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Columbia County's bond rating improves

Columbia County "not out of the woods yet," financial officer says

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners lauded the county’s financial department Wednesday, Sept. 24, following a bond credit rating boost from Moody’s Investors Service.

Moody’s announced Sept. 10 that it removed the negative outlook from Columbia County’s general obligation bond. The updated Aa3 rating means the county could be eligible for a lower interest rate in the future.

“The presumption is that this new assessment by Moody’s would have a positive impact on interest rates should the County need to borrow funds,” Jennifer Cuellar-Smith, the county’s finance director, stated via email. “That’s the most direct impact of this kind of review by one of the ‘big three’ bond credit rating agencies.”

In a notice, Moody’s highlighted some of the financial factors affecting Columbia County, noting its real estate market growth in 2014 and spending cuts as strengths.

The county still faces challenges, Moody’s added, like “uncertainty regarding receipt of federal revenue” and rising costs stemming from employee retirement and pensions, according to a Board of Commissioners news release.

“We have a great team. We work closely together,” Commissioner Tony Hyde told Cuellar-Smith. “This is kudos to you and your department.”

Cuellar-Smith told commissioners they should be proud of themselves for making difficult budget decisions and scaling back over the past couple of years, but acknowledged the county’s financial challenges.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” she said. “As we all know, we continue to be on a four-day week here open to the public. Most of the non-safety personnel continue to [be on a furlough].”

Last month, the county’s finance department was awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association for its comprehensive annual financial report. The GFAO encourages local governments in the United States and Canada to “show transparency and full disclosure” in their accounting work, according to a news release from the group.

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