In the August 24, 2013 edition of the Arizona Republic there is a story entitled Glendale ratings lowered by Russ Wiles and Caitlin McGlade. They report that Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Glendale’s credit ratings from A2 to A3. Even with the downgrade, Glendale’s credit ratings remain in the superior “investment grade” category. It is an omen of Glendale’s future if this council does not act boldly.

Moody’s says, “The downgrade of the GOULT (General Obligation Unlimited Tax) rating primarily reflects unusually weak management practices denoted by ongoing internal and state-controlled investigations of certain financial actions dating back to 2009. The report also cited the “outsized” risk exposure to the Coyotes under a new arena deal that requires the city to pay an annual $15 million management fee to the team’s owners.” Moody’s concerns relate to Glendale’s large debt burden and an overburdened General Fund. It went on to say, “Additionally, the outlook reflects our expectation that Glendale will remain challenged to balance its budget over the medium term due to a high level of fixed costs.” What does it mean and what effect does it have on Glendale?

It means that Glendale’s financial debacle on instituting the Employee Retirement Program (ERP) at a cost of over $6M taken primarily from its Trust Funds, the continuing high fixed costs to the General Fund and its commitment to pay Coyotes ownership $15M a year have been recognized and are of concern to credit rating agencies. The downgrade means that when Glendale has to issue bonds the interest rates will be higher, considerably higher. A simple analogy is that when you wish to buy a house you are pre-qualified. If you have a good credit score your interest rate is low. If you have a poor credit score your interest rate is much higher. Your monthly mortgage payment incorporates that interest rate causing your payment to be within a comfortable or decidedly uncomfortable range. It affects the size of and the quality of the house you can afford to buy.

Glendale ‘s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) will not see new parks, libraries or pools for quite some time because its bond issuances are impacted by the downgraded credit rating. But there are other needs. Bonds are issued to maintain and upgrade Glendale’s basic infrastructure. Moody’s kept the A2 bond rating intact for Glendale’s water and sewer bonds primarily because those services are funded by the users of those services and are not typically impacted by its General Fund. Although Glendale receives Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) and other shared revenue funds they typically are supplemented by bond issuances for such projects as major road construction. One example is the construction of the Northern Avenue Parkway. Although the state and other cities are sharing in the costs of construction Glendale’s costs are substantial and it issues bonds to cover those costs. There will be impacts, immediate impacts to the issuance of bonds for Glendale’s aging and new but critical infrastructure.

What does Glendale need to do to reverse the downgrading of its bonds? How does Glendale fix it?

SOLUTION ONE: One issue cited by Moody’s is being dealt with now and is the implementation of the recommendations offered in the external audit report. Their adoption will strengthen Glendale’s financial policies, restore integrity to the system and send a signal not only to the bond market but to its citizens that it is serious about reform.

SOLUTION TWO: Another issue cited by Moody’s is the $15M payment to the Coyotes ownership. I can see it now. Members of the Coyotes nation saying here she goes again…blaming the Coyotes. I fully understand the desire to protect from and deflect away any unfavorable information associated with the deal or ownership. Yet it remains the “elephant in the room” that must be acknowledged. It is a decision that Moody’s has used as one of the factors in downgrading Glendale’s bond rating. That’s a fact. There is no immediate fix. Glendale is bound by a 5 year contract and expenses of $75M in management fees over the next five years. It will have to reassess its position after a year’s worth of hockey games to see if the “enhanced revenues” did indeed produce the $9M a year so desperately needed. If the goal is accomplished it provides Glendale some much needed breathing room. If the goal is not achieved Glendale will have to compensate for the revenue loss by making even further adjustments to its General Fund.

SOLUTION THREE: The last major issue is Glendale’s overburdened General Fund — not the Enterprise Funds of Water, Sewer and Sanitation. These funds derive their revenues from rate payers, you and me, when we pay our monthly water, sewer and sanitation bills. The General Fund’s expenses continue to outstrip the revenues it receives in the form of sales tax collection and state shared revenue. Options are limited: sell city assets (a short term fix); further employee reductions; create more efficiency; make draconian cuts; or a combination of all of these options. This is a painful and touchy subject for all. 60% of General Fund expenses are attributable to public safety. Glendale is at the point where it has gangrene in its leg. Do not amputate the leg and watch Glendale die as the gangrene rapidly spreads through the body or amputate the leg; stop the gangrene and Glendale will live long into the future. This is no time for political posturing. This council, each and every one of them, must adopt the will and the internal grit to do whatever is necessary, including cuts, to guarantee Glendale a healthy future. Can they? I hope so. There is no way around it. Their only mandate is to fix it.

©Joyce Clark, 2013

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