Harford's AAA bond ratings reaffirmed

Conservative fiscal management, low debt burden cited as strengths

January 03, 2012

Harford County's AAA bond rating was reaffirmed by rating agencies Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, Harford County Executive David R. Craig announced Tuesday.

The two agencies upgraded the county in 2010, and the confirmation of the AAA ratings are the result of a review of the county's fiscal management practices and economic outlook, as well as meetings with the county executive and members of his administration.

Standard & Poor's also reaffirmed its AA+ rating for the county.

The three rating agencies employ financial and business experts who seek to advise investors with regard to the safety of investing in a particular organization. By assigning these ratings, the experts are identifying Harford County as a safe place to invest and to do business.

According to Fitch Ratings, Harford County's rating outlook is stable, and the county's financial operations are "characterized by a conservative approach to budget development, timely revenue and spending adjustments, and steady compliance with a fiscal stabilization policy equal to 5 percent of spending," according to a county press release. Furthermore, Fitch adds, "Harford County continues to adhere to good debt management guidelines, which have allowed overall debt levels to remain low."

Fitch also notes the county's "historically low unemployment," which they attribute to the quality of the local labor force, the county's location and the high concentration of federal government employees and contractors. The continued expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground, the report states, "should prove beneficial over the intermediate- to long-term, particularly with respect to attracting higher-wage employment opportunities."

Similarly, Moody's Investors Service identifies Harford's "conservative management that maintains comprehensive fiscal policies" as a strength, while noting that the county's employment linkage with the federal government is a challenge going forward.

"As I stated a year and a half ago when we were first upgraded, the efforts that my administration and the county council have taken to diversify our economy, to reduce the tax burden of our citizens and to invest in key infrastructure projects have positioned Harford County well for the future," Craig said in the release.

"The reaffirmation of our AAA bond rating confirms that our conservative fiscal approach is working and that despite facing significant headwinds in our national economy, Harford County is not only weathering the storm but thriving," Craig said. "If only the federal government could get its house in order as we have done, Harford County and our citizens could look forward to an even brighter and more stable future."

The ratings were announced just as the county plans to sell bonds in the middle of this month.

The first set of bonds would be about $55 million, including $40 million for various capital projects and $15 million for water and sewer projects.

The capital projects feature $228,446 for planning the Youth's Benefit Elementary School replacement, $14 million for Red Pump Elementary School, $3 million for the Harford County Government Southern Annex, $750,000 for modernization of Joppatowne Elementary School, $10 million for renovation of Harford Community College's Susquehanna Center, $131,847 for design and development of a Campus Hills Elementary School, $1 million for the Churchville recreation complex, $850,000 for enlarged gymnasiums and joint facilities, $3 million for a solid waste transfer station, $600,000 for the Fallston Youth/Senior Center, $900,000 for the Whiteford Library expansion, $600,000 for the North Avenue/Henderson Road bridge, $300,000 for the Red Pump roundabout and $20,414 for a roof replacement at Ring Factory Elementary School.

The water and sewer projects include $6 million for enhanced nutrient removal work at the Sod Run waste water treatment plant, $1 million for replacement at Church Creek Pumping Station, $5 million for expansion of the Abingdon water treatment plant and $2 million for the Deer Creek water pumping station for Baltimore.

The county also hopes to refinance $8.8 million in debt.

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