Mahoning County debt rating: Excellent
By Peter H. Milliken
Mahoning County has retained excellent Standard & Poors ratings on its debt this year.
The most-recent ratings were to be presented to the county commissioners at their meeting at 10 a.m. today in the county courthouse basement by county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino.
“The stronger the rating you have and the more stable your ratings are, the better the deal in terms of interests rates and costs for the total debt transaction for the taxpayers,” Sciortino said.
The county received an SP-1+, the highest-possible rating, on its bond anticipation notes, the same as last year.
It received an “AA” stable outlook rating on its sales tax bonds, which it also retained from last year. Sales tax bonds represent money borrowed by the county in anticipation of future sales tax receipts.
The county also sustained last year’s A+ rating on its limited-tax general obligation (LTGO) bonds.
If the county can raise its carry-over balance to 15 percent of its annual general fund expenditures, it has a good chance of improving its LTGO rating to AA, according to a letter to county officials from Omar Ganoom, managing director of Ross, Sinclaire and Associates LLC of Columbus, which is the county’s financial adviser and underwriter for debt transactions.
“The casino [tax] revenues will continue to help us here, but, in the end, we just need more of a reserve,” Ganoom wrote.
The county’s authorized general fund spending this year is about $52 million, and Sciortino predicted the county would finish the year with a carryover of $1 million to $4 million. It would take about $7.8 million to meet the 15 percent target.
The county commissioners have decided to put 60 percent of casino tax revenues into a stabilization fund until it reaches the 15 percent level and 40 percent of the casino tax revenue into county government operations.
“In this [economic] environment, to be stable is critical,” Sciortino said.
New borrowing proposals before the commissioners on today’s agenda are:
$1,325,000 for grading, draining, curbing, paving, water supply and sewer and lighting and traffic control devices on Lanterman Road.
$510,000 to build a pump station, force main and gravity sewer near Lanterman Road.
$185,000 for acquiring and equipping vehicles for the county sheriff’s office.
The Lanterman Road improvements will be on county property near Penn National’s Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley racino, which is now under construction at state Route 46 and Silica Road in Austintown, said Audrey Tillis, county budget director.
Penn National officials are scheduled to make a presentation to the commissioners.
Also before the commissioners is the refinancing of existing debt at lower interest rates, Sciortino said.