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From the County Manager Column from June 29, 2021
Finance efforts to ensure effective investment, accountability on display this week
From the County Manager
I’m pleased to welcome guest author Alex Kotze, Director of Finance and Chief Financial Officer, for this week’s column about the great work our Finance department and partners have done to steadily advance our county goals – notably the goal of accountability. – Ryan
This week is a big one for we here in public finance! Yesterday, the Joint Property Tax Advisory Committee (JPTAC) shared that its members - Ramsey County, the city of Saint Paul and Saint Paul Independent School District 625 (SPPS) - have saved our taxpayers nearly $40 million over the past five years through capital project refinancing strategies. Also, this is the week that Ramsey County publishes two key public financial documents - our 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Popular Annual Financial Report.
JPTAC refinancing moves pay off for our community
JPTAC was created by state law to coordinate setting policies on budgets and taxation that jointly affect the citizens and taxpayers in the city of Saint Paul who are served and taxed by the three units of government. We have met regularly for years, but have arguably been more closely aligned than ever as we have been focused on maximizing the reach of our local investment of the federal dollars received through the CARES Act, American Recovery Plan Act and other sources. One of the benefits of JPTAC is reinforcing good fiscal strategies amongst the members.
To that end, most large municipal public infrastructure projects are funded by the sale of bonds. Refinancing existing bonds at lower rates reduces interest costs tied to projects. Between our three JPTAC members, we have timed refinancing of bonds 33 times over the past five years to take advantage of lower rates. We announced this week that these moves will save a total of $39.7 million across these projects. This has allowed all three entities to invest in additional capital projects while keeping the debt lower. These projects benefit all residents and range from the construction of Ramsey County Library – Shoreview, to community centers, high schools and middle schools across the city of Saint Paul. At Ramsey County alone, we’ve saved our taxpayers almost $11 million by constantly monitoring rates and adjusting to take advantage when they are at their lowest.
Further, all three JPTAC members maintain excellent credit ratings with bond rating agencies. This provides the JPTAC members and their taxpayers the benefit of always being able to borrow at the lowest interest rates available when bonding for capital projects – just like having a good credit score. Ramsey County has maintained these highest possible bond ratings from both Moody’s (Aaa) and Standard & Poor’s (AAA) since 2001.
It’s that "PAFR" time of year again!
Also this week, your Finance department will submit our 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). This prestigious 110+ year old organization created standards for these report formats to provide financial information to professional and everyday audiences in a transparent, consistent and useful format.
Each year GFOA receives hundreds of submissions from local governments, but it gives awards only to those select reports that represent a “significant achievement” and meet the “highest principles of governmental accounting.” Ramsey County has maintained continuous award-winning streaks of four decades for our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and well over a decade for our PAFR. For those of us who work in government finance, these are like the Academy Awards and Super Bowl rolled into one…
I’m proud to serve on a team of finance professionals who have earned an unbroken streak of awards from GFOA. The PAFR is a great vehicle to clearly explain to our residents and stakeholders how we conduct our business and share our achievements – in fiscal management as well as service delivery. Dense budget documents can often be difficult to follow, but the format of the PAFR clearly tells the story of how the numbers tie right to the trends that affected our community in 2020, a year like no other.
We continue to evolve and improve our PAFR. Again this year, the report – and the data and numbers behind it – are available 24/7 through our open data portal at ramseycounty.us/PAFR in an accessible format that provides information useful for the lay reader, the accountant and everyone in between.
Although we always look forward to GFOA’s feedback on our PAFR, we really enjoy hearing what you and our other stakeholders have to say. Please help us encourage residents and partners to visit the online report, and take a few minutes to review the report yourself and share your thoughts or questions via our online feedback form.
The work of Finance staff often takes place behind the scenes, but this week is a good reminder that our ongoing practices and coordination with partners really does pay off both for our community and organization. Thanks to the dedicated experts in the Finance department and all our partners who work diligently to ensure we uphold the highest levels of accountability, transparency and effectiveness as stewards of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.
P.S. - ICYMI, videos of our recent 2022-23 Budget Community Conversations - the first of their kind held at Ramsey County - have been posted at ramseycounty.us/budget in the 2022-23 section. Engaging our community proactively around budget development and providing opportunities for connection and feedback is just another way we strive for transparency and accountability throughout our work.