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City Seeks the Triple-Triple in the Big Apple

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How many government officials does it take to woo financial analysts in New York City?

Every so often, most cities and counties send a delegation to New York to convince the bond rating agencies that their jurisdictions are worthy of good credit. Chesterfield County recently sent three top officials to New York, as it does every five years or so. Henrico County also sends three top officials on about the same rotation — the last trip being in 2007.

Last week Richmond sent nine officials to the Big Apple, and sent about the same number a year ago, says City Council Vice President Ellen Robertson, who was part of last week's jaunt. It was for the regularly scheduled, routine annual meeting.

The city, which has AA ratings with Standard & Poor's and Fitch, and the slightly lower Aa3 with Moody's, is looking to spruce itself up — refinance some higher-interest bonds and float some new ones. The city also would like AAA ratings. Both Chesterfield and Henrico have AAA ratings with all three national agencies, which is elite status in the world of municipal finance.

Chesterfield's administrator, James J. L. Stegmaier, says he and two other finance officials traveled to New York in late summer.

“We went up to New York because it's a very tenuous situation in the municipal bond market,” Stegmaier says. “This is the first time in five years that our financial adviser said, ‘It's going to be worth making the trip.'” They flew in and stayed one night — three men in two rooms in a cramped Holiday Inn in the city's financial district.

Henrico's trip three years ago was a quick up and down. John Vithoulkas, Henrico's finance director, says he, County Manager Virgil Hazelett and one other deputy manager flew up in the morning and flew back after their meeting to avoid staying in expensive New York hotels.

Richmond sent Mayor Dwight Jones, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall, Deputy Chief Administrative Officers Peter Chapman and Marcus Jones; Chief of Staff Suzette Denslow; finance officials Barbara Reese and Jim Duval; and City Council President Kathy Graziano and City Council Vice President Ellen Robertson. They left Thursday morning, stayed one night and flew back Friday afternoon.

City officials say they're seeking the elusive AAA bond ratings, and plan to issue about $196 million in bonds, including taking on the higher-interest debt of the Broad Street Community Development Authority, which spent $66.7 million several years ago to fix up East Broad Street.

Robertson says the trip was a good one. “Overall, I think it was a very positive experience,” she says, adding that city expects to hear from the rating agencies by Oct. 15. “Hopefully, [we'll] see a favorable increase in ratings.”

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