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County’s bond rating highest in memory

LISBON — Columbiana County’s financial standing has so improved in recent months that the county has been awarded with an upgraded bond rating by Moody’s Investors Services.

Commissioner Mike Halleck commended both Auditor Nancy Milliken and Treasurer Linda Bolon and other office holders with achieving the feat: the highest county bond rating he can remember.

The county has been upgraded to an Aa2 from an Aa3. The report from Moody’s notes the rating “reflects the county’s exceptionally strong reserves and low bonded debt.”

Milliken said as part of the budget commission, she estimates the amount of debt and money the county has in reserve, then speaks with the Moody’s Investors Services each year. She agrees this is the highest rating the county has received and hopes to see it go even higher next year.

Milliken attributes the improved rating to being very conservative in estimating how much money the county will receive. Additionally, she pointed to the fact that the sales tax money did not really drop off last year. Despite the 2020 pandemic closing things down for some time, many businesses in the county continued to function. The county also has paid off some sizable bonds in the past couple of years, she added.

“Between ourselves and the commissioners, we are pretty frugal,” Milliken said.

It has been a long way back for the county since the days of the late county treasurer Ardel Strabala and his son, Stephen Strabala’s 1993 county investment scandal, when at least $10 million in county funds were illegally invested. About $4.5 million of that money was never recovered.

Milliken admits the county has been recovering from the loss of most of that money for years and it has affected the county’s standing.

The higher bond rating would assist the county if it were to needed to use credit to obtain funding.

During the same commissioners’ meeting, Bolon had gone over the current investments for the county, which total $92 million, and the amount of money, $6.2 million, in the general fund. The county earned $140,600 in interest income during the first quarter of 2021 and gained $27,500 on bonds.

With Bolon leaving office later this year, she went over the steps her office takes in order to track investments and work with the financial advisors to protect the county’s money.

djohnson@mojonews.com

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