CLARKSTOWN, N.Y. -- Rockland County Executive Ed Day announced Friday that the county has earned another credit-rating upgrade from S&P Global Ratings.
This is the fourth upward move in the rating during his administration and another sign of the county's improving finances.
The county's new bond rating is BBB-plus, with a positive outlook. That is one step below A grade and just three grades below the company's top rating, AAA.
"This is an important acknowledgement that we have made great progress toward our goal of fixing this county's finances," Day said. "Our hard work is paying off."
The upgrade means that the county will be able to borrow funds at a lower interest rate, and that will save taxpayers money.
Day's office said the county's bonds were rated one step above junk -- that is, BB and lower -- when Day took office on Jan. 1, 2014. He inherited a $138 million budget deficit, which now under $18 million.
The vote of confidence from the rating agency comes just weeks after Day proposed a $674 million budget that stays within the state's 1.17 percent property tax cap. The budget reduces spending 3.5 percent while maintaining services.
"The higher rating reflects increased reserves following a 2014 deficit financing bond issuance and improved budgetary performance in subsequent fiscal years which we expect will continue," said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Timothy Little.
The credit rating agency's report also noted:
- Rockland has a very strong economy.
- The county has had an adequate budgetary performance, with an operating surplus in the general fund and break-even operating results in fiscal 2015.
- The county has very strong liquidity, with available cash at 13.2 percent of total governmental fund expenditures and 131 percent of governmental debt service.
S&P also noted that the county had been under "severe fiscal stress" for the past several years, and that with a new management team in place the county's "financial performance is undergoing a positive transition."
County legislators are also taking credit for the ratings boost.
“There is still work to be done but the concrete steps taken by the Legislature will continue to improve our credit rating and our fiscal stress score over time," said Legislator Michael Grant, D-Garnerville.
Grant chairs the Legislature's Budget and Finance Committee. He cited several specific actions taken by the 17-member bipartisan board that have contributed to the ratings boost.
Grant also cited the 2014 deficit reduction bond, and noted that it helped to quickly pay down a major portion of the county’s nearly $140 million budget deficit.
"The county's budget has often been likened to a large ship, meaning it takes time to turn it around," said Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe, D-Montebello.
"Every time our rating improves, we see the fruits of our hard work in returning the county's credit rating to the highest level. We also expect this work to pay off in terms of an improvement to our fiscal stress score. The winners here are the taxpayers."
He noted that some of the decisions have been hard but necessary, like personnel cuts, program closures and revenue sources.
S&P's report noted that the closure of the Summit Park nursing home, which was losing more than $1 million monthly, is leading to greater stability in county finances. The analysts said that the sale of the Sain Building in 2017 "would further improve the county's financial position."
Wolfe also credited the administration's commitment to improving the county’s finances.
And Day added, "We will continue on this path of fiscal restraint and prudent spending, which is already having positive results."
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