Helena utilities rating upgraded by S&P Global

By NATHAN HOWELL | Special to the Reporter 

HELENA— S&P Global Ratings raised its long-term rating from ‘A-‘ to ‘A’ on the Helena Utilities Board outstanding water and sewer revenue debt. At the same time, they assigned an ‘A’ long-term rating to the Helena Utilities Board.

In the report issued, S&P stated that the ratings upgrade is due to the improved governance evidenced by the management’s recent willingness and demonstrated ability to adjust rates to build true coverage levels.

“The team has put in a lot of effort over the past few months strengthening and documenting new policies and procedures that have become the foundation to lead our water and sewer system for years to come,” said Helena Mayor Brian Puckett, who also serves as the Chairman of Helena Utilities.

The ratings review was requested by the Helena Utilities Board to enable officials to use bond proceeds to refund series 2015 and 2016 for an interest savings over the life of the bonds totaling $4 million.

The refunding of these two series will also free up the debt service reserve fund of about $1.3 million, which management will use to finance a water main and various improvements to better serve this growing community.

According to Puckett, the gain of more than $5.3 million will let us start working on large capital infrastructure improvements right away to better serve our customers in Helena without having to increase our existing debt payment amounts or extend our payoff time.

In total, management has identified 19 capital improvement projects that have been prioritized to lead the water and sewer services in Helena to enhance the infrastructure.

A few of the capital projects that will begin over the next couple of months include adding a main water line stretching longer than 2 miles, GIS mapping of all water and sewer lines within Helena, adding a generator to the main water well and repairing several pump stations.

“Our goal moving forward is to catch up on some of the deferred maintenance issues that have needed attention on our water and sewer infrastructure while putting in plans to continuously maintain what we have,” Puckett said.

In the Credit Opinion issued by S&P as a part of their report, it stated the rating reflects an extremely strong enterprise risk profile and adequate financial risk profile.

“Under the board’s new management, we anticipate the system will prioritize generating revenues that exceed rate covenants and support the pace of growth,” Puckett said.

The Helena Utilities Board provides water and sewer services for residents of Helena with more than 7,600 customer accounts.

Helena Water Board’s primary mission is to plan for, operate and maintain both the infrastructure and the organization necessary to purvey high quality drinking water, to provide an adequate and reliable water supply for all households, commercial and community needs, and to sustain and enhance the region’s watersheds and quality of life by managing wastewater and stormwater effectively.