W. Brian Hiatt has served as Concord's City Manager since 1998. He came to Concord from Hickory where he served as Assistant City Manager for over 10 years. Brian holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in History and Government Service from Appalachian State University where he was a summa cum laude graduate, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been recognized as a Credentialed City Manager by ICMA.
Active in the community, Brian is a Past President of the Academic Learning Center and continues to serve on that Board. He is on the Board of Directors for the Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation and the Water and Sewer Authority of Cabarrus County. Brian has served as the Chair of the Cabarrus County United Way Board three times since 1999, most recently in 2015, and was Chair of the United Way Campaign in Cabarrus County in 2002. He is a Past-President of the Concord Rotary Club, where he was named Rotarian of the Year in 2012, and the Lake Hickory Rotary Club. He is also a former board member of Hospice of Cabarrus County. He is a Past President of the North Carolina City and County Management Association, having served as President in 2012-13, and has served on several committees supporting the International City and County Management Association. Brian was a member of the Board of Directors of the NC League of Municipalities from 2004 through 2008. Brian is married to Julie, and they have two grown children, Andrew and Erin.
by Brian Hiatt
Recently, Fitch Ratings announced its upgrade of the City of Concord's Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to AAA from AA+. Fitch joined Standard & Poor’s who earlier indicated Concord’s general obligation debt was at an “implied” AAA rating, meaning if the City had outstanding general obligation debt, the bonds would be AAA rated by S & P.
Fitch, like Standard & Poor’s, also rated the City's limited obligation bond rating at AA+, an increase from Fitch’s previous AA rating.
These upgrades enable the city to save taxpayers' money when issuing General Fund debt, as higher ratings generally lead to lower interest rates. The financial flexibility highlighted in the Fitch report also reflects the conservative debt issuance practices our elected officials have adopted over the years as the document noted “the rating further reflects the city’s exceptionally strong gap-closing capacity and low long-term liability burden.”
While the report notes the city’s “strong budget management,” the ratings also reflect on the City’s economy. For example, one important factor has been the diversification in the City’s tax base. Local Governments with an overreliance on residential tax bases struggle to provide quality services with a reasonable tax rates, so Concord has worked hard to diversify its economy over years with a focus on commercial and industrial development as the City grows.
Another key to diversification is avoiding overdependence on one large taxpayer and/or employer, or even type of employer. This factor has negatively influenced bond ratings of many municipalities over the years with the fear of what happens when a downturn impacts that particular type of business. If the local tax base is too reliant on residential growth and a few business to generate much of its revenue, the local government is viewed as vulnerable and a more risky investment. Unlike many other states, North Carolina local governments are largely limited to property and sales taxes to provide General Fund services, so diversification within these narrow revenue sources is essential.
For example, just fifteen years ago Concord’s top 5 taxpayers made up over 28 percent of its tax base. Today, the top 5 taxpayers make up less than 8 percent of a growing tax base. Some of this change has not been without pain and loss of jobs as traditional industries all over North Carolina have struggled, but the important factor has been Concord’s success in attracting a variety of new businesses willing to invest in our community. Concord’s ability to weather this period of dramatic change, along with a national recession, and still maintain a sustainable tax rate speaks for itself. This increasing economic diversity not only reduces the exposure to downturns that could impact a particular types of businesses, it reduces the risk to investors evaluating debt issued by the City of Concord.
Concord’s economic diversification is leading to a stronger local economy. This is why we need to continue to focus on working with the private sector to develop buildings and business parks that will encourage the expansion and relocation of manufacturing firms and corporate offices. This type of investment generates tax revenues and jobs that benefit our residents and the local governments that provide them with services.