Beaufort earns highest bond rating

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The city of Beaufort earned its highest bond rating ever from Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, reflecting the city’s strong management, budgetary flexibility and a locally-improving economy, city leaders said Wednesday.

Standard & Poor’s Rating Services raised its long-term rating and underlying rating on the city of Beaufort’s general obligation debt to “AA,” up from “AA-”, based on their local general obligation criteria released September 12, 2013. The outlook is stable, the rating firm said.

The good news for the city government comes even as the community continues to wrestle with economic diversification and redevelopment, attracting shoppers to downtown Beaufort stores, finding the right mix of local retail and destination shops, and balancing city taxes against services and improvements some residents desire.

“All in all, I think our city government has done a wonderful job of navigating the Great Recession, from a management perspective, and the Standard & Poor’s rating reflects that achievement,” Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.

“At the same time, we are still struggling to fill vacant storefronts, we struggle to attract new residents, we struggle to provide all the services and amenities people say they want. And we must press on with efforts to diversify our economic base by attracting better jobs for those who grow up here and those who choose to move here. From that perspective, Beaufort as a community has a long ways to go, though we are making headway,” he said.

The Standard & Poor’s Rating Services report addressed the city of Beaufort government’s finances, not the community at large.

The improved rating could bring better interest rates for the city of Beaufort if general obligation bonds are issued or existing debt refinanced with the AA standing, said City Finance Director Kathy Todd. She said there aren’t any immediate plans to issue additional debt though refinancing current debt may be a viable option if it will produce lower interest rates and save the city money in the short- and long term.

“As the economy quickly turned bad and then worse starting in 2007, (City Manager Scott) Dadson, his staff and City Council made some very strategic decisions that helped stabilize our finances and put us in our favorable position today. It wasn’t easy, and sacrifices were made, but today the City of Beaufort government is in perhaps its best financial situation in 20-plus years,” the mayor said.

The S&P upgrade reflects the rating agency’s findings of strong financial management in the city government, very strong budgetary flexibility, very strong liquidity, strong budgetary performance, and adequate debt and contingent liabilities.

“This supports our hard work to put Beaufort in a strong financial position despite the economic downturn,” Dadson said. “Kudos to Kathy Todd and our City Council for making this improved bond rating possible.”