Kent County bonds at top rate for 20th year


DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids is among the projects Kent County has helped finance. Courtesy SMG

Kent County received the highest possible credit ratings for the 20th consecutive year.

The ratings come from agencies S&P Global and Moody’s Investors Service. The long-term bonds were rated AAA, while the short-term notes were rated MIG1 (Moody’s) and SP-1+ (Standard & Poor’s).

Kent County is among only 25 counties in the country with these ratings, said Jim Saalfeld, chair of the county’s board of commissioners.

Saalfeld, County Administrator/Controller Wayman Britt, County Treasurer Ken Parrish and Fiscal Services Director Stephen Duarte met with the rating agencies in New York recently to review the county’s financial situation, which included presentations from the county leaders.

Saalfeld said the ratings are a “report card” for the entire county, not just fiscal strength.

“The process involves assessing our county leadership, staff stability, good policies and regulations, cooperation with the private sector and other units of government, the economic health of our region and much more,” he said.

Britt said maintaining the rating was a priority when he took the county’s top leadership role in January.

“Obtaining this rating is one of the cornerstones of Kent County’s reputation and fits in our mission to be an effective and efficient steward in delivering quality services for our diverse community,” Britt said. “This year presented new challenges, but our department directors and staff worked to maintain the excellence our residents and stakeholders have come to expect. I am proud of what this team accomplishes every day.”

That main challenge this year for the financial services team was working with a new management system for financial reporting and other tasks, which went into place in 2017.

According to Duarte, the Government Finance Officers Association recognized the team last year.

Duarte said it’s the county leaders’ abilities to responsibly manage the county’s assets that have kept the rating at the highest marks.

“We continue to manage our money and be fiscally prudent,” he said. “We continue to make sure that we adopt balanced budgets. We continue to adopt policies that make fiscal sense. We adhere to those policies.”

Like a personal credit score, this allows the county to pay the least amount of interest possible, saving the public hundreds of thousands of dollars, Parrish said.

Duarte said he believes this is important because it gives the county the ability to loan to projects that help the region’s economic viability.

DeVos Place is among the projects the county has helped finance. Kent County uses the lodging excise levy, or the hotel/motel tax, to pay for the bonds.

When people come downtown to enjoy events there, for example, that also increases revenue for local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

“That benefits the entire community,” Duarte said.

The Business Journal reported earlier this year the upward trend in revenue performance for DeVos Place and the Van Andel Arena due to increased success at the box office.

The Business Journal also reported record hotel revenue of nearly $211 million in 2017, attributed to high attendance at many venues.

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