Inspired by the advice of an economist, who presented at a 2018 meeting, to “put your house in order, financially, by the year 2020,” Weber County Commissioners Jim Harvey, Gage Froerer, and Scott Jenkins, and Weber County Treasurer John Bond set in motion a 2-year plan to do just that; put the Weber County finances in “order.” With input from Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch and Comptroller Scott Parke, the plan to reduce debt, increase liquidity and improve the County’s credit rating was set in motion and meticulously implemented step by step. By December 2019, the Weber County financial goals were realized.
In describing their motivations to make these decisions, Commissioner Scott Jenkins stated, “This was about the stability of the economy and of the things you can’t control, including the spending of the federal government. Right now we have runaway inflation and if we don’t have control of ourselves and our County, we will lose the ability to control our future.” Commissioner Jenkins continued, “We want to protect the money and buying power of Weber County residents. The best way to control that is to not debt the future.”
The plan started with the refinance of debt on the animal shelter, resulting in huge interest savings. Those savings and additional pooled savings were put toward paying off the remaining debt of the Pleasant Valley Library. Next, both the Ice Sheet and Health Department buildings were paid off. Then, as part of the plan, the County took steps to refinance the larger of two bonds that the County received for libraries during 2013-2015, totaling 45 million. As a part of the refinance process, the County’s credit rating was re-evaluated by two of the three major credit rating agencies. In 2013, when the County initially got the bonds, credit rating agency Fitch gave Weber County a AAA rating; the equivalent of an 850 FICO score. This rating was given to only 72 out of 3,006 counties nationally, ranking Weber County among the top 3% of counties in good financial standing. The credit review of AAA from Fitch has been twice re-affirmed since, most recently for the 2019 review. The credit rating agency, Moody’s, was also included in the current review and, due to the County’s debt reduction from the previous two years, Weber County’s credit rating was upgraded to AA1, just one step under AAA. These esteemed credit ratings allowed Weber County to refinance the library bond at a lower interest rate, the final implementation of the 2-year financial plan. The refinancing resulted in over 2 million in interest savings to the County.
Commissioner Jim Harvey commented, “If you surround yourself with great people and you trust them, amazing things happen. Our leadership style is to trust our staff, but to verify, for the best decisions. We tightened our belt instead of raising your taxes. Weber County Corporation is being run like a healthy, proactive business.”
Of course, no one, not even Treasurer John Bond, could have predicted the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic or anticipated how important the financial health of Weber County would be. Having reached the 2-year goal of reduced debt, increased liquidity, and good financial standing, the County was able to carefully, thoughtfully, and successfully navigate through hiring and purchasing freezes that began in March of 2020.
“We have worked hard over the past three years to get positioned to weather any economic challenges that might come to our County. 2020 was the test for that model and we were very successful in getting through that test, thanks to good insight, wisdom, and decision making by the commissioners and the finance team.” stated John Bond, Weber County Treasurer.
Commissioner Gage Froerer continued saying, “The excellent financial position of Weber County sends a powerful message to the community; one of confidence, forethought, and preparation. Every minute spent in meetings and the steps we implemented to reach our financial goals was worth it. We work diligently, in all capacities, to keep Weber County one of the best places in the United States to live, work and gather together.”