Rock Hill credit rating improves

At a time when other city governments are cutting expenses and shedding employees, Rock Hill has ascended to its strongest financial position in years.

That was the message delivered Friday morning at a breakfast for local business leaders, where Mayor Doug Echols and staffers touted a recent upgrade to the city's credit rating.

Two leading agencies boosted the city's score for the first time in at least 20 years: Standard & Poor's moved it from an A- to an A+, while Moody's took it from an A3 to an A2.

These ratings allow the city to borrow money more easily and enjoy better interest rates on bonds.

A review of similar-sized cities across the country found that Moody's ranks only 29 higher than Rock Hill, though hundreds are in the same category, city officials said.

Echols didn't use the occasion to roll out any bold initiatives, but he did say the credit rating will make it easier to tackle upcoming projects.

At least three major items loom. The cost of a new operations center planned near Interstate 77 has risen to $27 million because of higher steel and fuel prices. The city also will borrow $2.7 million this year to help pay for construction on two new fire stations.

This week, a consultant recommended hiring 21 new police officers to keep pace with growth. The price tag is pinned at $2.5 million in the first year and $1.5 million in the second.

"We will respond from a position of strength," Echols said.

Other cities are struggling to cope with the economic downturn.

In Columbia, officials are considering a plan to eliminate some youth sports teams, remove community safety officers from neighborhoods and stop neighborhood street sweeping to trim $3 million from the rest of this year's general fund budget.

No cuts are anticipated in Rock Hill, where the size of the budget has risen to $160 million without any tax increases the past two years.