Ocean retains AAA bond rating

Two bond rating houses have again given Ocean County the highest possible financial grade of AAA, according to a press release from the county.

“I am pleased to announce that Ocean County’s bond rating is again AAA,” said Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. “In these unprecedented and difficult economic times, we have been able to maintain the highest bond rating in the world. This speaks volumes about the fiscal practices of this Board of Freeholders.

“While the federal government and the state of New Jersey have seen recent downgrades to their ratings, Ocean County continues to be a leader in continuing to make fiscal responsibility a top priority,” Bartlett said .

Bond rating houses Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have both given Ocean County an AAA bond rating. Bond ratings range from Baa, the lowest, to AAA, the highest possible.

Bartlett noted that the bond rating houses referred to “seasoned management” and “prudent capital management practices” by Ocean County as reasons for retaining the gold standard rating.

“In these difficult economic times, with a declining tax base and declining revenues, sound fiscal principles are extremely important and have paid off with this bond rating,” said Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “We are always prepared for a rainy day here in Ocean County. If you look at the total financial picture for Ocean County, we have done our job and will continue to do so.” Bartlett said the bond rating agencies refer to the county’s surplus account as satisfactory, but would prefer to see the balance at about 10 percent, up from 9 percent.

“This is a critical issue for the future,” Bartlett said. “We need to make certain we have a continued strong surplus in order to retain this rating into the future.”

Bartlett said the AAA bond rating will help the county secure better interest rates as it prepares for a bond sale later this month.

According to the press release, on Aug. 23, Ocean County is scheduled to refinance about $32 million of previously issued bonds. In addition, the county will seek to borrow $26 million for capital projects.

Bartlett said the refinancing will not extend the length of the bonds, but will help save $1 million in lower interest rates. He added that the $26 million will not increase the county’s debt because the county will be paying off about the same amount this year.

“This money covers projects that will be around for a very long time,” he said. “From road and bridge projects, to facility maintenance, these are all items that need to be done and are done within our ability to pay.”

Freeholder Gerry P. Little said the freeholders recognized the downturn in the economy several years ago and immediately implemented steps to keep the county’s finances stable.