- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Standard & Poor’s, one of three major bond-rating agencies, has upgraded Charles County government debt to AA+ with stable outlook, its second-highest rating, county government spokeswoman Crystal Hunt said Thursday afternoon. It was previously rated AA with stable outlook.
Debt refinancing by Charles County government has spurred agencies to reconsider their bond ratings, commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said; the other two bond rating agencies, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service, kept their ratings the same at AAA, Fitch’s highest, and Aa1, Moody’s’ second-highest, according to announcements from the companies. Fitch also assessed the outlook as “stable.”
On Feb. 26, county government is scheduled to offer for sale $27.2 million worth of “general obligation bonds,” a refinancing expected to save the county 2.5 percent of their value, or $680,000. The move is intended to take advantage of very low interest rates and was recommended by county consultant Sam Ketterman of Davenport & Co., said Kelly and Deborah Hudson, county director of fiscal and administrative services.
The new interest rate, and thus the county’s savings, will not be known until the refunding is done. But the consultant estimated general fund savings of more than $500,000, most of which would be realized in 2014, said Hudson.
“This is very similar to you refinancing a house,” Hudson explained, in that the county is seeking to repay existing loans at a lower interest rate.
The new ratings apply to the debt and to $296.6 million in outstanding county debt, announcements state.
The increase in one rating was better than the county had hoped for.
“We’re not expecting any changes. I would be shocked if anything changed as a result of this. It’s a good thing. Basically, we’re saving some money,” Kelly said Wednesday, before Standard and Poor’s made its announcement.
The report detailing Standard and Poor’s’ rationale was not available Thursday afternoon, but Fitch’s report stated that driving its rating were the county’s “reduced but healthy” fund reserve levels; “narrow yet stable and wealthy economy,” driven by Naval Support Facility, Indian Head and jobs in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia; and a “low debt burden,” but also by plunging home values, the announcement states. Similarly, Moody’s cited the county’s “prudent management,” “proximity to Washington D.C.” and “manageable” debt position.