Just days after announcing their latest round of budget cuts, the county commissioners were drawn to the bright lights of the Big Apple.
They, their comptroller, budget director and two financial analysts spent Monday and most of Tuesday explaining the ins and outs of Carroll finances to Wall Street's two largest government bond rating firms.
They sampled various restaurants and spent Monday night in the shadows of Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Pan Am building and Times Square.
They also spent more than $3,400.
The trip was considered necessary in preparation for Wednesday's sale of $27 million in Carroll County bonds.
"It's really like a credit check," said Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman. "The trip is not an option. If we want to sell the bonds, we have to have a rating. We have to make a presentation if we want the rating."
Carroll's credit rating -- a solid Aa from Moody's Investors Service Inc. -- is not expected to change, Curfman said. But Moody's and Standard & Poor's Corp., another bond-rating service, had to be persuaded in three-hour presentations Monday and Tuesday to maintain the county's current rating.
S&P's rating for the county is AA-; like the Aa rating from Moody's, itrepresents a credit rating just below the firm's second best.
Thecost of the trip -- which was estimated on the basis of the group's hotel accommodations, transportation arrangements and restaurant meals -- was nearly three times the amount it would have cost to bring representatives of the bond-rating houses down for a stay in Carroll.
The group stayed in separate rooms in the Hotel Intercontinental onLexington Avenue Monday night, where room rates range from $195 to $275.
They ate lunch Monday at Michael's 1 on Wall Street, where the average lunch tab, according to a restaurant supervisor, comes to $22.
Dinner Monday was at the Manhattan Ocean Club, where the average dinner is about $50 a person, according to the restaurant's maitred'. And the group lunched Tuesday at Harry's at Hanover Square, where the lunchtime patron usually drops $19.
The group got around town -- both Moody's and S & P are 50 blocks down from the hotel -- in short-term leased cars. And they were shuttled to Manhattan from Maryland on Amtrak's Metroliner, at $158 each.
The cost of bringing tworepresentatives from both bond-rating houses to Westminster for an overnight stay would cost about $1,400, including Metroliner, lunch both days and dinner at the county's most expensive restaurant.
But,the county's chief financial adviser insists, the cost of the New York trip is insignificant compared to what the cost of a bad credit rating would be.
"It's peanuts," said Sam Ketterman, a vice president with Alex. Brown & Sons, which has been the county's financial adviser for 10 years. "It's certainly necessary." His firm made the reservations and paid for the trip. Alex. Brown will bill the county; he would not disclose the exact cost of the trip. Curfman said he did notknow the exact cost of the trip.
Ketterman and a representative of Piper & Marbury, the Baltimore law firm handling the legal aspects of the county's bond issues, accompanied the commissioners to New York.
If the rating houses lower the county's credit rating even one step, the cost to Carroll taxpayers could amount to more than $800,000 over the 20-year life of the latest bonds, Curfman said.
Issuingbonds -- government certificates that state the amount of a loan, the interest to be paid, the time for repayment and the collateral pledged -- on the open market through a broker is an option the county has turned to more often in recent years.
With Wednesday's sale, thecounty will have about $80 million in bonded debt.