Since the financial crisis and the downgrading of the United States, one could easily question the value of the ratings issued by the major rating agencies. Nevertheless, they remain the "go-to" source for ratings information in the public and private sectors.
The United States, of course, lost its coveted AAA S&P rating in August 2011 and many countries have since followed suit. Only 13 states including Utah currently carry S&P's AAA rating.
Among municipalities, the AAA rating is even more rare. Only a small percentage of municipalities around the country can claim that rating, and Salt Lake County is among them. Even more impressive, Salt Lake County has a AAA-rating from all three of the major rating agencies.
This means that Salt Lake County government can borrow money at the most favorable rates among government agencies. This rating is also a testament to the fiscal stability and sensible management of Salt Lake County government. This is the work of a dedicated administration, County Council, county employees and the citizens themselves.
Beyond the rating itself, another important factor in looking at the financial stability of a municipal government is the overall availability of bonding authority the amount the municipality can borrow without jeopardizing its credit rating. Salt Lake County's available authority is very high.
In a recent report by Moody's rating agency in December 2011, it states, "Moody's expects that the county's debt profile will remain favorable given a low debt burden. The county's debt burden is modest and below the national medians for AAA-rated counties."
In fact, the State of Utah, despite its own AAA rating, had to rely on the county to access bonding authority to build new state roads in Salt Lake County.
Despite these widely accepted indications of the county's financial stability, Mark Crockett, the Republican nominee to succeed me as Salt Lake County mayor in a race set up by my decision not to seek a third term, has made allegations regarding the health of county finances.
Crockett claims that the county is approximately $2 billion in debt. As recently reported by Utah Policy, even some of Crockett's fellow Republicans currently serving on the County Council take issue with his claims.
In my nearly eight years in office, I have worked with the County Council (including then-Councilman Crockett from 2005 to 2008) to develop budgets that achieve a bipartisan balance of the services our constituents find desirable and the realities of county revenue, all while not jeopardizing the county's credit rating or bonding availability.
Moreover, Salt Lake County has not raised taxes county-wide in 12 years except for voter-approved initiatives and for judgments against the county.
The suggestions that the county has borrowed some $2 billion, is "over its head in debt," and comparing the county's budget decisions to a decision between a family vacation and buying school supplies for the family's children, are misleading.
Interestingly, Crockett acknowledges that the mayor proposes a budget that is then adopted by the council, and yet he goes on to say that the council is not the problem. If that's the case, it's hard to understand exactly what Crockett believes the problem is.
As the old saying goes, "everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not his or her own facts." In this case, Crockett's facts are wrong. Salt Lake County continues to be a fiscally responsible government while providing for the needs of its citizens.
Peter Corroon is the two-term mayor of Salt Lake County.