February 14, 2013 / 10:11 PM / 5 years ago

TEXT-Fitch rates Charles County, Md. GOs 'AAA'

Feb 14 - Fitch Ratings assigns an 'AAA' rating to the following Charles
County, Maryland general obligation (GO) bonds:

--$27.2 million GO refunding bonds of 2013.

Proceeds will be used to refund various GO bonds for upfront savings equal to
approximately 2.5% of the refunded par. The bonds are scheduled for competitive
sale on February 26.

In addition, Fitch affirms the following rating:

--$296.6 million in outstanding GO debt at 'AAA'.

The Rating Outlook is stable.


The bonds are GO bonds to which the full faith and credit and unlimited taxing
power of the county are pledged.


LOWER BUT HEALTHY RESERVE LEVELS: The county has maintained a reduced but
healthy fund balance as reserves were utilized over the past several years for
capital and other well-defined requirements.

NARROW YET STABLE AND WEALTHY ECONOMY: The economy benefits from the presence of
a naval research facility as well as a location proximate to the employment
centers of Washington D.C. and northern Virginia. Employment and wealth
indicators are sound.

DECLINING TAXABLE ASSESSED VALUE: Softening in the housing market has been
somewhat tempered by banked assessed value growth in prior years and sustained
commercial growth. Additional taxable assessed value declines are projected for
fiscal 2014.

HEALTHY DEBT PROFILE: A low debt burden, affordable capital needs, sound debt
affordability policies and a rapid amortization rate underpin the county's
healthy debt profile.


REDUCTION IN RESERVE LEVELS: Use of reserves could place downward pressure on
the rating.


Charles County, with a 2011 population of 149,130, is located less than 45
minutes from the myriad employment opportunities in Washington D.C. and northern


Financial operations are strong and reserve levels are expected to remain
healthy, given year-to-date fiscal 2013 performance. The county had
systematically used reserves that were accumulated during the economic boom,
largely to fund capital and other one-time needs although occasionally to
compensate for revenues weakened by the recession.

Fiscal year-end 2012 results reflected a second consecutive year of positive
income tax revenue variance, the county's second largest revenue source,
representing 31% of the general fund, supporting a $7.1 million operating
surplus. The unrestricted fund balance increased to $39 million or a healthy
11.3% of general fund spending, compared to the conservative budgeted drawdown
of $5 million.

The approved 2013 budget includes a 0.4% increase in the property tax levy and a
$5 million fund balance appropriation. Most notably, the budget funds salary
increases, the Waldorf library opening, and a 11% rise in pension contributions
due to the shift in pension costs of public school board employees from the
state to the school boards.

Year-to-date general fund revenues, driven by strong income tax performance, are
outperforming budget and management's expectation for roughly break-even results
appear reasonable.

Fitch views the county's margin under the state income tax rate cap and a
regionally competitive property tax rate as an important measure of financial
flexibility given their combined dominance of the general fund revenue base. .


Charles County's close proximity to D.C. and northern Virginia employment
centers is key economic driver, mitigating the more narrow local economy
anchored by several key military installations including a naval research and
development center at Indian Head, employing 3,358 with annual civilian payroll
totaling $180 million.

The county hopes to leverage the base's technological research to attract
tenants to its planned Indian Head Science and Technology Park. A number of
office and industrial parks are in various stages of development, and the county
has historically maintained a vacancy rate below regional averages. The county's
unemployment rate trends comfortably below state and national averages, as
evidenced by the 5.7% unemployment rate of December 2012. Wealth indicators are
well above state and national averages.


Over the last several years the county's tax base has been impacted by current
recessionary pressures. Assessed value declined to $17.1 billion from $20
billion between 2010 and 2013. The decline, while substantial, was somewhat
softened by the county's 'banked' homestead tax credit which was essentially
depleted from $23 million over the same period. Fitch views management's
projection for a 3% decline in fiscal 2014 as reasonable given recent trends.

The county benefits from a statewide triennial assessment construct that
smoothes annual volatility in tax base performance. The county is somewhat
limited on upside potential given the adopted homestead percentage of 107%,
limiting annual assessment growth on certain owner-occupied residential property
to no more than 7%. Despite softening in the housing market, commercial growth
within the county remains positive. County data reports sustained commercial
growth through fiscal year 2012, with additions to square footage and capital


Charles County's prudent debt policies support a modest tax-supported debt
burden even as the county has met capital needs related to its strong population
growth over the last decade. Overall debt equals just 1% of market value, or
$1,190 per capita. The county's policy caps debt service at 8% of general fund
operating revenues; fiscal 2012 debt service expenditures accounted for 7% of
general fund revenues. Amortization is rapid.

Fitch expects the county's debt burden to remain manageable. The fiscal year
2013-2017 capital improvement plan totals $294.3 million. The plan is over 60%
debt funded and over a quarter is expected to be funded through state funding
related to school construction projects. Pay-go funding totals $15.6 million.

Fitch does not expect long-term liabilities related to employment benefits to
pressure future operations. The county provides pension benefits to its
employees through two single-employer defined benefit plans and annually
contributes 100% of the annual required contribution. As of July 1, 2012 the
general employees' plan was well funded at 87.5% and the sheriffs' plan was
adequately funded at 76.3%. Using Fitch's more conservative 7% discount rate,
funding levels were 80.8% and 70.4%, respectively. The aggregate unfunded
actuarial accrued liability (UAAL) totaled $61.2 million or a very low 0.36% of
market value.

The county also provides OPEB to its retirees. The county funded its OPEB cost
for fiscal 2012 on a pay-go basis and the UAAL associated with OPEB totaled a
manageable $154 million or 0.92% of market value. Carrying costs for debt
service, pension and OPEB totaled a manageable 11% of governmental (less
capital) fund spending.

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, Maryland Department of
Business & Economic Development.

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

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
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