Fitch affirms AAA credit rating for Sarasota County

Internationally known agency cites ‘responsible stewardship of public dollars’

Image from the Fitch Ratings website

Fitch Ratings has affirmed Sarasota County’s general obligation and capital improvement bond ratings, “reflecting the county’s continued commitment to the responsible stewardship of public dollars,” county staff has announced.

In a press release, Fitch said the general credit rating of AAA demonstrates the consistent maintenance of General Fund reserves, along with a low long-term liability burden, a news release points out.

The General Fund comprises revenue from multiple sources, but property tax payments make up the largest portion of it. At the end of the 2020 fiscal year, unaudited figures showed the Emergency Disaster Relief Reserve for the General Fund represented 75 days of operating dollars, county staff pointed out during a March 24 budget presentation to the County Commission. The county’s Budget Stabilization and Economic Uncertainty Fund — also a General Fund reserve — had enough revenue for 48 days of operations, staff said.

“The county’s independent legal revenue raising ability and solid expenditure control provide the county with a considerable ability to maintain a high level of fundamental financial flexibility throughout economic cycles and should provide sufficient resources to endure the current and future economic cycles,” the Fitch release states.

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said the AAA rating is a clear indicator of the county’s financial health amid the ongoing response to COVID-19.

In addition, a county news release notes, Lewis praised the County Commission’s leadership and the hard work of the Office of Financial Management.

“This independent ratings agency has affirmed our sound financial operations and the prudent actions of our County Commission,” Lewis said in the release.

The Fitch press release also states that Sarasota County has a “strong capacity” to navigate economic cycles because of the county’s robust financial reserves, expected revenue and solid expenditure flexibility.

Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Steve Botelho noted in the county release that the annual budget process is key to these positive results.

“We work tirelessly each year to present a balanced budget for the commission’s consideration, focusing on the community’s current needs while looking to the future,” Botelho pointed out in the release. “These ratings are indicative of the success of those efforts.”