Harford County bond rating upgraded

officials expecting millions in savings

Lower sewer, water bills pledged for residents

January 08, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

When Harford County heads to the bond market today, it will do so with a higher rating that will save the county millions of dollars, officials said yesterday.

Moody's Investors Service of New York has boosted Harford's rating from Aa2 to Aa1, one step from the top AAA rating, County Executive James M. Harkins said yesterday.

"Wall Street has taken a good look at Harford County, and they like where we're going," he said.

Yesterday's announcement marks the third rating upgrade since Harkins took office three years ago, said county Treasurer James M. Jewell. In 1999, Standard & Poor's raised the county's rating from AA- to AA. It was raised again, to AA+, by Fitch in 2000.

Increases in bond ratings generally translate into lower interest rates. The latest upgrade is expected to save the county about $5.8 million in interest costs when it refinances $27.6 million in water-quality bonds today, Jewell said. The savings will be passed on to residents through lower water and sewer bills, Harkins said.

The county will also issue $29 million in bonds for public projects. Savings should range from $500,000 to $1.3 million, Jewell said.

Moody's analysts said the county's conservative fiscal planning and diversifying economy were catalysts for the change.

The rating upgrade "recognizes that this county has a good economy, good management and good financial operations that will help see them through different cycles of the national economy," said analyst John Incorvaia, Moody's southeast region vice president.

Harford joins a host of counties across the country that have received higher ratings. "In 2001, Moody's upgraded 68 counties across the U.S. and downgraded just three," said John Puchalla, senior economist at the firm.

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