Fitch Ratings has lowered the rating on $6.9 million in Livingston Parish’s general obligation library from A+ to A, with a negative outlook, because of potential concerns over Hurricane Gustav cleanup costs and continuing deficits in the jail fund.
The ratings agency said those concerns were key drivers of the bond rating, although Livingston has a number of other factors in its favor including, an expanding population and tax base and higher levels of employment.
According to Fitch, an A rating corresponds to high credit quality. The bond issuer’s capacity to meet its financial commitments is considered strong, although that capacity may be more vulnerable to adverse business or economic conditions than those with higher ratings.
Fitch said Livingston Parish faces up to $60 million in contractor costs for the cleanup, which the Federal Emergency Management Association said did not qualify for reimbursement. The total depends on the outcome of the parish’s lawsuit, but a loss could force Livingston to borrow more money.
Meanwhile, Livingston’s jail fund has been propped up for four years by borrowing from other parish agencies, mainly the general fund, according to Fitch. So far the jail fund is $4.3 million in the red, is expected to fall $900,000 short this year, and the parish has not come up with a meaningful solution to the problem.
While parish officials have pledged continued support from the general fund, Fitch believes this will be unsustainable given the general fund’s drop in reserves.
Livingston’s general fund balance, after a one-time transfer for storm cleanup, fell to around $3.8 million in 2011.