Debt refinancing nets big savings for Washington County

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2012 - 5:45 PM

Bond agencies cited "strong management practices," conservative budgeting.

Washington County fell into some financial good fortune that promises to pay off for taxpayers.

Refinancing of $23.6 million in capital improvement bonds last week will save the county about $400,000 a year over the next 10 years as it pays down debt. Two bond rating agencies -- Moody's and Standard and Poor's -- commended the county for strong management practices and financial reviews.

"We actively manage our budget. Things just don't happen to us," Harley Will, the county's accounting and finance director, told the County Board. "We can easily demonstrate the county has weathered the Great Recession."

Both ratings agencies also affirmed the county's high bond ratings. That's important to bond buyers, who want to make sure the county continues a steady financial performance.

"Despite recent valuation declines, we expect the county's tax base to remain relatively stable due to the county's relatively diverse mix of industries and availability of land for future development, as approximately half of the land in the county is currently undeveloped," Moody's said.

The refinanced debt -- 20-year bonds issued in 2003 -- paid for two county service centers and also parkland acquisition, Will said.

Bond agencies, Will said, are looking harder at "strong management practices" and that Washington County has delivered on that expectation with strong leaders and a firm succession plan to replace Jim Schug, who retired recently chief county administrator.

The board hired his deputy, Molly O'Rourke, to replace him as the top boss in county government, which has the full-time equivalent of 1,100 employees. O'Rourke, in turn, hired Kevin Corbid to replace her as deputy. Corbid had been managing the county's elections and taxpayer services department.

Dennis Hegberg, the board chairman, said the county has taken a conservative approach to spending. Debt on a new, larger jail was paid before expansion of the county's Government Center in Stillwater began, he said. "We lived up to our promise of not going into debt," he said.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037; Twitter: @stribgiles

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