Carmel Mayor James Brainard's opponents in a three-way mayoral election race have questioned the city's growing debt, but the $80 million bond that started it all gets plenty of love from the investing community.
Municipal bond manager Josh Gonze of Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe, N.M., picked the bond on Carmel's Palladium concert hall as one of the six best in the nation. His picks are featured in this month's issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance as part of an article on the pros and cons of muni-bond investing. "Gonze does not believe any muni bond is totally safe, but he thinks that these high-quality bonds are relatively secure," the magazine noted.
Gonze, whom Kiplinger's characterized as a "bullish" bond manager, could not be reached for comment on what factors played into his picks. Moody's Investors Service Inc. rates the 2005 bond on Carmel's main performing arts hall as Aa1, which is its second-highest rating. The zero-coupon bond matures on Feb. 1, 2021 and has a 4.7-percent yield.
Gonze's other top picks were issued by the California Public Works Board for the University of California; Montgomery, Ala., Waterworks and Sanitation; Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority; Rio Rancho, N.M. School District; and the Tampa Bay water utility in Florida.
Carmel and its redevelopment commission have about $447 million in debt between them. The $80 million bond will be paid from commercial property taxes collected in a tax-increment financing district that covers downtown and much of U.S. 31. It's backed by the city's entire property tax base.
Brainard thinks the bond for the concert hall, now part of a $175 million complex, gets a fairly high rating because it's senior to the other debt, and because the TIF district has grown since 2005. At that time, the city projected revenue for this year of $7 million, but it's actually around $17.6 million, he said. "It's huge," he said. "The TIF district has grown that much."
Marnin Spigelman, one of Brainard's two Republican opponents in the May 3 primary, often points out that with projected interest, the city is facing nearly $1billion in debt. (The other Republican candidate is city council member John Accetturo.)
One reason revenue in the TIF district has grown so much is that its boundaries have expanded, Spigelman said. Considering the city's recent budget deficits, he said, "It's questionable as to what the actual credibility of Carmel's ability to borrow is right now."