Fitch Ratings affirms the following ratings of --
--Implied general obligation unlimited tax (GOULT) at 'AA'.
The Rating Outlook is Stable.
The gas tax revenue bonds are secured by the county's receipt of the constitutional gas tax, the county gas tax, and the ninth-cent gas tax.
The public improvement revenue and refunding bonds are secured by the county's receipt of local government half-cent sales tax revenues. Both the gas tax and public improvement revenue bonds are additionally secured by cash funded debt service reserve funds.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
ADEQUATE SPECIAL TAX COVERAGE: Coverage of maximum annual debt service (MADS) for the gas tax and sales tax revenue bonds was 1.6 times (x) and 1.9x from fiscal 2013 unaudited pledged revenue, respectively. No additional leveraging is expected for either security.
STABLE ECONOMIC PROFILE: The regional economy benefits from the stable presence of the
VERY LOW DEBT: Overall debt levels are low at less than 1 percent of market value and
HEALTHY RESERVES: Operating surpluses resulted in the accumulation of healthy reserve levels; and use of fund balance anticipated in the fiscal 2014 is not expected to jeopardize reserve fund policy compliance.
FURTHER PLEDGED REVENUE DECLINE: Coverage on the gas tax revenue bonds is on the low side for the current 'AA-' rating. Further material weakening in pledged revenues would result in negative rating action.
Located in north central
STABLE ECONOMIC BASE
The county seat is the city of
The regional economy is dominated by the government and educational and health services sectors. The largest healthcare enterprises are
Job growth over the past three years has resulted in declining unemployment rates and the
FAVORABLE FINANCIAL RESERVES
Three years of sizable operating surpluses in fiscal years 2010 through 2012 built up unrestricted general fund reserves to
Unaudited general fund results for fiscal 2013 were again better than budget and show a small operating deficit (after transfers) of
The county's adopted fund balance policy requires an unassigned fund balance equal to 10 percent of the following year's projected operating revenue and, with the exception of fiscal 2009, the county has consistently adhered to its policy.
The fiscal 2014 budget of
PROPERTY TAX DOMINATED BUDGET
Property taxes are the dominant operating revenue accounting for approximately 84 percent of budgeted general fund revenue. The general operating tax rate of 8.8 mills is high relative to the 10- mill statewide cap, in part due to a high proportion of tax-exempt property within the county. Tempering the limited margin is the relative longer term stability of the tax base which stems from the stable nature of the economic base and the absence of coastal property targeted for speculative development.
The county's fiscal 2014 taxable assessed value (TAV) of
The county's overall debt burden is low at 0.7 percent of market value (inclusive of tax-exempt property) and less than
The county's capital needs include a backlog of road repairs and the county is considering a
The county has no exposure to variable rate debt or derivatives. The rapid amortization of outstanding bonds (87 percent within 10 years) also reflects favorably on the county's debt profile. Long- term liabilities related to pension and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) are also manageable. The county participates in the Florida Retirement System, a relatively well funded statewide defined benefit pension plan. The county's fiscal 2012 contribution was
SPECIAL TAX COVERAGE
Pledged sales tax revenues have grown modestly each year over the past four years, after experiencing a peak to trough decline of 13.6 percent during the recession. Unaudited fiscal 2013 pledged revenues improved a healthy 3.5 percent and provide good 1.9x coverage of MADS. No additional leveraging is contemplated by the county. The legal provision for issuance of additional debt is based on a lenient 1.25x coverage test.
Pledged gas tax collections continue to show modest erosion. The total decline since 2007 is 12.6 percent, including the most recent fiscal 2013 decline of -1.2 percent. Fiscal 2013 unaudited revenues of
Additional information is available at 'fitchratings.com'.
In addition to the sources of information identified in Fitch's Tax-Supported Rating Criteria, this action was additionally informed by information from Creditscope,
--'Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (
--'U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (
Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
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Fitch Ratings affirms the following ratings of