Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Atlantic County recently received some much-needed positive news. Its top tier bond ratings have been reaffirmed by the world’s largest credit rating agencies.
“For the past few months our lives have been disrupted by the spread of Covid-19, the closing of our schools and businesses, the loss of more than 30,000 jobs and the uncertainty of our future. But in spite of these difficulties, I am pleased to share that Atlantic County remains in strong financial standing as indicated by our recent AA rating from Standard and Poor and our Aa2 rating from Moody’s Investors,” stated County Executive Dennis Levinson. “And remarkably, we have maintained these ratings for the past 12 years.”
“Thanks to the efforts of a strong management team, Atlantic County has retained a stable financial position despite dealing with the fallout first from the financial issues of Atlantic City and now from the ongoing pandemic,” reported Moody’s.
Both agencies cited the county’s efforts to grow and diversify the regional economy beyond gaming and hospitality and indicated the potential for a ratings upgrade with sustained stability and successful diversification of the county’s tax base.
“A new focus on aviation research and engineering is evidenced by the county’s current capital plans and several large-scale commercial developments,” noted S&P.
According to Levinson, the county took the risk of constructing the first building in the National Aviation Research and Technology Park without any contracted or prospective tenants. The building is now completely full with growing interest in additional buildings.
“We recognized the need to develop new industries, such as aviation, to attract new business, create sustainable, quality jobs, and provide greater opportunities for our residents, especially our youth who were too often leaving New Jersey to pursue more lucrative careers elsewhere.”
A recent report by the Brookings Institute projected the Atlantic City metro region will be the third most severely impacted in the country due to Covid-19 closures because of its reliance on casino gaming and tourism which will take longer to recover.
“The Covid-19 shutdowns have further emphasized the need to diversify. Thankfully, with the cooperation of our Board of Freeholders, we had the foresight to take those initial steps several years ago,” said Levinson.
The county executive explained that bond ratings are to government what credit scores are to individuals. The higher the rating the lower the interest rates are for purchases. For county government, this equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.
Throughout his tenure, Levinson has made it a priority to enlist “pay as you go” financing to reduce the amount of debt for future generations as well as maintain a surplus that provides some flexibility when faced with the unexpected.
“These practices have served our taxpayers well,” he said. “Our strong liquidity, low net debt, conservative financial management and long-term planning continue to provide stability during unstable times,” he concluded.