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Moody's boosts county's image

Bond rating giant Moody's gave its seal of approval to Schenectady County's fiscal improvements last week by removing the negative outlook it had previously assigned to county debt.

The county investment grade of Aa2 remains unchanged, but the improved bond outlook, which affects $53.8 million of outstanding debt, makes county bonds more attractive to investors.

An advantage of a better rating is that the county can issue bonds at lower interest rates, which will reduce the overall amount of money that falls to taxpayers.

This news has an immediate impact since the county is close to issuing $13 million in general obligation bonds to reimburse General Electric for years of sales tax overpayments.

Later this year, the county is expected to borrow another $13 million to finance highway improvements and renovations to the county office building.

Moody's affirmation of the Aa2 rating and the removal of the negative outlook is further acknowledgement that the county is moving in the right direction, said County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna. "We continue to expand our tax base through aggressive economic develop-ment efforts. We are building healthy reserves in the county coffer and are managing the county's debt in a responsible manner."

The Aa2 rating reflects ongoing economic development that is expected to spur continued expansion of the county's tax base, according to Moody's spokesman Richard Helgason.

"Removal of the negative outlook reflects the county's return to structural balance in fiscal 2005, based upon unaudited financial results, and projected continued balanced operations in fiscal 2006," Helgason said.

Moody's expects the county's $7.5 billion tax base to experience continued growth from the county's economic development efforts, aided by the .5-percent sales tax shared by municipalities and Metroplex.

The bond rating agency points to recent projects such as the $130 million GE research facility, that employs 1,800 scientists and engineers to the type of development activity that has contributed to the county's low 4-percent unemployment rate.

That rate compares favorably to the state and national rates of 4.4 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, according to Helgason.

Only two counties in New York are rated higher than Schenectady County.

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