Everything we looked at and everything we're aware of ... was handled correctly," Horne said.

The only slight hiccup, he explained, was the fact that the fund balance continues to be used for operating expenses.

Over the last three years, it has declined from 29 percent of the general fund to an expected 21 percent ($10.76 million) by the end of the current fiscal year.

"It's nothing in the danger zone," Aldridge said. "But we want to make sure we keep a healthy fund balance. At the same time, though, we know we can support things we need to support without worrying we're going into the danger zone."

And, while things are stable right now, Commissioner L.S. Guy noted, it's good to know they'll have the ability to improve.

"I don't think we should ever be satisfied with where we're at," he said. "(Mike) laid out a lot of things we need to be aware of, as well as a good direction for us to go."