For the first time in a decade, DeKalb County is borrowing money to fix a cash-flow problem.
In a meeting on April 12, the Board of Commissioners agreed to authorize county officials to take out a tax anticipation note of up to $150 million. A tax anticipation note is a short-term governmental loan based on projected revenue from taxes.
The loan is a “necessity in order to be able to maintain our liquidity in the next few months,” Commissioner Jeff Rader said.
Last month, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Ratings Services announced that it had lowered the county’s general obligation debt rating from AA- to BBB and its long-term rating on the county’s appropriation-backed debt from A+ to BBB-.
The rating on DeKalb’s outstanding water and sewer bonds was dropped from AA+ to AA-. After the ratings were lowered, they were withdrawn by S&P, a financial services company that publishes financial research and analysis on stocks and bonds.
Rader said the tax anticipation note will require another credit check for the county.
“This rating activity will be done in the environment…that our long-term debt has been evaluated in over the past couple of months,” Rader said. “This will put the focus again on our liquidity and our financial condition.”
Richard Stogner, the county’s chief operating officer, said there could be a slight increase in the interest rates for the county to repay the loan.
The funds would be borrowed within the next two months and repaid by the end of the year as tax monies come in. County tax bills will go out in July and the due dates for payments are Sept. 15 and Nov. 15.
Stogner said the county usually has $40 million to $50 million left over from the previous year. That money is generally used to help with cash flow until tax funds are generated. This year, there was only about $2 million to $3 million in surplus.
“We have to borrow to even out the cash flow,” Stogner said.
Commissioner Lee May, chairman of the county’s finance committee, said the tax anticipation loan would put the county in a better position with the rating agencies.
“One of their major concerns with the previous downgrade was [there was] not a good sense of where our cash-flow projections were,” May said. “This is a good move to help us with our cash flow position and … the rating agencies.”
The Board of Commissioners is also considering a tax increase to put more money in its reserves.
Rader has introduced a resolution supporting a 3.3-mill tax increase that would bring an additional $51 million in revenue to the county. Of that money, $33 million would be put into the county’s budget reserves. Combined with the $12 million already in the budget, that would bring the county reserves to $45 million—enough to keep the county running for a month.
The proposed tax increase would also collect $17.7 million, which would be used to adjust other tax funds departmental budgets.
Rader said the ratings could have a negative impact as the county seeks to raise funds for its water and sewer improvements.
In December, the county’s Board of Commissioners approved $1.345 billion in improvements to DeKalb’s water and sewer system, which will be financed by an 11 percent rate hike each year for three years beginning in 2012.
In a statement earlier this month, DeKalb’s Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis called Rader’s resolution “a reasonable compromise that moves us in the direction of fiscal stability.”
In December, Ellis presented a proposed budget which called for a “lean,” 2.32 mill, or 12 percent property tax increase—nearly one mill less than the increase considered this week.