By Sonya Campbell

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON - Bell County's financial performance for fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, was among the topics addressed during the Commissioners Court meeting Monday.

Steve Niemeier of the accounting firm of Brockway, Gersback, Franklin & Niemeier, presented information contained in the county's annual independent audit.

His report noted Bell County's location, situated along on the Interstate 35 corridor and straddling U.S. Highway 190 gives it an economic advantage - attracting growth and development to the area while other parts of the nation are suffering.

The county's diverse labor force was another plus, with the military and health care industry touted as playing a major role in the local economy.

"While the national economy is struggling and the county's current economic environment is not as favorable as it has been in the past, local indicators point to continued stability," the report states.

Those indicators include property values, unemployment rates, population, sales tax revenue, housing starts and construction permits, manufacturing, the military, stimulus funds, heath care commerce and education.

In regard to property values, Niemeier said Bell County is holding steady.

The assessed valuation of $14.6 billion in FY 2010 was 3.4 percent above the previous year's appraisal, representing a gain of more than $480 million.

FY 2010 also marked the 17th consecutive year the county experienced an increase in property values.

According to the report, the local unemployment rate rose 1 percent over the previous year, ending at 7.4 percent. In comparison, the state and national unemployment rates were 7.9 percent and 9.2 percent respectively.

Bell County also has experienced "tremendous growth" in the past 10 years, spurred by the economic environment, "low taxes, affordable housing and higher than average employment rates." The 2010 Census showed the county's population grew 30.4 percent since 2000.

Sales tax receipts for the county totaled $13.9 million - a nearly 3.45 percent increase from FY 2009 - while the state experienced a

15 percent decrease.

The county also sustained strong housing and construction during 2010, with 1,964 housing starts for the year and construction permits totaling $424.8 million.

Bell County's central location and rail lines helped boost manufacturing and industry, the report read.

An example provided was H-E-B's recently completed $24 million distribution center, which added 200 new jobs.

Fort Hood was deemed another plus.

According to the report, the Texas comptroller's office estimates the annual contribution to the area through direct and indirect economic factors in an impact of $10.9 billion.

Stimulus funds also made a positive impact.

"With $371 million received, more federal stimulus funds per capita came into Bell County than in Texas and the United States on average," the report read.

A majority of the money went to public transportation, education and Fort Hood.

Medical services and education also were cited as major influences on the local economy.

For more information about all aspects of the county's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for FY 2010, contact the auditor's office at (254) 933-5115.

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