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City finances looking better; Upgraded credit rating from Moody's the result of conservative management

The news that Moody's Investors Service has moved the City of Buffalo's credit score up from A2 to A1, the highest the city has ever received from the agency, is further indication that the city's financial ship is being righted.

Challenges still lie ahead, as the rating agency pointed out, an indication that continued oversight by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority will be necessary.

But both the City of Buffalo and Erie County have pulled themselves out of the fiscal dumps that had both under the cloud of a control board.

Clouds have silver linings, however. In both cases, the fiscal oversight helped politicians and bureaucrats make tough decisions and do their jobs. Erie County is out from under a "hard" control board, and Mayor Byron W. Brown surely would like the city to follow suit soon.

Moody's is the third rating agency to give the city its thumbs-up. In February 2011, Standard & Poor's raised the city's credit score to A from A-. A few months later, Fitch Ratings gave Buffalo an A rating, representing the first time the three major Wall Street agencies put the city in the A tier, according to then City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo.

Besides bragging rights, a better credit score brings down a municipality's costs for borrowing

The most recent ratings increase from Moody's also comes with a revised "stable" outlook. The upgrades are built on the very conservative way the Brown administration has managed city government and major development projects.

Despite the good news, the city still faces some problems. The poor state of the Buffalo School District's finances continues to weigh the city down. It's a frustration expressed for years by City Hall. But there are also the police and fire contracts to be considered, as well. Communications have improved with the leaders of the two biggest bargaining units, but more has to be done to settle those contracts.

Unfortunately, with regard to those contracts there's still the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment to overcome. The 1967 Taylor Law gives public workers rights to organize and bargain exclusively, while the 1982 Triborough Amendment ensures that public-sector benefits and pay raises remain intact until the two sides agree on a new contract.

Still, it's hard to disagree with the mayor when he says that with or without the hard control board, the message is clear: Buffalo is more fiscally healthy than it has been in a very long time.