Saturday, March 7, 2009

A "AAA" County

In times like these, this is an accomplishment. Fitch, one of the three main debt rating agencies, rated HoCo's bonds AAA, according to this release.

A high rating means the county can borrow money for less.

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. Development is anticipated as a result of recent Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations, which will bring Defense Information Systems Agency and other Defense departments' activities to Fort Meade, in adjacent Anne Arundel County. Assessed valuation growth has been solid, averaging roughly 10% 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. County employment remains strong, with the December 2008 unemployment rate of 3.8% comfortably below the state's 5.5% and the nation's 7.1%. Wealth and income indicators are high, with per capita income 29% above state and 63% above national averages.

Before you let that glowing review go to your head, remember this: The ratings agencies once called AAA all those securities we now know as toxic assets. We're guessing "continued strong demand for housing and related commercial expansion" is a relative qualifier in this economy.

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