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Harford to sell nearly $117 million in bonds on Feb. 19

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Harford County officials are preparing to sell $116.9 in bonds on Feb. 19.

The bond issues cover $40 million that is being borrowed for various capital improvement projects and $76.9 million to refinance two previous bond issues from 2005 and 2007, County Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said Thursday.

The bonds will be sold through an electronic bidding process on the morning of the 19th, and the Harford County Council will hold a special session that afternoon to ratify the sale, according to Hewitt

County Executive David R. Craig and several top county officials met with representatives of the nation's three bond rating agencies in New York last week, in an effort to keep Harford's AAA rating.

The county was rated AAA by Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings as of early 2012, and AA+ by Standard and Poor's. Harford County had been upgraded to AAA, the highest possible bond rating, as of 2010.

"That's why it's to our advantage to be AAA-rated, because it gives us the very lowest interest cost," Hewitt said.

Hewitt traveled to New York with Craig last week, along with Director of Administration Mary Chance, Chief of Staff Aaron Tomarchio and Economic Development Director Jim Richardson. Craig stated the county's case to the three rating agencies on Jan. 30 and 31, with the group returning that day.

Hewitt confirmed Thursday that the county has retained the AAA rating from Moody's. She said the information was posted on the company's investors website on Wednesday. She had yet to hear from the other two agencies but said she expects the county will make a formal public announcement once it receives all three agencies' ratings.

"We are obviously happy we retained the triple-A rating from Moody's," Hewitt said. "We're hopeful of the same from Fitch, and we obviously would like to get up to triple-A from Standard & Poor's."

Hewitt said the Moddy's rating carries a qualifying "negative outlook," which relates to the county's reliance on federal government installations and agencies, such as Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford's case. The county got a similar qualifier when it was last rated by Moody's, and Hewitt said this is common for Maryland counties and relates generally to concerns over cutbacks in federal spending.

Proceeds from the sale of the 20-year, $40 million in general obligation bonds, which Hewitt termed "new money," will finance a number of projects, with $30 million to be used for general projects, such as schools, county buildings, highways and recreation facilities, and $10 million for water and sewer projects.

Among the $30 million earmarked for general projects is $8 million for the planned new emergency operations center near Bel Air and $2.1 million toward construction of a new building for the Humane Society of Harford County in Fallston, plus $1 million for athletic fields improvements, $1 million for Moores Mill Road improvements and $1.5 million for improvements at Citizens Care Center in Havre de Grace.

The bulk of the $30 million is being used for schools, including $2.3 million to complete funding of Red Pump Elementary and improvements or upgrades to heating and air conditioning systems at several schools, including William Paca Elementary ($3.1 million), Youth's Benefit Elementary primary building ($2.3 million) and Jarrettsville Elementary ($1.2 million).

The water and sewer projects include $2.1 million for Church Creek pumping station, $2.6 million for the lower Bynum Run sewer line and $1.9 million toward the Abingdon Water Treatment Plant expansion, which is largely completed.

This article has been updated with a correction that Moody's is the rating agency which gave a qualifying "negative outlook" when it rated the latest Harford County bonds AAA.

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