County retains AAA credit rating

Photo by Jason Braverman

Photo by Jason Braverman

LAWRENCEVILLE -- In a time when good credit is hard to find, Gwinnett County remains among the best.

This week, county officials learned that all three major bond-rating agencies gave Gwinnett AAA ratings, continuing a feat the county first earned in 1997.

"That (high rating) is directly attributable to the organization's long history of sound financial management," said County Chairwoman Charlotte Nash. "I am pleased that the efforts of county staff have given us a chance to reduce debt payments."

According to a press release, the ratings could save water and sewer customers as much as $7.5 million when the county works to refinance a $166 million bond debt this month.

Moody's Investors Service cited Gwinnett's "sound financial management of the county as evidenced by ample reserves and demonstrated commitment towards maintaining its financial position... Gwinnett County's sound financial position is supported by conservative fiscal policies and management, multi-year financial planning, and health general fund balance levels."

Fitch Ratings noted the tough financial situation the county has faced because of declining property values, but said, "Gwinnett County's financial position remains healthy, characterized by high reserve levels, ample balance sheet liquidity and strong fiscal management and budgetary controls."

Work to tighten belts paid off.

"First quarter results for fiscal 2011 now show that the county has eliminated much of the structural gap in the budget, mostly through spending reductions submitted by departments, (and) net service reductions," the Fitch report said.

The three agencies also reaffirmed their AAA ratings on other Gwinnett County debt, the release said, noting $63.4 million in general obligation bonds for the county jail, $1.02 billion in water and sewer bonds and $96.4 million in Development Authority bonds for the Gwinnett Center.

But at the same time, the agencies warned that the water wars could hurt the county's score in the future because of the uncertainty of the local water supply.

Only about three dozen counties in the nation have received triple-AAA status.

"Our excellent credit ratings are solid evidence of our financial strength and stability as we continue to navigate these challenging economic ," Commission Mike Beaudreau said in the release.

"This is great news and is paramount in keeping taxes low," Commissioner John Heard added.