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Howard County receives highest possible credit rating for 24th year

All three bond rating agencies have given Howard County a AAA credit rating, the county announced Thursday. This is the 24th year in a row that Howard has received the highest possible credit rating.

Howard is one of 49 counties to receive the AAA rating from all three agencies: Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s.

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An AAA rating is a confirmation of the county’s ability to pay its debts and gives the county the lowest possible interest rates when repaying bonds sold by the county.

“The past year has been filled with uncertainty and unknowns, especially when it comes to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement. “This rating also ultimately saves our residents money, and I especially appreciate the trust and investment of our taxpayers. As we set our sights on our economic road to recovery, our county’s fiscal practices remain healthy, flexible and sound.”

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All three rating agencies use four criteria points when assigning ratings: economy/tax base, finances, management and debt/pensions. They each then release their own reports.

According to a county news release, Fitch Ratings said the county was able to stay financially flexible throughout the past year. “The county maintains superior inherent budget flexibility in the form of an unlimited legal ability to raise revenues and solid expenditure flexibility,” the agency said.

Moody’s noted the potential for growth in the county given its proximity to Washington, D.C., and the institutional presence of Fort George G. Meade in neighboring Anne Arundel County, which employees 15,000 Howard residents.

“We believe costs related to long-term liabilities remain affordable, particularly given the county’s sizable and wealthy tax base and management’s strong planning for current and future challenges,” Standard & Poor’s wrote in its report.

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“[We’re] very pleased that despite the pandemic and economic downturn, the rating agencies maintained our AAA credit ratings with a stable outlook in acknowledgement of the county’s economic base and its strong fiscal discipline and sound financial management,” Howard County Office of Budget Administrator Holly Sun said in a statement.

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