August 21, 2012 / 1:47 PM / 5 years ago

TEXT-Fitch affirms Columbia County, Ga's GOs at 'AAA'

Aug 21 - Fitch Ratings has taken the following action on Columbia County,
Georgia (the county) general obligation (GO) bonds:

--$94.39 million GO bonds, series 2007A, 2007B, and 2009, affirmed at 'AAA'.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

SECURITY
Outstanding 2007A and 2007B GO bonds are a general obligation of the county for
which its full faith and credit and unlimited taxing power are pledged.
Outstanding series 2009 bonds are payable first from the proceeds of a one
percent special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) collected within the
county. To the extent that the proceeds of the sales tax received by the county
are insufficient to make debt service payments, debt service is secured by the
county's unlimited ad valorem tax pledge.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

STRONG FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE: Financial operations are impressive, highlighted
by consistent operating surpluses, robust reserve levels and conservative
financial policies.

ROBUST SPLOST REVENUES: SPLOST collections are strong and provide ample debt
service coverage of 2.3 times (x) for the 2009 bonds.

STRONG MILITARY PRESENCE: The local economy has remained relatively stable and
is anchored by a strong military presence. Relatively low unemployment,
above-average wealth levels and minimal housing pressures add stability.

FAVORABLE DEBT BURDEN: The county's annual debt service costs are high but are
offset by rapid amortization. Long-term obligations related to pension and other
post-employment benefit (OPEB) costs are nominal.

CREDIT PROFILE

CONTINUED STRONG FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE

Columbia County's finances have been consistently above average. With the
exception of a planned drawdown in fiscal 2005, the county has generated
operating surpluses in every fiscal year since at least 1990. Fiscal 2011 ended
with a general fund operating surplus of $3.8 million (7% of total expenditures)
and unrestricted fund balance (the sum of unassigned, assigned, and committed
per GASB 54) grew to $26.8 million or a very strong 51% of total expenditures.
Unaudited fiscal 2012 results indicate a modest general fund surplus and the
2013 budget is structurally balanced. Financial policies are stringent in
Fitch's view, requiring a minimum fund balance of 27% of general fund spending
and requiring reserves over 50% to be used for debt reduction.

ROBUST SPLOST REVENUES

Although the rating for all series of bonds is ultimately based on the county's
general obligation pledge, the county has historically paid debt service on the
series 2009 bonds from SPLOST revenues. The county has levied the SPLOST,
proceeds of which it shares with its unincorporated municipalities, since 1990
in five to six-year increments with voter approval. The current SPLOST is
authorized through calendar year 2016. Coverage of annual debt service from the
county's portion of SPLOST revenues remained strong at 2.3x in calendar 2011.
Year to date collections of SPLOST revenues through June are approximately 4%
higher compared to the same point in the prior year.

STABLE LOCAL ECONOMY

The county benefits from its close proximity to Augusta coupled with its
affordable cost of living. Within the county, military, health care, and
manufacturing serve as the major economic sectors with some representation from
leisure activities. Fort Gordon, partially located within the county, is the
world's largest communications and information technology training center and
home of the National Security Agency. The county's unemployment rate in May 2012
was 7.3% which was well below both the state and national levels. Wealth levels
in the county are above average with per capita personal income equal to 118% of
the state average and 103% of the national average.

BELOW AVERAGE DEBT BURDEN

The county's total debt burden is low at $1,110 per capital of and 1.3% of
market value and approximately 95% of total principle is amortized within 10
years. The debt burden is expected to remain at current levels as there are no
immediate plans for additional issuance.

MANAGEABLE PENSION & OTHER POST-EMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

The county and its qualified employees participate in the Columbia County money
Purchase Retirement Plan, a defined contribution retirement plan that does not
currently carry an unfunded liability. The fiscal 2011 county contribution was a
manageable 4% of total expenditures. Other post-employment benefits are provided
on a pay-go basis and accounted for less than 1% of total expenditures is 2011.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above
were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been
compensated for the provision of the ratings.

In addition to the sources of information identified in Fitch's Tax-Supported
Rating Criteria, this action was additionally informed by information from
Creditscope, University Financial Associates, S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index,
IHS Global Insight, and National Association of Realtors.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (Aug. 14, 2012);
--'U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria' (Aug. 15, 2011).

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
Tax-Supported Rating Criteria
U.S. Local Government Tax-Supported Rating Criteria

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PLEASE READ THESE LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK:
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DEFINITIONS AND THE TERMS OF USE OF SUCH RATINGS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE AGENCY'S
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AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE 'CODE OF
CONDUCT' SECTION OF THIS SITE.


     

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