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Freeholders Tout County's Triple A Bond Rating

Rating will allow county to refinances bonds at a cheaper rate, save money on debt service

Thanks to what it called conservative financial moves and careful planning, the Ocean County Board of Freeholders announced the county will be refinancing about $30 million in bonds, with a savings projected at possibly more than $2 million in interest payments.

In 2011, the county's fiscal practices were rated by Moody's Investors Service and by Fitch Ratings, and at that time given a Triple A rating but with a negative outlook as to whether they would retain that status, Freeholder Deputy Director John A. Bartlett said at Wednesday's meeting of the freeholders at the Ocean County Administration Building in Toms River.

A Triple A bond rating is the top rating a government entity can receive, and reflects what the bond raiting agencies view as demonstrating the strongest creditworthiness.

The negative outlook, Bartlett said, was the result of the county tapping into its surplus to cover part of the budget as a result of the country's ongoing economic issues.

"Our surplus went from $55 million to $34 million," Bartlett said, noting that many in the community had urged the county to spend more of its surplus. "Had we spent more we would have lost our Triple A rating."

In the year since, the freeholders put a priority on maintaining the Triple A status, and while Moody's gave the county a Triple A with a negative outlook again, Fitch upgraded the county to Triple A with a stable outlook.

A Triple A rating with a stable outlook is the very best it can receive. That rating is why the county is issuing refunding bonds -- which pay off the current debt, and refinance it at a lower interest rates.

"In real terms we are borrowing $28 million and paying off $29 million, reducing the county's debt by $1 million," Bartlett said.

Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said the rating reflects the county's discipline.

"We've controlled spending and we've protected core programs," Vicari said. "We've said something no one wants to hear: No. If we don't have it, we don't do it."

Also at the freeholders meeting:

-- Vicari said that for the first time in years, officials from JCP&L refused to meet with the freeholders before the summer season. 

"Every May we meet to go over issues," Vicari said. This year, "JCP&L refused to come before this board." He attributed it to last summer in the wake of where his demands for answers on timetables regarding power restoration were not met. But Vicari noted there have been other power disturbances in previous summers that were unrelated to storms.

"We have to prevent these power disturbances," he said. "Electric is essential to our lifestyle today, especially for our seniors."

"For them to refuse to come to a workshop meeting is an insult to the people of Ocean County," Vicari said, repeating his call from last summer to have an on the Board of Public Utilities, in hopes of holding the utility companies accountable.

-- The board formally awarded the contract for reconstruction of Veterans Boulevard in Berkeley Township to C.J. Hesse of Belford. The contract, for $1,669,669.30, provides for widening of the roads to two eastbound lanes from the intersection with Grand Central Parkway, in front of Central Regional High School, to Western Boulevard. The project is expected to begin by the end of June.

-- The board awarded a contract to Historic Building Architects of Trenton to prepare applications to get the Cedar Bridge Tavern in Barnegat listed in both the state and national Registers of Historic Places. The tavern was the site of what is considered the last skirmish of the Revolutionary War, according to the websites revolutionarywarnewjersey.com and pineypower.com.

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