SARATOGA COUNTY -- Moody's Investor Service has upgraded Saratoga County's general obligation bond rating from Aa2 to Aa1, which indicated the county's financial strength and could lower its borrowing costs in the future.
Moody's said the upgrade "reflects Saratoga County's continued financial strength and steadily growing tax base."
The county has been one of the only places in upstate New York to see population and commercial growth over the last few decades, with a population today estimated at 227,000, nearly 10,000 more than a decade ago. The regional economy got a boost from the opening of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta in 2011, and that has brought new housing and services demand to the county.
"The growing population and economy have led to growing property and sales tax receipts which have bolstered the county's reserve position," Moody's said in a rating change report issued Jan. 14.
The last change to the county's Moody's rating was in 2014, when it was downgraded from Aa1 to Aa2 because the county was depleting reserves to pay operating debt on the Maplewood Manor nursing home, which the county operated at the time. The nursing home was sold to a private operator in 2015, and the rating service removed a "negative" outlook for the county in 2016.
County officials are pleased with the upgrade. With the addition of Saratoga, there are now just five counties in New York state that have the Aa1 rating. One of the others is Schenectady County.
"Saratoga County is proud of this rating increase that reflects our strong fiscal position built from years of conservative financial outlooks and management," said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Preston Allen, R-Day. "We remain committed to creating an economic environment that welcomes new business, residents and continued economic growth."
Broadly, the rating is an evaluation of the county's ability to pay back any money it borrows. The higher the rating, the more certain its ability to repay, which translates into a lower interest rate since the risk of investors losing their money is lower.
"This rating increase is great news for the taxpayers of Saratoga County," said County Treasurer Drew Jarosh. "As stewards of every taxpayer dollar we take seriously our responsibility to make smart investments and manage our continued growth."
The county's sales tax is the largest source of its revenue, and grows nearly every year. It is expected to bring in $128 million in 2020 -- half of which is distributed to towns and cities. Last year, the tax raised $124.2 million.
The county property tax rate averages $2.26 per $1,000 full value for 2020 -- and the county cut the rate by a few cents in both 2018 and 2019. But because the tax base increased, the same rate this year is raising $62.6 million, compared to $60.1 million last year.
The Census Bureau estimates the median annual family income in the county at nearly $81,000, the highest north of Dutchess County and the New York City outer suburbs.
"The rating increase is based on our growth in reserves, strengthening of the tax base and resident wealth," said County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. "Because of the leadership of the Board of Supervisors, we're able to leverage every tax dollar and receive the second-highest rating issued by Moody's. I credit the Board of Supervisors, the county treasurer and many others who've led economic development efforts for this achievement."