TEXT-Fitch affirms various Cape Coral, Fla. ratings

Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:57pm EST

Related Topics

Nov 20 - Fitch Ratings affirms the following ratings for Cape Coral, FL (the
city):

--$106.4 million special obligation revenue bonds, series 2006, 2007 and 2011 at
'A+';
--$16.9 million capital improvement and refunding bonds, series 2005 at 'AA-'.

In addition, Fitch assigns an 'AA-' implied general obligation rating to the
city.

The Rating Outlook for these bonds is Stable.

Fitch downgrades $39.4 million gas tax revenue bonds, series 2010A and 2010B
(Federally Taxable Build America Bonds-Direct Payment) to 'A-' from 'A'. The
Rating Outlook is Negative.

SECURITY

Special Obligation Bonds: The city has covenanted and agrees to appropriate in
its annual budget legally available non-ad valorem revenues in an amount
sufficient to pay debt service on the special obligation revenue bonds. The
obligation shall be cumulative to the extent not paid. An anti-dilution test
requires coverage of 1.5x projected maximum annual debt service (MADS) from the
average of the prior two fiscal years legally available non-ad valorem revenue.

The gas tax revenue bonds are secured by a lien on the revenues from the 5th and
6th cent local option gas tax imposed by the county and received by the city
pursuant to state law and interlocal agreement. The county ordinances
authorizing collection of the gas tax revenues does not extend to the scheduled
final maturity date of the bonds; therefore, the city has a covenant to budget
and appropriate legally available non-ad valorem revenues in the event the
city's receipt of gas tax revenues terminates as a result of the county's
determination not to extend the levy of either of the local option gas taxes.
Additional bonds may be issued if gas tax revenues from the prior fiscal year
equal 1.25x projected MADS.

The capital improvement revenue bonds are secured by a pledge of the city's
share of the local government one-half cent sales tax. Additional bonds may be
issued if pledged revenue in any 12 consecutive months out of the immediately
preceding 18 months equal 1.25x projected MADS.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

PRESSURED FINANCIAL PROFILE: Reserve levels remain sound despite successive fund
balance draws in fiscal 2011 and 2012, as well as a budgeted draw in fiscal
2013. Expenditure reductions to date have been significant, though flexibility
remains to raise recurring revenues.

HIGH CARRYING COSTS: Debt service, pension, and retiree healthcare costs consume
a high percentage of total spending, further straining operations.

STRAINED ECONOMIC CONDITIONS IMPROVING: The city continues to face significant
challenges as a result of the housing crisis; however, the area labor and
housing market show signs of improvement. Economic indicators are slightly below
national averages.

SPECIAL OBLIGATION BONDS: The rating on the special obligation revenue bonds is
based on the city's covenant to budget and appropriate (CB&A) non-ad valorem
revenues to pay debt service. Non-ad valorem revenues comprise a broad base of
resources from which to pay debt service, and coverage remains sound, albeit
declining in recent periods.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BONDS: The capital improvement revenue bond rating reflects
strong coverage of MADS from fiscal 2012 pledged revenues (unaudited) of 2.53x
and lack of additional leveraging plans.

GAS TAX BONDS: The gas tax revenue bond downgrade and Negative Outlook reflect
coverage of MADS from fiscal 2012 (unaudited) pledged revenues of 1.18x and
several years of negative trending collections.

WHAT COULD TRIGGER A RATING ACTION

FURTHER DECLINE IN GAS TAX REVENUES: Should pledged gas tax revenue coverage
continue to fall below its current level, there would be downward pressure on
the rating.

BUDGETARY SOLUTIONS NARROWED: Should the city continue to rely on fund balance
to plug budget gaps, the city will be more susceptible to budget shocks and the
challenges posed by a weakened tax base, a relatively high property tax rate,
and a slowly recovering economy.

CREDIT PROFILE

SOUND RESERVES DESPITE PRESSURED OPERATING ENVIRONMENT

Unaudited fiscal 2012 results show a moderate $4.9 million net deficit (after
transfers), decreasing the unrestricted fund balance to $29.6 million or 25.1%
of spending. Liquidity also remains sound, with cash and investments covering
liabilities over four times.

The fiscal 2013 budget appropriates $5 million of the balance being brought
forward from fiscal 2012. The city's fund balance policy requires an unreserved
fund balance equal to at least two months or 17.8% of spending, which Fitch
considers prudent.

