‘One of a handful,’ LCFP awarded highest bond rating 15 years in a row

Above, young turtles at a Lake County Forest Preserve site. – LCFP.org

by Tina Johansson

The Lake County Forest Preserve District announced it has been awarded AAA bond rating by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, two of the top credit rating agencies in the world.

The AAA rating, the highest possible, indicates that an entity has an extremely strong capability to meet its debt obligations. Of the 250 rated recreation districts nationwide, the Lake County Forest Preserves is one of only a handful rated AAA.

The savings will come directly off county residents’ property tax bills. – Ann Maine, president of LCFP

The rating honor is due to the strong, conservative approach of the LCFP board, said Stephen Neaman, director of finance for the forest preserve district.

“Because a key strategic direction from our 100-year Vision is organizational sustainability, we have been focusing on decisions to ensure long-term sustainability, while maintaining current high standards of service. This focus is reflected in the AAA bond ratings that have been awarded to the Forest Preserves again this year,” said Ty Kovach, LCFP executive director.

On July 12, the district sold two series of bonds to refinance three of its outstanding bond issues. Because of the AAA rating, the sales of those bonds resulted in $10.7 million in total savings in tax levies through 2028. Interest rates averaged 2.01 percent. The savings are worth some $9.4 million today, according to officials.

Ann Maine, president of the LCFP said the savings will come directly off county residents’ property tax bills. “We will continue to plan for fiscally responsible decisions in an effort to determine the best course of action moving forward. The ultimate goal is to maintain the fiscal and environmental health of the Lake County Forest Preserves,” she said.

In determining the top rating, both agencies looked favorably at the District’s long-term financial planning as a relevant management policy. With the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 Budget, the Forest Preserves extended financial planning from a five- to a 10-year projection for the first time in its history. This long-term planning is regarded by both agencies as an attribute of stability, achieved by only top-ranked entities. They also noted that the Forest Preserves has made important fiscal decisions such as “significant expenditure cuts, including reducing its workforce by 10 percent and instituting wage freezes.”

The District’s AAA rating was awarded with an outlook of “stable.” This outlook reflects estimation on the part of the rating agencies that the financial picture for the Forest Preserves will not change in the next two years, and will maintain very strong economic indicators.

The Lake County Forest Preserves received its first AAA rating from S&P in 2001 and from Moody’s in 2003, and has continuously maintained both ever since.

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