Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday raised its rating on Watauga County’s general obligation bonds to AA-minus from A-plus. The upgrade, and a stable outlook, affect $11.5 million of outstanding GO debt and reflects strong growth in the tourism sector, continued development of the county’s residential base, the county’s healthy local economy anchored by Appalachian State University, and historically low levels of unemployment, as well as successful ongoing management of its strong financial position.“Ongoing residential development over the next decade … will further strengthen the already healthy tourism and residential sectors, as reflected in the stable rating outlook,” Standard & Poor’s analyst Linda Yip said. “Despite the increase in development over the next few years, we expect that management will be able to continue to maintain the county’s strong financial position as it addresses any arising capital needs.” Watauga County is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, bordering Tennessee. The county’s population has experienced slow growth over the past six years, increasing just 1.7% to an estimated 43,406 in 2006.Watauga’s unemployment rate of 2.3% remains lower than both state and national averages. A recent property revaluation for fiscal 2007 increased the county’s tax base by about 31.2% to an estimated $7.7 billion, which represents a high per capita value of $177,222, Yip said.

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