Saratoga County official: Budget surplus will rise quickly

Thursday, February 6, 2014
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— Saratoga County is in the process of improving its financial position and hopes to eventually get its bond rating upgraded again by Moody’s Investor Services, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig said Wednesday.

“Our surplus or reserves are expected to improve dramatically over the next couple of years,” Hellwig said.

The county administrator spoke a day after Moody’s downgraded the county’s bond rating from Aa1 to Aa2, citing how much money the county had used over the past decade to underwrite the Maplewood Manor nursing home.

“The reality is that the county [rating] is still high quality and very low risk,” Hellwig said.

Moody’s system has as its second tier below an Aaa rating Aa1, Aa2 and Aa3 ratings, all of which are considered high quality and low risk.

The county finished 2013 with a roughly $10 million fund balance, down from $30 million less than a decade ago. Much of that money went to support multimillion-dollar annual losses at Maplewood.

The county late last year agreed to sell the nursing home to a private buyer for $14.1 million, pending approval by the state Health Department.

Hellwig said the county expects the deal to be finalized by the end of the year — but even if it isn’t, the nursing home’s losses are now being covered by a local development corporation, not the county.

“Even if there is unforeseen delay, we will not have to dip into the general fund,” Hellwig said.

He said he expects the county to begin rebuilding its surplus to somewhere between $13 million and $16 million by the end of the year.

“The goal over the next two or three years is to get it back up around $23 million,” he said.

The county doesn’t have any general obligation debt, but is rated because it has final responsibility for repaying $59.6 million in debt the sewer district took on for a treatment plant expansion. In practice, those bonds are paid off through fees collected from sewer users.

The downgrade could affect the value of those bonds and could also have an impact — such as a higher interest rate — on about $18 million the sewer district plans to borrow for improvements around Saratoga Lake.

Also pending is borrowing by the Saratoga County Water Authority for up to $10 million in improvements at the water treatment plant in Moreau.

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