Feb 4 - Fitch Ratings has assigned an 'AA' rating to the Northeast Maryland
Waste Disposal Authority, MD's (the authority) following revenue bonds:
--Approximately $79 million solid waste refunding revenue bonds (Montgomery
County Solid Waste Disposal System), series 2013.
The bonds are scheduled for competitive sale on Feb. 14. Proceeds will be used
to refund the authority's outstanding series 2003 bonds.
In addition, Fitch affirms its 'AA' rating on the following outstanding
--$2.7 million in outstanding solid waste disposal system refunding revenue
bonds, series 2003A, issued by Montgomery County, MD;
--$113.7 million in outstanding solid waste refunding revenue bonds (Montgomery
County Solid Waste System), series 2003, issued by the authority.
The Rating Outlook is Stable.
The bonds are a limited obligation of the authority secured by a pledge of
project revenues, the primary source of which is a waste disposal fee paid to
the authority by Montgomery County (the county) and secured by a pledge of
essentially all revenues derived from the operation of the county's solid waste
disposal system. The pledge securing the county's obligation to pay the waste
disposal fee to the authority is on parity with the pledge securing the county's
solid waste revenue bonds maturing June 1, 2013. The waste disposal fee paid by
the county is net of the authority's share of any revenues from the operations
of the project. Additional security is derived from a cash funded debt service
reserve fund equal to 10% of par.
USER FEE COLLECTED ON TAX BILL: A bulk of the system's revenues are derived from
a benefit charge or user fee collected by the county on commercial and
residential property tax bills and enforced through property foreclosure.
SOUND FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE: Bonds are secured by substantially all revenues
generated by the county's solid waste system, and both waste flow and net
revenue performance have improved after a slight decline during the recessionary
RESERVE LEVELS ARE FAVORABLE: The system has maintained a solid level of
operating reserves which have remained relatively stable the last five years.
STRONG ECONOMIC BASE: Montgomery County (general obligation bonds rated 'AAA' by
Fitch) benefits from its above-average wealth levels, low unemployment, and a
highly educated labor force. Anchoring the economy is the extensive presence of
the U.S. government.
LOW TO MODERATE DEBT BURDEN: Management reports the system is in good physical
condition and compliant with all regulatory requirements, and there are no
significant capital needs or plans for additional debt leveraging.
ADEQUATE BONDHOLDER PROTECTIONS: Rate covenant and additional bond provisions
are lenient. However, these risks are mitigated in part by the short remaining
life of the county and authority bonds, which are fully repaid by 2013 and 2016,
The authority is an independent state agency consisting of eight participating
political subdivisions located in central Maryland. The authority was organized
in 1980 to assist in the development of waste management facilities to serve the
region. In 1993 the authority and Montgomery County concurrently issued bonds to
finance construction of an 1,800 ton-per-day resource recovery facility (RRF),
among other related improvements. The authority owns the RRF, which it operates
as part of the county's solid waste disposal system (the county system) pursuant
to the terms of a waste disposal agreement with the county.
The county system provides for the collection, recycling, composting, transfer,
mass burning, and landfilling of solid waste. The county has been providing
solid waste collection and disposal services since 1943.
STRONG AND HIGHLY RATED ECONOMIC BASE
The solid waste disposal system service area is the entire Montgomery County.
Montgomery County is a wealthy suburb of Washington DC, with a highly educated
labor force and a broad and diverse economy with expansion potential. The
region's heavy concentration of government jobs helped to stabilize it during
the downturn, with declines in total payroll notably lower than the national
average. Healthy job growth is anticipated in the intermediate term, with modest
risk to government downsizing. Unemployment remains low at 4.7% in November.
Population is 989,794 (2011 estimate) and is up 13% from 2000 census figures.
PROPERTY TAX BILL CHARGES PROMOTE REVENUE STABILITY
A bulk of the county system revenues are collected as a system benefit charge,
which is essentially a pre-paid tip fee collected on the property tax bill and
enforced through foreclosure in the same manner as if the owner had failed to
pay property taxes. System benefit charges are established by the county without
any legal limitation and are calculated to reflect as closely as possible the
actual costs, or allocated portion of costs, to the county of providing solid
waste management services.
