Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Triple-A County

Wanna know what Wall Street thinks about Howard County? One of the major bond rating services, Fitch, rates HoCo's latest bond offer AAA. Fitch is like Standard & Poor's or Moody's. A higher rating means the county can borrow money cheaper.

Here's its analysis:

"The 'AAA' rating reflects Howard County's deep and diverse economy, strong financial management, affluent residents and a moderate and rapidly retired debt burden. The county's financial position is strong, with ample liquidity, sound general fund reserves above the charter-mandated level, and excellent financial planning. Current and projected tax-supported debt levels are affordable.

"Howard County's relative affluence, high quality of life, excellent schools, and proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have resulted in continued strong demand for housing and related commercial expansion. Repeatedly listed as one of the best places to live in popular magazines, the county controls its growth, limiting new housing units to 1,850 annually and placing 10% of its land under permanent farmland preservation easements. Further growth is anticipated as recent Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommendations will bring the Defense Information Systems Agency and other Defense departments' activities to Ft. Meade, in adjacent Anne Arundel County. Assessed valuation growth has been solid, averaging 10.0% annually since fiscal 2000; Fitch anticipates that the county's assessment process will shelter it, at least in part, from market declines over the next few fiscal years. Residential employment remains strong, with the September 2007 unemployment rate of 2.7% comfortably below the state's 3.6% and the nation's 4.7%. Wealth and income indicators are high, with per capita personal income 25% above state and 53% above national averages.

"Financial operations are stable after a difficult recessionary period, during which the loss of capital gains and bonus income severely eroded income tax collections. Strong financial management increased the fiscal 2007 unreserved general fund balance to $67.3 million, representing a high 9.2% of spending, from a negligible $307,500, or 0.1% of spending, in fiscal 2003. The county has restored the general fund charter reserve to 7% of the prior year's audited expenditures and is increasing its pay-as-you-go funding for capital needs. In fiscal 2007, the county designated $15 million of its fund balance to fund its obligations for healthcare and other post-employment benefits."

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