Thursday, June 7th, 2012

One of the nation’s largest bond rating agencies has given its highest rating to bonds the Morris County Improvement Authority plans to issue June 12.

Moody’s Investors Service assigned its Aaa rating to $29.7 million worth of the Improvement Authority’s Pooled Program Bonds that will fund various improvements at the County College of Morris in Randolph, capital improvement projects planned by Chester Borough, and the expansion of the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy in Parsippany.

Moody’s also reaffirmed Morris County’s Aaa rating on general obligation and guaranteed bonds that have already been issued by the county and the Improvement Authority, and said the financial outlook is stable.

“This is great news for our taxpayers,” said William Chegwidden, director of the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders. “Having the highest possible rating allows the county to continue making critical capital investments at the lowest possible cost to residents and businesses.”

Towns and school districts that use the Improvement Authority to finance a construction project or to refinance bond issuances also gain the benefit of the county’s Aaa bond rating.

“That means lower interest rates and greater savings for the taxpayer,” he said.

Since the Morris County Improvement Authority was established 10 years ago by the freeholders, it has transacted more than $204 million worth of construction and refinancing loans for school districts and local governments in the county, saving those participants $15.4 million in debt service, Chegwidden said.

“Of that, one-third, or nearly $5.3 million can be directly attributed to leveraging Morris County’s AAA bond rating to enhance the savings,” he said.

The capital improvements being funded at the County College of Morris include the renovation of the Learning Resource Center, HVAC improvements, renovating the college’s Engineering Labs, and the paving of campus parking lots, roadways and walkways.

The $23 million expansion of the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy includes an expanded crime lab serving all 39 municipalities, an enhanced countywide Emergency Operation Center and a safe and secure county data center with built-in redundancies and emergency back up systems.

The expansion will also accommodate the county’s Communications Center, which continues to take on additional towns interested in consolidating dispatch service with the county in an effort to be more cost-effective at the municipal level.

According to Moody’s, the Aaa rating it gave to the Improvement Authority’s bonds last week “reflects the county’s strong and diverse tax base, well-managed financial operations that have historically supported healthy reserve levels, and a modest debt burden.”

While noting Morris County’s stable financial position is challenged by the current economy, Moody’s said it expects the county “will maintain solid financial flexibility given conservative management practices and trend of positive financial operations.”