New ratings equal good news

Published 10:47 pm Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the last week and a half, the good news rolled in for the city of Suffolk from three bond-rating agencies charged with evaluating the ability of countless municipalities, states, countries and companies to pay for their debt.

The city netted upgrades from two of the agencies, while the third held its rating steady.

It must have been welcome news to city leaders, who are prepared to take on more debt to pay for a new Municipal Center and upgrades to the growing city’s water and sewer systems.

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Anyone who has ever found himself in the unenviable position of having a low credit score and needing to purchase a car or home understands the importance of reliability. If lenders can look at your history and see that you’ve neglected your responsibilities in the past, or see that your current income may not be enough to make the payments they’re demanding, they will be unlikely to let you borrow the money.

The city’s ratings work in a similar way. And in the past, Suffolk administrators weren’t all that reliable.

As recently as 2006, the city was out of compliance with most of its own fiscal policies, and its cash reserves would hardly have carried it through the aftermath of even a moderate hurricane or other disaster.

But that has changed in the last five years, as city leaders have made a commitment to save a certain amount every year and follow other guidelines.

According to the ratings agencies, that’s paying off.

“We believe the city’s significant improvement to its financial position, coupled with increasing reserves and now formal and sustainable fiscal policies, provides rating stability,” said a report from Standard & Poor’s.

That’s good news for the city and its taxpayers, who will save millions in interest payments during the coming decades.

Let us hope the progress continues.