In a lengthy tirade in defense of Delaware County’s use of deficit spending, Council Member Christine A. Reuther revealed the county’s bond rating was reduced by Moody’s Investors Service for the first time since 2013.

“On May 8, we downgraded the county’s issuer rating and general obligation debt ratings to ‘Aa2’ from ‘Aa1,’ maintaining a stable outlook. We also assigned a ‘Aa2’ rating to the county’s General Obligation Bonds, Series of 2024,” Moody’s reported.

During Wednesday night’s county council meeting, Reuther picked multiple targets for her wrath, including Republican legislators and former Delaware County Council Chairman Wally Nunn.

But most of her anger focused on commercial property owners, who she attacked for the common — and completely legal — practice of appealing their assessments.

“Our tax revenues are actually going down because commercial properties, which many places rely on for their tax revenue are coming in and appealing their tax assessments,” Reuther complained.

She acknowledged many of those Delaware County businesses do, in fact, get a reduction in their assessments.

“But because they get a new tax assessment they get to apply a ‘common level ratio,’ which knocks off for this coming year, close to 60 percent of the value. That means a school district or this county or your municipality who might have agreed to that settlement thinking, ‘It’s more than I thought I was going to get on the assessed value’ is actually collecting far fewer tax dollars on that assessed value because of the application of the common level ratio.”

Reuther argued higher tax rates, which she supports, are needed because businesses aren’t paying enough and the demands of citizens who, she claims, will not accept spending cuts.

Nunn rejected Reuther’s argument that the county had to engage in deficit spending to meet the demands of residents.

“Services had been provided to the public, as far as I know, before the Democrats took over. They have decided in their political philosophy that more services [are] needed than were there.”

Nunn pointed to the council’s decision to take over the privately-run prison and to create a county health department. The latter alone required millions in new county spending.

He said the county-run prison has caused the average daily cost of a prison from about $76 to close to $130. That’s not counting the lawsuits that have been filed due to prisoner deaths.

As for the health department, which was created in 2022, Nunn said the county saw costs rise because it had to lease office space and hire workers. The Health Department cost $12.5 million in salaries and benefits in this year’s budget, plus $2.8 million in contracted services. The county also paid $650,000 in office rent.

And then there are the hundreds of thousands of dollars Delaware County is spending on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion employees and programs, whose details the county has repeatedly refused to disclose.

Moody’s cited the county’s increased spending in its decision to lower the county’s bond rating.

Analysts said Delaware County’s financial position was “weaker than it had been historically” with an available fund balance of only eight percent of revenue.

Moody’s expressed concern over the county’s heavy reliance on one-time federal funds for operating expenses. Budget documents show the council approved the use of $46.5 million in one-time payments for this year’s budget. That was an increase in one-time money of 242.6 percent over 2023.

Ruether confirmed that view during her rant.

“We’ve had a very healthy budget surplus in part because of one-time funding, I admit that,” Reuther said. “And if you follow county finances, you know that Moody’s recently lowered the county’s rating in part because of what they saw as deficit-funded spending.”

Which is why Reuther says tax hikes are coming..

“Is it going to be 19 percent?” she said Wednesday. “No, it’s not. And it’s not going to be 30 percent. Mr. Wally Nunn is entitled to his opinions but that’s not what it’s going to be.”

In response, Nunn said he read the budget and the only way the county could replace the federal funds was through increased taxes, “You have to increase the real estate tax by 25 percent just to cover the money that they took from fund balance…Tell me where I’m wrong?” he said.