Controller Anise Parker attempts to quell fears over the city’s shaky finances, by talking about how it’s borrowing money from itself!
City investments and debt on solid ground
As anyone with any investments knows, this is not your ordinary financial market. The city has an investment portfolio but also uses debt financing to pay for public works projects and other infrastructure improvements. The ongoing turmoil on Wall Street and within the banking industry requires innovation and quick action on both sides of the ledger.
“I want to assure Houstonians that we are exploring every possible option and taking utmost care with your tax dollars during these difficult times,” Houston City Controller Annise Parker said.
When financing public projects, the city commonly borrows using short-term instruments then watches the market for the best opportunity to convert to long-term fixed-rate financing. Last fall, when the credit markets all but dried up and several banks either failed or were struggling, Mayor White and the city controller announced they would pursue various financing alternatives to keep interest rates on city debt as low as possible.
The controller noted that financing through other governmental entities is one alternative that has been employed successfully. For example, she said the city has purchased the debt of (loaned money to) city governmental partners at Metro and Harris County. Likewise, Harris County and Metro have purchased city debt.
City invests in own debt
Parker said the city’s own investment portfolio holds about $229 million in city debt, made possible because the city maintains segregated funds. Interest rates in the municipal bond market have varied widely. By investing in its own debt, the controller said the city earns 1.5-2%. An earlier purchase of $30 million of Metro debt yielded about 4%, and investment in Harris County Flood Control debt returned 6.25-8%. In comparison, more traditional financing options are yielding less than 1%.