The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 17, 2013

County officials head to NYC

JEFFERSON — An entourage of county officials is headed to New York City on Sunday in an attempt to save county taxpayers up to $3 million over the next 10 years.

Commissioners, along with Treasurer Dawn Cragon, Auditor Roger Corlett and County Administrator Janet Discher, depart Sunday for a Monday morning meeting with Standard & Poor’s. The county’s bond counsel, Stephen Grassbaugh, and a representative from the Baird Group also will attend the meeting in the Big Apple.

The board wants to consolidate as much of the county’s debt as possible into one bond with a lower interest rate than exists on the disparate obligations. Commissioner Joe Moroski said the projections are for a savings of up to $3 million in interest costs over the next decade.

The amount of savings hangs on the rating that Standard & Poor’s assigns; the better the rating, the lower the interest rate. Commissioner Dan Claypool said the auditor, treasurer and county administrator have spent many hours collecting data and preparing for any question the rating agency tosses at the officials.

“This is a tremendous effort,” Claypool said. “It takes a lot of work from the county treasurer, auditor and administrator. “It’s been a tremendous project. ... Janet Discher deserves a lot of credit for running this show.”

“This is a great example of collaboration and teamwork for the good of the county,” Board of Commissioners President Peggy Carlo said.

Each team member is responsible for a segment of the presentation, the purpose of which is to familiarize the rating agents with the county and its fiscal state. The commissioners plan to emphasize how the board and other elected officials worked together to keep the county fiscally sound without dramatically decreasing services during the recession, when revenues fell by millions of dollars. Members of the contingent have been refining their presentation, a combination of Power Point slides and commentary, for several weeks. The whole presentation is not expected to take more than one hour.

“What we are trying to do is tell a very, very persuasive story about Ashtabula County’s finances,” Moroski said. “We believe we got a good story to tell and hope to be rewarded for it.”

The contingent will return to Ashtabula County Tuesday evening.

The catalyst for the board’s actions to consolidate debt is maturation of a one-year note that paid for furnishings at the lodge and conference center. The loan, which started out at $7.5 million, was rolled over for several years while the board waited for the bond market to improve. The county, using lodging tax and profits from the lodge, reduced the principal on the loan each time it was rolled over for another year.

Several months ago, commissioners began exploring the possibility of consolidating that debt — as well as general obligations, nursing home debt, a capital improvements loan and the lodge construction debt — into one bond.

Commissioners learned from Grassbaugh that the county would exceed its debt limit if it were to consolidate all categories of debt. The board must decide how much, if any, of the lodge construction debt to include in the financing package. Commissioners don’t want to use every dollar of the county’s debt capacity in the event an emergency arises that requires borrowing.

No sitting commissioner can recall having gone through the bond-rating process before; Moroski said the last time the county sought a rating was probably a decade ago, when it was seeking financing for the lodge.

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