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County: NYC trip needed; Moody's: not necessarily

By Staff
NEW YORK CITY TRIP Meridian resident Robert Dickerson holds a sign today as Lauderdale County supervisors go through the terminal at Meridian Regional Airport. Dickerson said, "I listen to the radio show on WMOX and heard that the council is spending the entire travel budget in one shot for something that might or might not help the city." Other protesters, including radio talk show host Eddie Smith, could be seen sitting inside waiving and smiling as the supervisors left.
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
March 25, 2004
Lauderdale County officials say personal meetings with a bond rating service are beneficial and could help snag a low interest rate when the county borrows $3.8 million for road repairs.
But a spokesman with Moody's Investors Services in New York City says such meetings don't affect bond ratings which is Moody's opinion of the ability and willingness of an issuer to make payments on a debt.
A group of Lauderdale County officials including county Administrator Rex Hiatt and county Supervisors Eddie Harper of District 1, Craig Hitt of District 3 and Joe Norwood of District 4 left today for New York City and a Friday meeting at Moody's.
County officials hope to impress officials at Moody's and maintain a good bond rating, which they in turn will use when they formally issue general obligation bonds and borrow money for the street repair project.
Supervisors approved the street project earlier this year.
But county officials have been criticized for taking such a large contingent to New York City. Some officials are taking their spouses at their own expense and are staying in New York until Sunday.
Eddie Smith, a local radio talk show host, has called the trip a vacation.
Beneficial meetings
Cline said officials at Moody's "meet face-to-face with clients all the time. Every type of bond issuer meets with us." He added that Moody's also has analysts who travel to meet with clients.
Of in-person meetings, Cline said: "It's the same sort of benefit that accrues to anyone else as opposed to a telephone call."
Former Meridian Mayor I.A. Rosenbaum, who served from 1977-1985, said getting to know the people at bond rating services makes a difference.
Rosenbaum also said "collateral benefits" are realized from the trips, recalling that Meridian got the Avery Dennison plant based on a conversation he had with an attorney during a bond rating meeting.
Hiatt and other Lauderdale County officials have met with Moody's representatives in the past. He said the county tries to meet in person with Moody's representatives every four to five years.
Update analysts
The county's two newest supervisors Norwood, president of the board of supervisors, and Harper, vice president of the board will participate in the Friday meeting.
Neal Carson, Lauderdale County's engineer, said this will be his third or fourth time to meet with Moody's officials. He said he will talk to them about what roads will be paved and overlaid with the $3.8 million loan.
Norwood said the trip will benefit him as a supervisor and the people he serves because he will better understand the bond-rating process.