Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that Moody’s Investors Service has reaffirmed Essex County’s Aaa rating with a stable outlook in a review released on Thursday, August 13.
“When it became apparent back in January that the Coronavirus would be a reality in our lives, we began planning not only for a public health emergency but also started preparing for the financial impact. Despite the added pressures created by the pandemic, Moody’s affirming our Aaa rating demonstrates their continued confidence in Essex County’s fiscal strength,” DiVincenzo said.
Since the pandemic started, DiVincenzo and his fiscal management staff have met individually with every Department Director and Constitutional Officer to review their budgets to get a clear picture of both current needs in 2020 and fiscal projection for 2021. In addition, a hiring freeze was initiated with the only exception being to hire essential employees.
The three-page report states that the Aaa rating reflects Essex County’s “large, diverse tax base, strong finances, favorable location, and modest leverage.” It further states that despite being hit hard, the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic do not appear to have any effect on the County’s financial strength. “The county has been amongst the harder it by the pandemic. Favorably, the county is getting various reimbursements and has received CARES Act funds. Management expects to lose modest amounts of non-property tax revenues, as a result, reserves may decline slightly. This is not expected to have any material impact on the county’s overall financial strength,” it states. “The stable outlook reflects our expectations that the county’s finances and economy will remain strong despite the added pressure from the pandemic,” it states.
Essex County earned the Aaa bond rating from Moody’s in August 2018. It is the first time Essex has every had a Aaa bond rating. When DiVincenzo took office in 2003, Essex County had a bond rating just above junk bond status.
While strengthening Essex County’s fiscal position, DiVincenzo has stabilized tax increases. The 2020 budget included just a 0.5 percent property tax increase, well below the 2.0 percent cap limit mandated by the state and the second consecutive year the increase was held to 0.5 percent. In addition, over the last eight years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 1.37 percent, which is under the state cap of 2.0 percent.