TEXT - Fitch rates Plano, Texas GOs 'AAA'

Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:11am EST

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Feb 21 - Fitch Ratings assigns an 'AAA' rating to the following Plano, Texas
(the city) general obligation (GO) bonds: 

--$63 million limited tax general obligation (LTGO) refunding and improvement 
bonds, series 2013.

 

The bonds are scheduled to sell via negotiation on March 5. 

Proceeds will be used for street, parks, library, and public safety 
improvements, and to refund certain outstanding bonds for level interest cost 
savings from 2013-2026. 

In addition, Fitch affirms its 'AAA' rating on the following outstanding debt of
the city: 

 

--$299.4 million in LTGOs; 
--$11.5 million in certificates of obligation (COs); 
--$13.7 million in tax notes. 

 

The Rating Outlook is Stable. 

SECURITY 

The bonds and outstanding LTGOs, COs, and tax notes are secured by a limited ad 
valorem tax pledge of $2.50 per $100 of taxable assessed valuation (TAV), levied
against all taxable property within the city. The COs are further secured by a 
de minimus limited pledge (not to exceed $1,000) of surplus net revenues of the 
city's waterworks and sewer system. 

KEY RATING DRIVERS 

DIVERSE, AFFLUENT RESOURCE BASE: The city benefits from a diverse corporate 
base, proactive economic development program, and prominence in the broad and 
resilient Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) economy. Residents are affluent and 
well-educated.  

WELL-MANAGED FINANCES: Sound management practices and policies have sustained 
the city's strong financial profile and proactive approach to funding 
operational, economic development, and capital needs. 

AMPLE RESERVES AND FLEXIBILITY: Operating reserves and liquidity provide good 
fiscal cushion. Additional flexibility is provided by the presence of sizable 
capital reserves and a portion of the tax rate earmarked for discretionary 
economic development.  

MODERATE DEBT BURDEN: The city's debt burden is manageable with high per-capita 
debt offset by the high-income levels. Future debt issuance plans should be 
easily managed given the currently rapid pace of debt retirement. 

RATING SENSITIVITIES:   

The rating is sensitive to shifts in fundamental credit characteristics 
including the city's strong financial management practices. The Stable Outlook 
reflects Fitch's expectation that such shifts are highly unlikely.

CREDIT PROFILE

Plano is a wealthy and mature suburb located 20 miles north of Dallas with a 
population of approximately 260,000. 

STRONG LOCAL ECONOMY WITH EXCELLENT DEMOGRAPHICS

Plano is one of the premier commercial centers and residential suburbs of the 
extensive Dallas-Fort Worth economy. The city's economy is diverse and serves as
corporate and/or regional headquarters for a number of companies, including HP 
Enterprise Services, JCPenney, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay North American division, 
Alcatel-Lucent, Capital One Auto Finance, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. 

The city actively engages in economic development efforts to attract new 
businesses and the highly-educated population helps strengthen the city's 
employment profile. The percentage of residents with an advanced degree is 
nearly twice the national average. Wealth levels are also very high, with per 
capita personal income at 147% of the national average. 

The city, like the region, continues to outpace the nation in job growth. 
Plano's December 2012 unemployment rate improved to 5.3% from 6% as employment 
gains outpaced labor-force gains, which compares favorably to the state (6%) and
national averages (7.6%), respectively.

JCPenney, the city's second largest taxpayer (0.7% of TAV) and fourth largest 
employer, has made recent layoffs and continues to adjust its business strategy 
to combat poor margins. The near-term outlook for this retailer remains 
uncertain but Fitch believes the impact of further layoffs and down-sizing would
not have significant credit implications given the diversity of Plano's economy 
and taxing base.  

