The Town of Bethlehem has seen an upgrade to its credit rating after Standard and Poor’s Financial Services cited the town’s superb financial status and recent budgetary decisions.
At the beginning of February, the town’s credit rating was upgraded from a rating of AA to AA+ by S&P. Chief among the reasons for the upgrade was the town’s new fund balance policy, multi-year budgeting and the capital improvement plan. Each policy was pushed for in recent years by Supervisor John Clarkson.
“We view the town’s management conditions as strong, with good financial practices,” read the report submitted to Comptroller Mike Cohen.
Clarkson said he was glad the report specifically mentioned the financial process improvements, which were made recently. The town’s fund balance policy requires it to maintain a contingency general fund reserve of between 7.5 and 15 percent of budgeted appropriations. If this balance drops below the 7.5 percent minimum, officials are required to adopt a plan to bring balance back to the policy minimum within three years.
The report praised town officials for their advance decision to make attritional cuts in order to make up the shortfall from the loss of Selkirk Cogen’s payment in lieu of taxes payments in 2013.
“As these reductions in staff were not planned in the 2012 budget, the town realized positive budget-to-actual results,” the report noted.
Although the town’s debt is low, more is expected to be taken on in the near future as officials prepare to pay for needed capital improvements. Clarkson said the hope is the town can save money by turning investment bands into bonds and earning lower interest rates.
The report also highlighted last year’s opening of the Vista Technology Campus in Slingerlands. Its inclusion was with the expectation that “research and manufacturing facilities continue to grow and add to the town’s tax base.” Three companies are now reportedly looking at the site, but none have yet to be named.
Clarkson said he knows some are still concerned that tax abatements were granted for the initial projects, but he did not believe Vista would ever have been constructed if they were not approved.
“What’s good about Vista as opposed to a new housing development is it brings revenues without services,” said Clarkson. “We’ve got to keep promoting the park, and I believe in the long term it’s a positive for the community and everything will work out.”
Other contributing factors for the upgrade was Albany County’s low unemployment rate, Bethlehem’s contributions to state and local pension benefits and the town’s budgetary flexibility.
“I find this rating upgrade to be very good news for our community,” said Clarkson.