Charleston’s water and sewer bonds on Tuesday received an upgrade to AAA from AA-plus by Standard & Poor’s based on strong financing operations.

The water and sewer system’s service area has continued to strengthen despite the economic downturn, the rating agency said in a report.

The Charleston service area “continues to flourish” and the number of users has stayed steady, analysts said. Healthy debt-service coverage and strong liquidity also contributed to the upgrade.

The rating applies to $155 million of refunding and capital improvement bonds to be issued later this month. The bonds will refund some of the system’s 2001 debt and partially fund improvements at the Hanahan water treatment plan and Plum Island wastewater treatment plant.

The bonds are secured by water and sewer revenues, which have covered debt service by an average of 1.6 times over the last four years. The system’s customer base is stable and grew less than 1% in 2009. Charleston has a population of 106,890.

Fitch Ratings has rated the bonds AA-plus.

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