Sarasota County’s tax bond rating upgraded by New York investment firm

Moody’s action regards bonds used for the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program

Thomas Harmer. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

At the very end of the Sarasota County Commission’s first budget workshop of the year — held Feb. 17 — County Administrator Tom Harmer said he was happy to announce positive financial news: New York-based Moody’s Investor Services had announced that Sarasota County’s limited ad valorem tax bond rating had been upgraded from A3 to Aaa.

That “reflects a full six-level increase in the ratings for the Series 2008 and 2005 bonds, which are used for the acquisition of lands in the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP), indicating a stable outlook,” a county news release says.

Because of the Great Recession, Moody’s downgraded those bonds in 2011 from Aa2 to Baa2, the release notes. In July 2011, the county defeased approximately $17.5 million of outstanding bonds to improve the debt coverage, the release adds. Moody’s upgraded the bonds to Baa1 in October 2013, the release points out, and then to A3 in February 2015.

In the release, Harmer linked the bond rating increase to the cautious and responsible management of public funds by county leaders: “This new Moody’s rating is the same as the county’s long-term issuer rating of Aaa and reflects, according to Moody’s, strong operating fund reserves, improving tax base and favorable debt coverage ratios.”

According to Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho, who also serves as the county’s chief financial management officer, the new bond rating reflects a continued resurgence of strong financial growth in Sarasota County.

“Our responsibility as stewards drives the efforts by county staff, and these efforts are reflected in this increased Moody’s rating,” Botelho noted in the release. “The Aaa rating represents the highest rating that the county can achieve from Moody’s and, with a stable outlook, reflects the county’s strong financial position,” he added.

Through the ESLPP, Sarasota County has purchased and preserved many sites, the release explains. Staff continues to identify more acreage that needs to be acquired, the release adds, noting, “Doing so ensures public access to the land, and preservation of some of Sarasota County’s most precious assets.”