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County maintains bond rating

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's credit is still good, even with a faltering economy and a budget crisis.

County officials announced Tuesday that the three major bond rating agencies in New York reaffirmed the county's AAA rating, which is the top possible.

"Affirmation of our ratings is solid evidence of Gwinnett County's financial stability as we navigate today's difficult financial and economic conditions," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "The bond ratings have a significant positive impact on the cost of borrowing money for needed improvements, and I'm glad we're able to save money through lower interest costs over the coming years."

The news comes one day before the county goes to the market to sell $270 million in bonds, which will pay to finish upgrades to the Yellow River wastewater treatment plant off Tom Smith Road and to complete a 9-mile pipeline to carry treated wastewater back to its source in Lake Lanier from the F. Wayne Hill plant near the Mall of Georgia. It will also fund improvements to the Crooked Creek Water Reclamation plant near the Chattahoochee River and Holcomb Bridge Road.

County Administrator Glenn Stephens said the financial climate and budget situation - which caused the county to issue temporary tax bills earlier this year - had officials worried about retaining the high rating.

But the agencies were assuaged by the county's ability to maintain a rainy day fund, he said.

According to Fitch Ratings, "The county's high credit fundamentals include strong financial management demonstrated by consistently large fund balances, prudent policies, good economic growth and diversity, and substantial pay-as-you-go (pay-go) financing of capital projects leading to a low debt burden," the report from Fitch Ratings said.

Standard and Poor's report said, "The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the county's good financial practices coupled with expenditure reductions and revenue raising strategies should continue to support strong finances despite a contracting local economy."

The Moody's report added, "The assignment of Moody's highest-quality rating reflects the county's sizeable tax base and diverse economic profile, low debt levels and a slightly below-average rate of debt retirement."