For many, Fall means back-to-school preparations. For the Department of Finance in Henrico County, Va., it signals the beginning of the planning process for the county's award-winning and nationally recognized Local Government Bond School.

The school is designed to inform local government finance officials about the intricacies of municipal debt financing and to provide an opportunity to discuss questions and concerns about debt issuance with a panel of municipal debt finance professionals.

“A casual conversation among colleagues sparked an idea that has become one of the most popular and well-attended finance-oriented events in the state,” says Henrico County Director of Finance Forrest Matthews.

Until the county began hosting the one-day bond school, local government finance practitioners had no formal training opportunities regarding municipal debt financing. The school offers a forum for those officials to talk to representatives from investment banks, financial advisors, state issuance authorities, the Internal Revenue Service, bond rating agencies, corporate trust officers and bond counsel. Discussion topics have included:

  • a basic introduction to municipal debt instruments;

  • ratings and credit analyses;

  • bond insurance;

  • the various legal aspects of municipal debt financing;

  • the municipal bond market outlook, and

  • state and federal government involvement in local debt financing.

  • The school encourages a hands-on approach to learning. The panel is open to questions and is available throughout the day for individual conversations and technical discussions. Additionally, the school offers concurrent sessions intended to appeal to novice and advanced bond practitioners and to address their respective interests.

    Each panelist is responsible for preparing and distributing his or her literature. Consequently, the county incurs no costs.

    The first bond school, on April 20, 1998, was attended only by invited county administrators and directors of finance and treasurers from the greater Richmond metropolitan region. As the school's popularity grew, invitations were extended throughout the commonwealth, and, by the school's fourth year, more than 180 participants from federal, state and local governments, as well as other governmental entities, attended.

    Organizers work each year to adapt the agenda to reflect specific events and legislation that may affect local government finance and to incorporate information on trends in the municipal debt marketplace. Last year, the school featured two representatives from the Internal Revenue Service, who spoke about tax issues, and a nationally recognized legal expert who discussed recent SEC rulings regarding continuing disclosure.

    In June 2001, the county received the Government Finance Officers Association's award for excellence in government finance in the category of capital financing and debt administration for the bond school. The award honors practical, documented work that offers leadership and innovation, and promotes improved public finance.

    In accepting the award, Henrico County Manager Virgil Hazelett said the school “serves as a testament to the county's commitment to excellence. We are fortunate to employ such talented and committed staff.” The school also won a 1999 achievement award from the National Association of Counties.

    The county's fifth Local Government Bond School will be held on April 18, 2002. For more information, contact the county at (804) 501-4253.

    The author is business manager for the Henrico County, Va., Department of Finance. He can be reached at gor02@co.henrico.va.us.