ARIZONA

Despite recent reports showing a bigger fiscal 1994 deficit than originally reported, Maricopa County is edging back to financial health, county finance officials said last week.

The county's office of management and budget reported last Thursday that the deficit for fiscal 1994, which ended June 30, totaled $66.53 million.

"The figure rose from a projected $62 million deficit," interim county administrator Barbra Cooper said in a statement. The increase was made following an accounting policy change that "forced the county to include the recording of depreciation of assets bought with bond proceeds," she said.

Because of the accounting change, an additional $11.5 million was added to the deficit, increasing the county's deficit projections to $76.1 million.

"But reports just completed show an actual deficit of $66.53 million, so we have a positive variance of $9.57 million," Cooper said.

Budget director Sandi Wilson said the county has in place a deficit-reduction plan for fiscal 1995, which began July 1, that calls for $47.2 million to be applied toward debt reduction.

The deficit-reduction plan includes hiring freezes, elimination of nonmandated travel, sale of physical assets, and expenditure monitoring, she said.

In June, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Maricopa County's general obligation bonds to A from An, citing "poor financial performance." In May, Standard & Poor's Corp. downgraded the county to A from AA, and placed the county on CreditWatch with negative implications. In August, it lifted the CreditWatch designation, but said the county's long-term outlook is negative.

-- Brad Altman, Los Angeles

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