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Metro squeezes more bucks from natural area bond sale

Good financial ratings help agency gather $125 million to buy open spaces

Metro took advantage of a good financial rating to get more bang for its buck Tuesday when it sold $125.4 million in bonds to fund purchase of regional open spaces and park land.

The agency sold its first series of general obligation bonds as part of Ballot Measure 26-80, the open space proposal approved by voters last fall.

Moody's Investors Service's 'Aaa' rating on March 13, and a 'AAA' rating from Standard and Poor's, helped Metro squeeze about $6.38 million in additional funding out of the bond sale. The ratings also mean the agency will pay a lower interest rate on the debt, saving taxpayers money an estimated $8 million during the next 20 years as the bonds are retired.

Metro received 11 bids from institutional investors to purchase the entire $125.4 million bond offering. J.P. Morgan Securities Inc. was selected as the winning buyer, offering a $6.38 million premium on the bonds at a true interest rate of 4.07 percent, lower than the 5.5 percent rate that was estimated prior to the approval of Measure 26-80.

'The financial markets have rewarded the taxpayers of this region for Metro's strong financial base and conservative fiscal management practices,' said Metro Council President David Bragdon. 'This, in turn, enables us to get more for the taxpayers' money and protect even more of our valuable natural areas for the enjoyment of future generations.'

Under the bond sale, owners of property in Metro's jurisdiction (the three Portland-area counties) will pay an estimated rate of 17 cents per $1,000 assessed property value levied in 2007. That means owners of a $175,000 home will pay $29.75 a year for the bonds.

Voters approved the $227.4 million bond measure in November calling for Metro to purchase natural areas, parks and streams to protect open spaces and water quality, enhance the region's network of trails and provide access to nature.

The completion of the bond sale today provides Metro, cities, counties and parks districts, with funding needed to begin acquiring land in 27 target areas and pay for more than 100 local park projects.

It also funds the Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants program, which provides matching funds to nonprofit organizations, local governments and other community organizations to support nature enhancement projects.

Metro plans to buy land from people willing to sell their property. No condemnation is involved. Land purchased through the bond will be kept in public ownership.

More information on Metro's natural areas acquisition program can be found online at www.metro-region.org/naturalareas.

A second series of bonds to finance the remaining $102 million of the plan will be sold during the next four years.