S&P gives Rahway AA rating; debt ‘moderate’

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service assigned a AA rating and stable outlook to Rahway in advance of its $11.65-million bond sale this past spring. “The city’s tax base has experienced, what we consider, limited, but stable, growth; it increased by 2.1 percent since fiscal 2007 to $1.55 billion in fiscal 2010.

This equates to a per-capita market value of $134,775, a level we consider extremely strong.” That net debt as a percentage of average equalized valuation was 1.4 percent, as of March 1, while the statutory limit is 3.5 percent.

“The city’s overall debt burden, which includes overlapping governmental units, is a moderate $4,943 per capita, or 3.7 percent of market value, and debt service accounts for a moderate 8 percent of operating expenditures. Other than the bond issuance for the Merck tax appeal repayment, officials do not plan to issue additional debt in the near future,” according to the report.

Here’s a breakdown of the city’s valuation, by class. Notice that “Industrial” used to be about 24 percent of the total and this year is down to about 21 percent. The total for “Residential” has remained largely unchanged in recent years but still jumped from 64 percent of the city’s total to 66 percent this year, while “Apartment” is up by more than 12 percent, jumping to more than 3 percent of the city’s total.

The almost 4-percent decline in the tax base in 2011, according to S&P, is likely the result of the tax appeal by Merck, as well as the general economic downturn. It appears that the valuation is expected to drop another 1.3 percent next year as a result of the tax appeal, barring any other new changes.

The tax appeal settlement knocked off $62.7 million from Merck’s 2011 assessment to $249.75 million, which totaled property taxes of $27.7 million, according to the mayor’s February letter regarding the appeal. The company’s 2012 assessment will be reduced by $82.4 million, to $230 million. A review of property tax records shows Merck owns different 19 parcels in Rahway, ranging in size from less than an acre to 37 acres for a total 91 acres and broken down in this Google spreadsheet.

If any other interesting tidbits come out of the bond sale documents, I’ll post them.