Improving financial picture boosts Franklin County’s borrowing rating

MALONE — Franklin County’s improving financial picture will make it easier and cheaper for the county to borrow money.

The credit analysis service S&P Global Ratings has raised the county’s long-term borrowing rating in recognition of efforts undertaken to improve the county’s overall financial health, County Treasurer Fran Perry told members of the county Legislature on Thursday. S&P bumped the county’s rating from BBB to A- in recognition of the steps the county has taken, such as reducing the debt load while increasing the fund balance, County Manager Donna Kissane said.

The rating service also said the county’s future outlook is positive, meaning the rating could go even higher over the next two years. The prior outlook had been negative, Kissane noted.

The County of Franklin Solid Waste Management Authority also saw its S&P rating improve from BBB to BBB+, the rating service said in an announcement. Its future outlook is also positive.

“The upgrades reflect the county’s return to structural balance and improved financial performance,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Lauren Freire. “The county has strengthened its budgeting practices, which has resulted in two straight years of positive performance, with another anticipated in 2018. In addition, the county’s budgetary flexibility has improved significantly, increasing to a level that we no longer consider negative, or nominally low.

“The positive outlook reflects our expectation that the county will continue its recent strong performance, resulting in an improved flexibility and liquidity position,” the announcement said.

Kissane credited the improvement in part to the members of the county Legislature, who she said have been “very diligent in looking at the budget.” She also praised Perry for her efforts on behalf of the county’s finances.

The county’s financial picture has been improving steadily over the past several years. The state Comptroller’s Office, which issues an annual report on the financial conditions of municipalities across the state, had described Franklin County as “significantly fiscally stressed” for fiscal years 2012 through 2015. That rating was upgraded to “moderately” in 2016 and came close to being classified as “least fiscally stressed” in 2017. The classifications for 2018 have not yet been released.

The upgrade of the solid waste authority’s rating comes at a good time for that agency, as it was authorized earlier this month to issue up to $7.25 million in bonds to pay for the construction of a new cell at the county landfill. The authority has $6.6 million in outstanding bonds from projects undertaken in 2012, 2015 and 2016, S&P noted.