By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — When John Harrenstein was just a finalist for city administrator of North Mankato, he said he’d spend the first few months in the office understanding the council’s priorities and reaching out to the community.
That’s still part of the plan, but the recent downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service to the city’s credit rating re-ordered his blueprint.
“This is my top priority,” he said Friday, at the end of his third week on the job. Those changes will include adjustments to the city’s 2014 budgets to help remedy the problems that led to the downgrade, including “very high” payments on debt.
North Mankato's credit rating dropped from Aa3 to A3.
Moody's ranks most of its rating classes (such as "Aa" or "A") with a number from one through three to indicate its strength, with one being the most strong and three being weakest. In this case, North Mankato dropped from the weakest-rated "Aa" rating to the weakest-rated "A" rating.
Mankato has an "Aa2" rating.
A debt study of North Mankato is being completed by Northland Strategies, a division of Minneapolis-based Northland Securities Inc.
Harrenstein said it won’t be finished for several weeks, partly because it will use data from the city’s as-of-yet uncompleted 2012 audit.
The debt study will include a series of recommendations, Harrenstein said.
He also noted that North Mankato maintained its AA rating from Standard & Poor’s, another major credit rating agency.
Harrenstein has helped order a city’s finances before, in his previous post in Eudora, Kan. Fixing those problems took discipline, he said.
The credit downgrade, naturally, isn’t the only item on his agenda.
The city will be doing some strategic planning, and Harrenstein said the City Council will be developing goals for the city.
“The City Council has a unique perch,” he said.
He also praised the city’s staff for helping him with the transition.
“You don’t often find people this great,” he said.