System benefit charges were $214 in 2012 for a single-family residence in the
unincorporated area of the county. These charges represented 71% of total
system revenues in fiscal 2012 and have averaged 70% the last five fiscal years.
This fee has gradually increased each year, but is up only 7.7% since 2008.
Approximately 359,000 residential units, including multi-family, located
throughout the county are subject to a charge on their property tax bill for
System benefit charges are set annually but may be adjusted more frequently. Due
to the nature of the property tax bill cycle, mid-year adjustments would be
cumbersome. However, the tip fee may be adjusted within 90 days of the county's
decision to do so. Tip fees, which account for an average of 16% of remaining
county system revenues, are also established by county ordinance without
limitation as to rate or amount.
Tip fees are currently $56 per ton, having last been increased by nearly 8%
effective fiscal 2008 and 27% in total since fiscal 2003. Tip fees are managed
to control capacity at the transfer station and RRF. Current tip fees are
competitive with regional systems.
SOUND FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE
The county system has historically produced coverage of operating expenses and
combined debt service on the authority and county bonds at or close to 1.0x.
Fitch calculated coverage in fiscal 2012 from net revenues of the county system
was 1.07x, up from 0.97x in fiscal 2011, largely due to an increase in waste
flow due to an improving economy.
The rate covenant and additional bonds test (ABT) is based on a relatively low
1.10x coverage threshold. Further, both tests permit 25% of the revenue
requirement to be satisfied from available fund balances. The fiscal 2012 debt
service coverage ratio improves to 1.83x when factoring in available fund
balances equal to 25% of revenues required to cover operations plus debt
LIBERAL RATE COVENANT AND ABT MITIGATED BY LACK OF DEBT NEEDS
Fitch views these liberal legal provisions negatively, as they allow less than
sum-sufficient coverage of debt service from system operations and may allow
issuance of more debt than the system operations can comfortably cover. However,
the stable nature of the revenue environment combined with the county's
exceptional financial management counters this risk, as do the lack of future
issuance plans and the short remaining life of the outstanding bonds. Further,
system liquidity is considered sound, with $58 million in available reserves at
the close of fiscal 2012 (audited GAAP), or the equivalent of 219 days operating
The county system is in full compliance with all regulatory permits. The
facility is reportedly in good condition, and there are no major capital repairs
or replacements scheduled. Debt service charges in fiscal 2012 totaled $31.8
million, or one-third of the county system's fiscal 2012 revenues, which Fitch
considers high. Outstanding debt of the county ($2.7 million) is scheduled to
mature June 1, 2013, leaving only the authority's series 2013 bonds outstanding.
The series 2013 bonds mature April 1, 2016.
FUTURE FLOW PROJECTIONS ARE CONSERVATIVE
Five-year projections for waste flow are fairly conservative and assume 1%
annual population growth and maintenance of a $56 tipping fee. If waste flow
projections do not materialize due to an unexpected downturn in the economy or
other factors, the county has the ability to raise tipping fees or the system
benefit charge accordingly. The financial flexibility provided by the county's
sound level of reserves also mitigates any such concern.
THIRD-PARTY CONTRACTS PERFORMING WELL
The county and the authority are party to various contracts related to the
operation of the RRF, delivery of waste to the system, and land-filling of
non-processable or bypassed waste. Third-party participants are performing as
anticipated, according to management, and all but one of the operating contracts
expire after final bond maturity. The contract for rail service with CSX for
transport of waste to the RRF from the county transfer system expires Aug. 7,
2015. Management expects timely extension of the contract and no disruption in
services, which Fitch believes is reasonable based on the historical performance
of the system. The county also owns 650 acres of land near Dickerson, less than
2 miles from the RRF, of which 125 acres is permitted for the Site 2 landfill if
out-of-county disposal becomes unavailable.