The County Government, four of its agencies, and municipalities are authorized by State law and/or County Charter to issue debt to finance capital projects. Consistent with County fiscal policy, the County issues debt to finance a major portion of the construction of long-lived additions or improvements to the County's publicly-owned infrastructure. The County's budget and fiscal plan for these improvements is known as the Capital Improvements Program (CIP). Bonds are repaid to bondholders with a series of principal and interest payments over a period of years, known as debt service. In this manner, the initial high cost of capital improvements is absorbed over time and assigned to current and future citizens benefiting from the facilities. Due to various Federal, State, and local tax policies, interest rates are lower than in the private sector.
In addition to the issuance of general obligation or revenue bonds, the County initially finances the cost of long-term capital assets with short-term paper known as Bond Anticipation Notes (BANs)/Commercial Paper, which the County intends to retire with the proceeds of long-term bonds. Additionally, the County from time to time enters into other long-term obligations, such as long-term loans, which are classified as long-term notes.
The various components of the County's debt described above are categorized as either direct or overlapping. Direct debt is the total bonded debt of the County, and constitutes the direct obligations of the County that impact its taxpayers. Components of Montgomery County direct debt are its general obligation bonds, BANs/commercial paper, long-term notes, and revenue bonds issued by the County.
Overlapping debt includes all borrowings of other County agencies, incorporated municipalities, and special taxing or development districts, which may impact those County tax- or rate-payers who are residents of those municipalities or special districts. More broadly, overlapping debt can help reveal the degree to which the total economy is being asked to support long-term fixed commitments for governmental facilities.
Certain direct and overlapping debt is additionally classified as Self-Supporting Debt. Such obligations are issued for projects that produce sufficient revenues to retire the debt. The bonds are not supported by the taxing power of the governmental entity issuing them.
The County's Net Direct and Overlapping Debt is derived by subtracting Self-Supporting Debt from the Total Direct and Overlapping Debt.
A summary statement of direct and overlapping debt for Montgomery County may be found in the County's Current Annual Information Statement. For additional discussion of particular elements of the County's debt, see the sections that follow.
Once committed, debt service represents a major continuing claim on County resources that must be kept to affordable levels within the annual operating requirements of the County in order to avoid excessive pressures on operating budgets. To assure such affordable levels, the County's general obligation debt is subject to the following tests: 1) the self-imposed, but Charter-required, spending affordability guidelines and 2) the State Law-mandated Legal Debt Limit.
Spending Affordability Guidelines
The County Council annually adopts spending affordability guidelines for the capital budget. The guidelines provide for the total amount of general obligation debt issued by the County and by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission that may be planned for expenditure in the subsequent two fiscal years and for the six-year Capital Improvements Program. Consideration of the guidelines is based on a number of economic and financial factors or criteria for debt affordability. These criteria are described in the County's Fiscal Policy and provide a foundation for judgements about the County's capacity to issue debt and its ability to retire the debt over time.
Legal Debt Limit
The Annotated Code of Maryland, Article 25A, Section 5(P), authorizes borrowing of funds and issuance of bonds up to a maximum of 6 percent of the assessed valuation of all real property and 15 percent of the assessed valuation of all personal property within the County. Article 25A, Section 5(P) provides that obligations having a maturity not in excess of twelve months shall not be subject to, or be included in, computing the County's legal debt limitation. However, the County has included its BANs/Commercial Paper in such calculation because it intends to repay such notes with the proceeds of long-term debt to be issued in the near future. A current statement of Montgomery County's legal debt limit computation may be found in the County's Current Annual Information Statement.
The County continues to maintain its status as a top rated issuer of municipal securities, with the highest credit rating possible for a local government. For its general obligation bonds, the County is a 'Triple AAA' rated county, and has received ratings of Aaa from Moody's Investors Service, Inc., AAA from Standard and Poor's, and AAA from Fitch, Inc. Montgomery County has consistently had a Aaa rating from Moody's Investors Service, Inc. since April 1973. Bonds issued by the County since July 1976 have consistently been rated AAA by Standard and Poor's.
According to Standard and Poor's, a deep, diverse, and growing economy; strong financial management; and a low debt burden are the hallmarks of counties rated 'AAA.' The rating category, by definition, represents extremely strong capacity to pay principal and interest. Typically, 'AAA' rated counties have demonstrated an ability to weather all economic cycles by maintaining tight budgetary controls, articulating and executing well-thought-out capital plans, maintaining sufficient reserves, and planning for future contingencies.
General Obligation Bonds
County general obligation bonds are secured by the full faith, credit and taxing powers of the County. Bonds are normally issued with a 20-year term, with five percent of the principal retired each year. This practice produces equal annual payments of principal over the life of the bond issue and declining annual payments of interest on the outstanding bonds. The Charter limits the term of any bond to 30 years.
Over the past three decades the composition of County general obligation debt has changed. As more general County bonding was shifted towards schools and roads, a related shift occurred away from general County facilities, parks, and mass transit. In addition, in recent years, general obligation debt has not been issued to finance parking lot district or solid waste projects. Such projects have been financed with revenue bonds or current revenues.
The County typically issues its general obligation bonds once annually, in the spring. The proceeds are used to retire short-term Bond Anticipation Notes/commercial paper (BANs).
Current Revenue Substitution for General Obligation Bonds (PAYGO)
The County follows a practice of budgeting significant current revenue substitution for general obligation bonds over the six-year Capital Improvements Program. This "pay-as-you-go" approach to funding debt-eligible capital improvement projects, known as PAYGO, helps manage the County's debt burden and retain funding flexibility.
Bond Anticipation Notes/Commercial Paper
The County utilizes Bond Anticipation Notes/commercial paper (BANs) for short-term capital financing of capital expenditures with the expectation that the principal amount will be refunded with the proceeds of long-term general obligation bonds. Interest costs incurred are usually at lower rates than with longer term financing. The County has BANs/commercial paper authorized, issued, and outstanding as financing sources for capital construction and improvements. BANs/commercial paper are issued at varying maturities to a maximum of 270 days, under a program that matures on June 30, 2022. The County reissues the notes upon maturity until they are refinanced with long-term bonds.
In September 1998, the County entered into a $1,800,000 long-term loan agreement with the Maryland Industrial and Commercial Redevelopment Fund (MICRF) pursuant to the provisions of Sections 5-501 through 5-507 of Article 83A of the Annotated Code of Maryland. The loan was approved by the Maryland State Department of Business and Economic Development. In accordance with the terms of the loan, the proceeds of the loan have been reloaned to a private corporation, for purposes of relocation to and renovation of facilities in the County. During FY06 the private corporation pre-paid the entire balance of the loan, thus relieving the county of this obligation.
County revenue bonds are bonds authorized by the County to finance specific projects such as parking garages and solid waste facilities, with debt service to be paid from pledged revenues received in connection with the projects. Proceeds from revenue bonds may be applied only to the costs of projects for which they are authorized. They are considered separate from general obligation debt, and do not constitute a pledge of the full faith and credit or unlimited taxing power of the County.
County revenue bonds have been used in the Bethesda and Silver Spring Parking Districts, supported by parking fees and fines, together with parking district property taxes. County revenue bonds have also been issued for County Solid Waste Management facilities, supported with the revenues of the Solid Waste Disposal System.
Detailed information on Montgomery County's direct debt may be found in the County's Current Annual Information Statement.
In addition to the direct debt described above, certain portions of the debt of other governmental entities in the County are payable in whole or in part by the taxpayers of the County. The debt includes general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, mortgages payable, notes payable, commercial paper/bond anticipation notes, certificates of participation, and bank loans.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) issues general construction bonds to finance construction of small diameter water distribution and sewage collection lines, and required support facilities in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Generally, these are considered general obligation bonds because they are payable from unlimited ad valorem taxes upon all the assessable property in the WSSC district. They are actually paid through assessments on properties being provided service, and are considered to be overlapping debt rather than direct debt of the County. WSSC Water Supply and Sewage Disposal Bonds, which finance major system improvements, including large diameter water distribution and sewage collection lines, are paid from non-tax sources including user charges collected through water and sewer rates, which also cover all system operating costs. They are backed by unlimited ad valorem taxes upon all the assessable property within the WSSC district in addition to mandated rates, fees, and charges sufficient to cover debt service. Pursuant to Section 4-101 of Article 29 of the Annotated Code of Maryland (2003 Replacement Volume and 2006 Cumulative Supplement), the County must guarantee payment of principal and interest on WSSC bonds, unless the WSSC waives such guarantee requirement in accordance with Section 4-103 of Article 29. WSSC has waived such guarantee requirement with respect to each outstanding bond issue..
Housing Opportunities Commission
The Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) issues revenue bonds for its Multi-Family Mortgage Purchase Program and its Single-Family Mortgage Purchase Program which are paid through mortgages and rents. A portion of this revenue bond debt is guaranteed by Montgomery County pursuant to Section 2-103 of Article 44A of the Annotated Code of Maryland. The County may by local law provide its full faith and credit as guarantee of bonds issued by HOC in principal amount not exceeding $50,000,000. Section 20-32 of the Montgomery County Code provides the method by which the County has implemented the guarantee.
Montgomery County Revenue Authority
The Montgomery County Revenue Authority (MCRA) has authority to issue revenue bonds and to otherwise finance projects through notes and mortgages with land and improvements serving as collateral. These are paid through revenues of MCRA's several enterprises, which include golf courses, an elderly rental housing project, and the Montgomery County Airpark. The County also uses MCRA as a conduit for alternative capital project funding arrangements. These include financing for several County aquatic facilities and the Montgomery County Conference Center. For these projects, the MCRA issues the bonds and the debt service is paid through revenues from long-term lease agreements with the County.
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) issues general obligation debt for the acquisition and development of local parks and certain special parks and advance land acquisition, with debt limited to that supportable within mandatory tax rates. The Commission also issues revenue bonds funded by its enterprise operations. Pursuant to Section 6-101 of Article 28 of the Annotated Code of Maryland (1997 Replacement Volume and 2000 Supplement), the County must guarantee payment of principal and interest on the debt of M-NCPPC that is not self-supporting.
Towns, Cities, and Villages
The Towns of Brookeville, Poolesville, and Garrett Park, and the Cities of Rockville and Takoma Park are located wholly within Montgomery County and have issued long-term obligations to fund various public amenities such as road and sewer improvements.
Special Taxing Districts
The County created three development districts: Kingsview Village Center, West Germantown, and Clarksburg Town Center. These development districts were created in accordance with Chapter 14 of the Montgomery County Code, the Montgomery County Development District Act enacted in 1994. The creation of these districts allows the County to provide financing, refinancing, or reimbursement for the cost of infrastructure improvements necessary for the development of land in areas of the County with high priority for new development or redevelopment.
Pursuant to Chapter 14, special taxes and/or special assessments may be levied to fund the costs of bonds or other obligations issued on behalf of the respective district. Any bond issued under Chapter 14 is not an indebtedness of the County within the meaning of Section 312 of the Charter. Additionally, any bond issued must not pledge the full faith and credit of the County, and must state that the full faith and credit is not pledged to pay its principal, interest, or premium, if any. Any bonds issued are not considered liabilities of the County and are not reported in the County’s financial statements.
In December 1999, the County issued $2.41 million in special obligation bonds for the Kingsview Village Center Development District. Special taxes and assessments were levied beginning in FY01 to repay this debt. In April 2002, the County issued two series of special obligation bonds for the West Germantown Development District. The County issued $11,600,000 of Senior Series 2002A bonds and $4,315,000 of Junior Series 2002B bonds to finance the construction of infrastructure in the development district. Special taxes and assessments were levied beginning in FY03 to repay this debt. Bonds have not yet been issued for the Clarksburg Town Center development district.
Pursuant to Section 2.07 (g) of the West Germantown bond indenture, upon the satisfaction of certain assessed value requirements which were met, the holders of the Junior Series 2002B bonds requested that the County issue Additional Bonds in exchange for the Junior Series 2002B bonds. The Additional Bonds are on a parity with the Series 2002A bonds (i.e., they are senior lien bonds) and will otherwise have the same terms and conditions as the Series 2002B bonds.
The County was petitioned by property owners to form two additional development districts in the Clarksburg area, Clarksburg Village and Clarksburg Skylark. These districts are in the evaluation phase
Lease Revenue Bonds - Metrorail Garage Projects
The County entered into a Trust Agreement dated June 1, 2002 with Wachovia Bank, N.A. related to the issuance of $37,880,000 in Lease Revenue Bonds to finance the costs of parking structures and related facilities at the Shady Grove Metrorail Station and the Grosvenor Metrorail Station in Montgomery County. The County leased the garages to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), an interstate compact agency and instrumentality of the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Pursuant to the Trust Agreement, and a First Supplemental Trust Agreement dated September 1, 2004, additional bonds in the amount of $4,745,000 were issued by the County on September 28, 2004 to complete construction of the Shady Grove and Grosvenor parking structures and related facilities. The final maturity of the Series 2002 and Series 2004 bonds is in 2024.
The Bonds are limited obligations of the County payable solely from and secured by a pledge of (1) the revenues and receipts to be derived from the lease of the garages to WMATA and (2) certain funds and accounts established pursuant to the Trust Agreement, including a debt service reserve. The County covenanted to budget, appropriate and pay to the Trustee for deposit in the debt service reserve, at any time in any fiscal year when the amount to the credit thereof is less than required by the Trust Agreement, an amount equal to the deficiency; however, the obligation of the County to make any such payment in any fiscal year is contingent upon the appropriation for such fiscal year by the Montgomery County Council of funds from which such payment can be made. The obligation of the County under the agreement does not constitute a pledge of the full faith and credit or of the taxing powers of the County.
Lease - Department of Liquor Control Warehouse
The County entered into a lease financing arrangement on October 19, 2006 with Banc of America Public Capital Corporation to finance the construction of a temperature-controlled liquor warehouse for the County’s Department of Liquor Control. The term of this financing arrangement is for eight years and total proceeds were $10,615,000. The proceeds are held by a trustee and are disbursed at the direction of the County under terms of a Trust Agreement.
The obligations of the County under this financing arrangement are payable from Department of Liquor Control revenues, and are subject to annual appropriation. The obligations do not constitute a pledge of the full faith and credit or of the taxing powers of the County.
Certificates of Participation - Equipment Acquisition Program
The County entered into a conditional purchase agreement dated June 1, 2001 for the purpose of borrowing $54,660,000 to purchase radio and mobile data equipment for use in the County’s public safety programs and buses for use in the County’s Ride-On Bus System. The certificates of participation matured on June 1, 2006.