Harford County bond sale

Bonds will be sold March 11 to be used in part for the ongoing construction of a new Harford County Emergency Operations Center. The county learned this week it had received the highest ratings possible for the $40 million sale on March 11. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, The Aegis / February 11, 2014)

Harford County government has received top ratings from the nation's three major municipal bond rating agencies in advance of a $40 million bond sale scheduled for March 11.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services informed the county Tuesday it had upgraded Harford's rating to AAA from AA+, according to a county announcement.

Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings had earlier rated the bonds at Aaa and AAA, respectively, ratings they have placed on Harford bonds since 2010. Harford County Executive David R. Craig and his top fiscal advisers met with all three agencies in New York over two days in January.

All three rating services said Harford's future outlook is "stable," which county officials said is significant and quoted the Standard & Poor's announcement.

"The rating reflects our assessment of the county's very strong economy, liquidity, management and budgetary flexibility and adequate budgetary performance and debt and contingent liabilities," Standard & Poor's wrote. "The stable outlook reflects our view of the county's consistent financial performance, including during recessionary periods, and very strong economy, which is supported by its strong management."

Only four other Maryland counties have AAA ratings, all of them larger than Harford, county treasurer Kathryn Hewitt told the county council Tuesday.

"This is quite a coup for Harford County," she said. "It demonstrates high-quality management on the part of this county government as a whole."

She said the other Maryland counties receiving high ratings are Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard.

The rating will help the county get the lowest borrowing rates available, Hewitt said.

Next week's bond sale was originally planned for mid-February, but was postponed after the county council requested a reduction in the bond issue from the $60 million proposed by the Craig Administration to $40 million. The county executive agreed to the lower figure.

The bulk of the latest bond sale will cover the next portion of funding needed for the $40 million Emergency Operations Center building construction and for equipment and installation costs related to a 700 MHz emergency radio system, plus other infrastructure projects. The 700 MHz radio system is designed to link Harford to a regional emergency broadcast network.

The competitive sale of the 20-year consolidated public improvement bonds will be held online via an independent website, as has been the case in recent years.

The county council has scheduled a special meeting for the afternoon of March 11 to ratify the low bid. The bond sale will take place at 11 a.m. that day, but the successful bidder cannot be notified without the council's approval, Hewitt said.

In February 2013, Harford sold $40 million in 20-year general obligation bonds at an interest rate of 2.515 percent and $74.66 million in 15-year refunding bonds at 1.956 percent. Those bonds were rated AAA by Fitch Ratings Ltd., Aaa by Moody's and AA+ by Standard & Poor's.