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Agency upgrades Suffolk bond rating to highest level since 2017

S&P Global Ratings upgraded Suffolk County’s bond rating by a notch, from BBB+ to A- on Monday, the first time the agency has given Suffolk such a high mark since 2017.

The ratings agency gave Suffolk a positive outlook, citing "significant improvement to the county’s finances" because of high sales tax revenues and an influx of federal pandemic aid, according to a ratings report.

The ratings agency credited Suffolk with improved budgeting practices and plans to add to reserves and pay off $243.5 million in debt.

County officials hailed the ratings upgrade, saying it highlights their work to improve county finances in a time of crisis because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"This positive news validates that our fiscally responsible approach to budgeting is working and moving Suffolk County in the right direction," County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.

Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said officials will work to "ensure this is the first of many bond rating upgrades."

Suffolk has had repeated bond downgrades over the past decade. Bellone, who took office in 2012, has said he inherited a large deficit.

S & P in its recent report said Suffolk’s financial position had "not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis."

On Monday, S & P gave Suffolk’s general obligation bonds an A-, its lease revenue bonds BBB+ and long-term serial bonds an A-. The highest S & P rating is AAA.

The ratings agency last gave Suffolk the A- score in 2017 as part of a downgrade from A.

It upgraded the county's financial outlook this summer.

Suffolk’s finances improved after receiving more than $570 million in federal pandemic aid, millions of dollars in opioid legal settlements and an estimated $360 million in 2021 sales tax revenue surpluses, officials said.

County budget officials this summer projected a $500-million surplus over two years.

Better finances helped the county eliminate the need to borrow to cover its cash flow in 2021, and it does not plan to issue bond notes in 2022, which will save $10 million in interest next year, S & P said.

The county has $1.7 billion in outstanding debt, which S & P called a manageable level.

The agency cautioned that Suffolk "remains more vulnerable" to economic downturns because it relies so heavily on sales tax revenues and still has limited reserve funds.

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