The city has options to diversify its revenue base, most notably through the
imposition of a public service tax (PST) and fire service assessment. The city
estimates these sources could produce more than $40 million in annually
recurring revenue, but a majority of the city council has been reluctant to
impose new charges on residents. Management believes additional expenditure
savings are difficult to achieve without affecting service levels, as the city
has cut $18.9 million (14.4%) in operating expenditures since fiscal 2008.

SUBSTANTIAL TAX BASE DECLINES, BEGINNING TO SHOW SIGNS OF RECOVERY

Cape Coral is located on the southwest coast of Florida in Lee County 10 miles
south of Fort Myers and 125 miles south of Tampa. The city enjoys over 400 miles
of waterways providing access to the Intercoastal Waterway and Gulf of Mexico
making it a popular vacation and retiree community.

Cape Coral experienced a speculative building boom and unsustainable
appreciation in home values, and remains among the communities hardest hit by
the subsequent housing downturn and recession. Taxable values have dropped by
more than $13.1 billion or 60.5% from fiscal 2007-2012. Ad valorem taxes, which
still represent approximately 70% of general fund revenues, were $66 million in
fiscal 2012 or $36 million less than in fiscal 2007.

Fiscal 2013 tax base estimates show the first year of taxable value growth since
the downturn, with 3.8% improvement projected. The most recent Case-Schiller
data through the first quarter of 2012 detail similar growth, with four quarters
of successive gains in housing prices.

Other aspects of the economic picture also appears to be trending upward, albeit
slowly. Since peaking at a very high 12.5% in 2010, the city's unemployment rate
is down to 8.8% as of September 2012 from 11.1% in September 2011. Gains in the
employment base (4.8% cumulative during this period) relative to the labor force
(1.1%) have driven this recovery. Local employment opportunities are focused in
the retail trade, leisure & hospitality, and government sectors.

ELEVATED CARRYING COSTS

The city has incurred the bulk of its debt burden since 2006 to fund a variety
of projects to keep pace with previous growth and replacement needs. The city's
debt burden has risen accordingly, and fiscal 2011 debt service consumed a
moderate 10.8% of spending. Debt ratios ($2,077 per capita and 2.8% of market
value) have also increased due to the decline in property value. Lack of
additional borrowing plans and limited capital needs temper this risk. The city
does not have any exposure to variable-rate products or derivatives.

One concern is the high burden placed on the budget from debt service and
contributions for employee benefits, which total $37.7 million or one-third of
spending in fiscal 2011. The city administers three pension plans, with weak
funding ratios, for which the aggregate unfunded liability totals $198 million
or an elevated 1.7% of market value. Funding of less than the actuarial required
contribution (ARC) in some years heightens Fitch's concerns about the burden
post-employment benefit costs will place on future budgets. In addition, the
city provides group health and life insurance benefits to its retired employees.
The plan's unfunded liability equaled $191.4 million or an elevated 1.6% of
market value. In fiscal 2011, the city contributed $5.9 million (5.3% of
spending) in pay-go toward its $17.8 million ARC - full funding of which would
equal 16% of spending.

DEBT SERVICE COVERAGE FOR REVENUE BONDS

Non-ad valorem revenues are sizeable in absolute terms and diverse, budget at
$63.7 million in fiscal 2013, including $20.7 million in intergovernmental
revenues and $13.9 million in sales and use taxes. MADS on all special
obligation bonds is $17.9 million. The city's ability to leverage its non-ad
valorem revenues is limited by an anti-dilution test which requires that the
city's non-ad valorem revenues for the prior two fiscal periods shall not be
less than 1.5x projected MADS, and projected MADS shall not equal more than 20%
of governmental fund revenues.

Coverage remains strong for the capital improvement revenue bonds at 2.5x MADS
from fiscal 2012 pledged revenue (unaudited). Collections in fiscal 2012 were
slightly negative year-over-year (-0.1%) following growth of 4.2% in fiscal
2011.

Gas tax coverage is much tighter, at 1.18x from fiscal 2012 collections
(coverage improves to 1.35x including the federal subsidy for series 2010 bonds
issued as BABs). Gas tax revenues continue to trend negatively, declining 3.6%
in fiscal 2012 and 16% since fiscal 2007. The city reports no additional
leveraging plans for either security, and the debt service reserve fund provides
a $4 million cushion.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above
were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been
compensated for the provision of the ratings.

In addition to the sources of information identified in Fitch's Tax-Supported
Rating Criteria, this action was additionally informed by information from
Creditscope, University Financial Associates, S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index,
IHS Global Insight, National Association of Realtors.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (Aug. 14, 2012);
--'U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (Aug. 14, 2012).
FILED UNDER: