The Sarasota Journal

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Legacy Trail bonds get premium rating

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SARASOTA –– Finally, some good news.

As they work to determine the impact to county revenues from the cratering U.S. economy, Sarasota County officials learned late Thursday that its general obligation bonds issued to fund the Legacy Trail extension project have earned an AAA rating.

The rating, the highest the county could expect, from both S&P Global Rating and Fitch Ratings, reflected the county’s continued financial stability and pragmatic practices both rating agencies noted in their reports.

“Sarasota County has exhibited strong and positive financial results adding to its reserve position in recent years,” S&P Global noted in a press release announcing its rating.

Influencing its rating decision, S&P also noted that “…the county has a material amount of combined reserves available for emergencies and contingencies and have demonstrated an ability to manage reserves.”

Fitch Ratings concurred.

“The county’s consistent maintenance of high general fund reserves, and solid expenditure control, provide the county with the ability to maintain a high level of fundamental financial flexibility through economic cycles and should provide sufficient resources to endure the current environment,” the company noted in a press release.

The county has almost $195 million socked away in a variety of reserve funds according to Steve Botelho, the county’s chief financial officer.

“These latest ratings are yet another positive sign of the financial health of Sarasota County as an organization and as a community,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said through a statement. “The independent ratings agencies have affirmed what we already know about the county’s sound financial operations and the continued prudent actions of our county commission.”

Botelho said in a county press release, “It is encouraging to see that in light of the current uncertain economic conditions brought about by COVID-19 that the rating agencies see the efforts that past and present county commissioners have made to build, and hold onto, the financial reserves necessary for the county to successfully move forward.”

Botelho added, “The county commission takes these ratings very seriously, and they are always considered in all of the county’s major financial decisions.”

The Legacy Trail extension project, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018, will expand the existing trail to allow for walking, biking and running from the city of North Port to downtown Sarasota.

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Warren Richardson
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