Disappointing, but commendable

Published 9:10 pm Thursday, June 25, 2015

Following an announcement by the bond rating agency Moody’s last week, Suffolk officials may have had the tune of an old ‘70s song rattling around in their heads as the refrain “two out of three ain’t bad” played and replayed itself.

At least, that’s the message they should take from the near-miss of a perfect trifecta of top bond ratings for the city’s debt.

After Standard & Poor’s last year rated the city’s debt at the highest possible rating — meaning the city will pay less interest on the debt it uses to build capital projects — Fitch followed suit just last week. Both bond ratings agencies have given Suffolk AAA bond ratings, an enviable and valuable accomplishment.

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Alas, though, Moody’s did not fall in line with its peer agencies, having given Suffolk a rating one step lower than perfect. Moody’s Aa1 rating “reflects the city’s sizable and diverse tax base that has substantial development potential, a sound financial position that continues to improve and is supported by healthy reserves and strong liquidity, as well as an above average but manageable debt burden,” according to the agency’s rating announcement.

The agency said the rating could go up with a continued increase in reserves, improved demographic profile and a decline in debt burden, so there is still a chance for the city to achieve what would be an incredible coup for a municipality its size. But a substantial tax base contraction, decline in reserve levels or increased debt burden could make it go down, it stated.

Either way, the simple fact that Suffolk has such good credit is a legitimate point of pride for the city and the folks who helped make it happen. In the long run, it should mean Suffolk taxpayers spend less for the money they borrow and that they find it easier to fund major capital projects — things like the proposed expansion of Route 58, for instance — in the future.

So city officials might have been a bit disappointed not to have gone three-for-three among the bond agencies, but the old saying is still true: Two out of three ain’t bad.