LUMBERTON — The county Board of Commissioners on Monday received a bright audit for the fiscal year 2011-12 that at least once commissioner said is evidence that questions about the county’s fiscal management community are off the mark.
“There’s been some pretty good financial leadership going on in this county for a poor county,” Commissioner Raymond Cummings said. “This audit shows that, despite what some folks are saying.”
The county commissioners received the audit from Wade Greene of S. Preston Douglas & Associates’ Whiteville office. The auditor said that the county received an “unqualified” rating, the best possible.
Greene told the commissioners that the county’s fund balance at the end of fiscal 2012 was $31.7 million, which is 28 percent of its General Fund. The fund balance available as a percentage of expenditures at the end of fiscal 2012 was 29.16 percent compared with a state average of 22 percent for the state’s 27 counties that have a population of more than 100,000.
According to Greene, the state Local Government Commission recommends that a governing body maintain a minimum available fund balance of 8 percent, good enough for at least one month of operations.
County Manager Ricky Harris, speaking after the meeting, called the results of the audit “fantastic.”
The commissioners on Monday also approved a conditional-use permit needed for the construction of a solar farm in a Residential Agricultural District in Back Swamp. Turkey Branch Solar plans to locate the solar farm on a 39-acre tract near where Turkey Branch Road and N.C. 41 intersect.
No one came forward to oppose the project, and the town of Fairmont has expressed support for the project.
Commissioner Jerry Stephens voted against issuing the permit, raising concerns about the board’s approval without more public input. He said that although the farm was not being built in his district, he grew up near where the farm will be located.
“I’m not comfortable with it. You can’t pull them up (solar panels) once you have put them down,” he said.
Next month, the commissioners will consider a conditional-use permit for a solar farm that would be in a Residential Agricultural zone near Rowland. Carolina Solar Energy of Durham wants to install 26,000 solar panels on 45 acres of a 64-acre tract of land, but Rowland officials and some of the town’s residents have expressed their opposition.
In other business, the commissioners on Monday:
— Approved a $23,850 contract with Moseley Architects for a study of the county’s crowded jail.
— Heard a request from Cecil Jackson, of the Borderbelt Horseman’s Association, for $16,000 for ongoing improvements at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center. The money would be used to pay for cattle panels to be used in the temporary construction of horse stalls needed to make the facility more accommodating for large horse shows.
“You guys have bent over backwards to help us,” Jackson said. “If it wasn’t for you and the city of Lumberton we wouldn’t have the facility that we have now.”
— Heard a request from the Robeson County Law Enforcement Executive Officer’s Association for $5,364 to purchase a monument to honor the county’s fallen officers. According to Lumberton police Maj. Tommy Barnes, the current monument on the campus of Robeson Community College has no room to add names.
Barnes said the existing monument contains the name of fallen officers from 1899 to 2012. It has room for only 15 officers. The new monument would have space for 60 to 70 names.
“I can’t thank you enough for the interest you have shown over years for public safety in the community,” said Larry McNeill, president of the association. “I know you care for law enforcement in Robeson County.”
— Received an update from Principal Sheila Gasque and students of the county’s Early College High School. Next week is a week set aside nationally to recognize the 240 Early College high schools located in 28 states.
Three students told the commissioners how their lives have been affected by attending the school that is held on the campus of Robeson Community College. As a student in the early college program, students earn both their high school degree and college credits toward a two-year associate’s degree in five years.
The school has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its academic performance.
— Appointed Chris Oxendine to the county’s Parks and Recreation board.
— Appointed Bobby Locklear to the county’s Board of Equalization and Review.
— Referred back to the county Planning Board for clarification recommended changes in the county’s junkyard-control ordinance.