BRADENTON, Fla. - Orange County, Fla.'s recent general obligation bond rating boost to AAA by Kroll Bond Rating Agency will help the county negotiate better financial deals, a county finance official said.

Kroll upgraded the county's implied GO rating to AAA from AA-plus on Friday, and revised the outlook to stable from positive.

The implied GO rating upgrade reflects "the very strong state of the county's economy" and ongoing improvements in employment levels, sales tax collections, and assessed values as well as proactive fiscal management, said Kroll analyst Kate Hackett.

Orange County has no GO debt. It does have $1.12 billion in outstanding revenue bonds. Of the revenue-backed debt, Kroll affirmed its AA-plus ratings on $245.4 million in sales tax revenue bonds.

While there are no GOs outstanding, Kroll's upgrade is a measurement of the local economy's success and the strength of the county's financial management throughout the private and public sectors, Fred Winterkamp, the county's manager of fiscal and business Services, said Monday.

The upgrade will also help with business discussions, he added.

"The AAA ratings of the county general credit are still helpful in all forms of financial dealings with counterparties - whether that be in procurement, in developer agreements, banking transactions or any kind of negotiation involving exchanging risks with some counterparty," said Winterkamp.

"There is the potential to directly lower a cost if a counterparty senses less risk due to a top-notch credit rating, however, it is also possible to get the benefit of more favorable terms and conditions since the risk is perceived as lower and better terms and conditions can result in indirectly less costly transactions," he said.

Fitch Ratings has assigned an implied GO rating of AAA to Orange County since 2012.

Located near the center of the state with a population of 1.2 million, Orange County is home to mega-theme parks as well as a diversifying economy that includes a medical and biomedical research corridor.

Some $801.9 million of outstanding revenue bonds are secured by tourist development tax revenues, which were used to finance expansion of the county-owned Orange County Convention Center - the second-largest in the country.

The tourism sector has completely rebounded from effects of the Great Recession with 59.2 million visitors in 2013 - a record high, according to Kroll.

The county's unemployment rate has steadily declined to 6.5% in August, though it has not reached pre-recession levels. However, sales tax revenues have far exceeded pre-recession levels, Kroll said.

Over the last 10 years, sales tax collections reached a high of $140.6 million in 2013 compared to $128.57 million in 2006, according to the Orange County Comptroller's Office.

Kroll said assessed property values have also experienced solid growth, especially over the past two years when values increased by 9.7% to $88.9 billion.

Hackett also said the county continues to produce strong financial results, typically meeting budgeted projections and maintaining ample liquidity and healthy fund balances.

As of September 30, 2013, the county had $858.6 million in total cash and cash equivalents, which represents 472 days of cash. The cash position includes the county's capital project fund, primarily funded with taxes, which is available for general fund expenditures after payment of debt service on sales tax revenue bonds.

The county's fiscal 2013 general fund reserve was $116.7 million or 17.5% of expenditures.

The county's financial performance and liquidity is consistent with the AAA rating, Hackett said.

"This rating level reflects the county's continuing high reserve levels and ample liquidity position, as well as the county's proactive management of its budget during the economic recession," she added.

Orange County currently has no plans to issue new bonds, but Winterkamp said the debt portfolio is constantly reviewed for refunding opportunities.

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