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Howard awarded AAA bond rating for 14th straight year

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Howard County has been awarded a AAA credit rating from all three major bond rating agencies for the 14th consecutive year, the county announced Monday.

The credit ratings determine the interest rate Howard County pays on bonds. The higher the rating, the lower the interest and the easier it is for the county to pay off its debt.

County officials met with the three rating agencies last month to prepare for its $200 million bond sale on Oct. 25.

"We have taken proactive steps to ensure Howard County stays on the right fiscal track, and while it is always an achievement to receive the highest possible rating from all three agencies, we never take it for granted," County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement.

According to the county, fewer than 1 percent of all counties in the country receive a AAA rating from all three agencies — Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investor Service.

In deciding the county's bond rating, the agencies look at its tax base, financial policies, debt burden, economic strengths and long-range plans for fiscal health.

The rating agencies all had positive things to say about Howard.

"Maintenance of sound reserves and financial flexibility despite revenue softening reflect the county's strong financial management," Fitch ratings stated. "The county is among the wealthiest in the nation, featuring a highly educated workforce employed throughout a deep and diverse economy led by the federal government and defense build-up at Fort Meade, a major driver of long-term regional growth."

Moody's Investor Services said its AAA rating for Howard "reflects the county's sizable economic base and wealthy demographic profile, a sound financial position supported by proactive management, comprehensive fiscal policies, satisfactory fund balance levels and an affordable debt burden."

Standard & Poor's added: "The deep and diverse local and regional economies, coupled with a highly educated workforce, contribute to, what we regard as, historically high wealth and income and low unemployment."

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