Moody’s Investors Service awarded Essex County a Aaa Stable bond rating for the first time in the county’s history, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo announced late last week.
“This is great news for Essex County and validates all the hard work we have done for the past 16 years. I want to thank Moody’s for giving my administration the opportunity to prove ourselves and for listening to our story of transformation in Essex,” DiVincenzo said. “We achieved the Aaa rating because of everyone working together – my Department and Division Directors, the Board of Freeholders, our Constitutional Officers, our county agencies and our 3,500 employees. I appreciate everyone’s support and that we all shared the same goal.”
The heightened bond rating indicates confidence from Wall Street firms in the county’s finances. It will allow the county to secure better interest rates and more easily attract investors.
“The higher bond rating displays the trust and confidence that Wall Street has in Essex County’s finances and will help us get better interest rates and attract more prospective investors when we issue bonds,” DiVincenzo said. “For our residents, having a Aaa rating makes living in Essex County more attractive and will enhance property values,” he said.
The rating could also raise property values.
The new rating is a change from the start of DiVincenzo’s term, when the county faced a $64 million budget deficit and was on the verge of a ratings downgrade at the hands of the same agency that pumped the rating higher last week.
“When I was elected in 2002, Essex County was going through its most difficult financial time. We inherited a $64 million budget deficit and Moody’s was on the verge of downgrading our bond rating to junk bond status, which would have put us in the same category as Orange County, California,” DiVincenzo said. “Even before I was sworn into office, my team met with Moody’s, laid out our plan for financial recovery and asked them to give us a chance to address our budget problems,” he added.
The agency largely credited the policies of DiVincenzo and other members of the county’s leadership for the ratings shift, namely the county’s conservative and proactive budgeting.
Tax hikes in the county have been held in check a as a result of those same policies, keeping the tax increase in this year’s budget at 0.75%.