DALLAS – Lawrence, Kan., is highlighting its new municipal bond website as a way of attracting investors and involving citizens in the college town’s debt portfolio.

The new site went online April 27, just ahead of Tuesday’s competitive sale of $14.5 million of general obligation and green energy bonds.

Lawrence City Hall serves a population anchored by the University of Kansas.
Lawrence City Hall serves a population anchored by the University of Kansas.

The site features the preliminary official statement for the bonds, the ratings reports, certified annual financial reports and other information relevant to the city’s financial profile.

“The good thing for me is that it’s really intuitive and easy to update,” said Bryan Kidney, director of finance for the city. “I do it myself, drag and drop, copy and paste. If I had to do it on my own website, I would not be able to keep it as current. The time I have available is limited.”

The new investor site is powered by BondLink, a Boston-based financial technology company that caters to issuers in the municipal bond market.

With a population of about 95,600 and a small city finance staff, Lawrence is following in the footsteps of larger issuers such as St. Paul, Minn. Like St. Paul, Lawrence introduced the website in advance of a competitive sale that included green bonds.

As a college town, Lawrence tends to be more environmentally conscious than other cities in Kansas, Kidney said. About $11.4 million of the bonds issued for about 30 projects will be designated “green bonds.”

“This will be the first green bond in Kansas,” he said. “When we’re doing transactions in the future, I have to tell the commission why we’re not doing green bonds. We believe that our planet, that global warming’s a real thing.”

The bonds are rated Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service with a stable outlook.

Kidney does not believe the city will pay much of a premium for designating the bonds as “green bond.”

“We’re keeping the cost of the green bond low,” he said. “We’re aware that there’s not a pricing differential in green bonds. We’re hoping by doing this, we’ll pick up some interest.”

Springsted is financial advisor on the competitive pricing. Gilmore & Bell, P.C is bond counsel.

After the results of the competitive sale are known, Lawrence will offer mini-bonds to citizens in $1,000 denominations through the brokerage site Neighborly.

Lawrence was one of five cities to win a spot on the Neighborly system, Kidney said.

“We’ll be the smallest issuer at $654,000,” Kidney said. “So we’re looking for 654 people to buy $1,000 bonds.”

Proceeds from Tuesday’s sale will fund neighborhood improvements, with $915,000 applied to take-out of outstanding notes. The remainder will fund utility and general city improvements. The 2017-B green bonds will fund energy efficiency equipment. The 2017-C bonds will fund the purchase of a fire truck.

Lawrence’s tax base of $7.9 billion has grown 1.8% over the past five years, according to Moody’s.

“The pick up in taxable value growth can be attributed to new development and market appreciation,”analysts said. “New development includes a mix of residential, industrial and commercial/ mixed use. Going forward, the city's financial planning based on an annual growth rate of 2% over the near term.”

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