HEALTHY HOUSING MARKET/COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT TAV GAINS

TAV climbed 2.5% in fiscal 2013, which marks the second consecutive year of tax 
base gains since slight contraction resulting from lower commercial and 
residential valuations. Per-capita market value remains high at $120,000 and the
housing market is stable. Zillow home prices show only a 5% peak-to-trough 
decline from 2007-2009 and current home prices have climbed to 98.5% of the 
pre-recession peak. Commercial development is also continuing and existing 
companies (Capital One and Ericsson) are expanding their corporate campuses. 
Fitch believes prospects for continued tax base growth are positive. 

STRONG FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT PRACTICES AND RESULTS 

Conservative budgeting, interim reporting, and forecasting practices are a 
hallmark of the city's financial management, and this approach has led to 
results that consistently outperform budget projections. Significant budget 
flexibility is apparent through the annually large operating transfers to a 
capital reserve fund (5% of spending since fiscal 2008), which could be reduced,
deferred, or eliminated if necessary. In addition, 4% of the tax rate is 
earmarked for economic development purposes and could be re-directed by the city
council to general operations.

Management successfully navigated slight revenue pressures in fiscal years 
2008-2010 with spending reductions while prudently continuing the transfers to 
the capital reserve fund. Fund balance during this period declined slightly by 
7%. However, strong growth in property taxes and sales taxes, the two leading 
sources of operating revenues, as well as continued conservative budgeting 
yielded positive margins in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 totaling 1.7% and 3.9% of
spending, respectively. 

Fiscal 2012 results were aided by a one-time catch-up sales tax payment of $3.2 
million and conservative expenditure budget. The unrestricted general fund 
balance climbed to $52.7 million or 25% of spending and year-end liquidity 
improved to cover current liabilities 6.3x. 

The fiscal 2013 $230.7 million general fund budget increases spending 6.3% from 
the 2012 budget, restoring some city services, adding a net 26 positions to the 
budget, and providing recurring pay raise to civil service and non-civil service
personnel. Commensurate with past budgets, the city appropriated fund balance 
above its policy floor of 30-days of expenditures for capital and other 
non-recurring items. 

The budget conservatively estimates sales taxes at 88% of fiscal 2012 actual 
collections (net of the one-time payment in fiscal 2012). Given the positive 
year-to-date trends and prior-year performance, Fitch expects the city will 
again significantly outperform the forecast draw-down. The presence of $44.7 
million of unrestricted funds in the capital reserve fund further enhances the 
city's strong fiscal profile.  

MODERATE DEBT BURDEN AND WELL-FUNDED PENSIONS 

The city's overall debt ratios are moderate to high at 4.6% of market value and 
$5,463 per capita. The high per-capita debt burden is largely due to overlapping
school district debt, and this concern is mitigated by residents' high income 
levels. Amortization of tax-supported debt is rapid at 74% of principal retired 
in 10 years and all repaid in 20 years. 

The city actively maintains a comprehensive capital improvement program. After 
this issuance, officials plan to issue $87 million of remaining GO authorization
over the next four years and seek additional GO authorization for $98.3 million 
in a May 2013 bond election. The estimated tax rate impact from this additional 
debt would be a nominal 1.3% increase due the rapid retirement of existing debt.
Debt issuance will also be supplemented by continued pay-go capital spending.  

Employee pension benefits are substantially provided through the city's 
participation in the Texas Municipal Retirement System (TMRS), an agent-multiple
employer plan. The city also maintains a single-employer Retirement Security 
Plan (RSP) for employees in lieu of participation in federal social security. 
The annual required contributions (ARC) for both plans are consistently funded 
and together consumed 9.3% of fiscal 2012 governmental fund spending. Fitch 
considers both pension plans well-funded, with TMRS at 83.4% and RSP at 97.2% as
of fiscal 2012 year-end using an adjusted 7% investment return. 

Unfunded liabilities for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) are a nominal 
0.1% of market value and the city pro-actively established an OPEB trust in 
fiscal 2008. Combined fixed costs for debt service and pension/OPEB ARCs totaled
a slightly elevated 27.5% of governmental fund spending but this is mostly a 
result of the higher annual debt cost from rapid amortization.
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