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Fri., Oct. 9
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Who gets credit for credit upgrade?


On the campaign trail, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham often says “past performance is an indicator of future results.”

And at his campaign kickoff Sept. 14, he used the phrase to describe the debt decrease the city has seen during the past few years and the credit-rating boost that the city received from Moody’s, an investment analysis firm. It could be a big boost for the city down the road, with cheaper borrowing costs and more attractive bonds.

But does Mr. Graham deserve a campaign-trail credit boost, too? His opponent in the Nov. 8 election, Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith, thinks not.

“Honesty does matter,” Mr. Smith said at the taping of a debate Thursday at WPBS. “It does matter to our colleagues on the council. When my opponent says he’s in favor of all this debt reduction, the minutes will show in March of this year, he voted against using that $1.1 million to reduce our debt that led to our Moody’s rating.”

Indeed, Mr. Graham did vote against using $1.1 million in the city’s roughly $15 million fund balance to help refinance an old loan at a better interest rate. But there were extenuating circumstances, Mr. Graham said, so Mr. Smith’s accusation makes him a “typical politician.”

“The discussion was whether we should wait until the city budget comes out,” Mr. Graham said Friday. “There was this, ‘We gotta do it now,’ which wasn’t true.”

But according to minutes from the March 21 meeting at which the $1.1 million was used to pay down debt, city Comptroller James E. Mills told the City Council that the resolution would have to be passed by April 5. The proposed budget didn’t come out until April 18.

In updating the city’s credit rating to Aa3 — a historic high for Watertown — Moody’s specifically highlighted the $1.1 million as “a prudent use of reserves.”

But it is more difficult to draw a direct line from one vote to the increase in credit rating than Mr. Smith suggested. While the “prudent use of reserves” was a major reason for the upgrade, it wasn’t the only one.

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