Fresh from a second upgrade into investment grade territory, Michigan’s Wayne County launched a new website Monday powered by Boston-based BondLink’s technology to provide bond investors with easy access to the county’s financial data.
The county said in a statement that it launched the website to better connect with investors about bonds it offers and tell the story of its turnaround.
On April 3, S&P Global ratings upgraded the county’s general obligation rating one notch to BBB-minus, with a positive outlook. The upgrade was a result of S&P’s methodology review. It follows last May’s Fitch Ratings upgrade to BBB-minus. Moody's Investors Service rates the county's GOs Ba1.
"From the recent rating action, it's clear that Wayne County's credit recovery is in full swing and we're really proud to be part of that," BondLink CEO Colin MacNaught said in a statement. "Our goal is to help Wayne County access low-cost capital over the long-term by making it easier for investors to buy the County's bonds. That includes traditional big institutional investors, but also regional and local investors such as investment advisors and Michigan residents."
The upgrades should help the county's effort in an upcoming bond sale it plans for summer that will be used to finance a jail project with Rock Ventures, the vehicle for Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert’s considerable Detroit real estate ventures.
Rock Ventures plans to build a criminal justice center that will house the county’s jail, criminal courts, juvenile detention center and offices for the prosecutor and sheriff. The new criminal justice center would replace an old jail and substitute for an unfinished bond financed project located in downtown Detroit.
The county will use $50 million of remaining bond proceeds from its unfinished jail project on the new criminal justice center. Its remaining $380 million share in the overall costs will be funded by a mix of new bonds and general fund revenue. Rock Ventures will cover the $153 million remaining cost of the project and any overruns. The total cost of the project is tagged at $533 million.
The county expects to issue bonds for the project this summer.
“Improved credit ratings enable Wayne County to borrow money at lower interest rates so we can provide more efficiency in delivering services to our taxpayers,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said in a statement. “While this rating upgrade is the result of S&P’s methodology review, it reflects the progress we’ve made in stabilizing the County’s finances. It shows we are continuing to move in the right direction.”
With a $52 million structural deficit and rising retirement costs, the county entered a consent agreement with the state in 2015 that paved the way for a fiscal restructuring. The county exited the consent agreement in 2016.
Wayne has posted three consecutive budget surpluses, and increased the county’s pension funding level to 54% funded from 45%.
“Tremendous progress was made under the Recovery Plan to pull Wayne County back from the brink,” Wayne County Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz said in a statement. “We are now in a position to leverage our new standing to rebuild the County’s aging infrastructure and facilities in a cost-effective manner.”