LOS ANGELES -- Martin County, Calif., has received double-A ratings for its first publicly offered certificates of participation issue, making it the only county in California with such a lofty certificate rating.
"Obviously, we're very pleased with a breakthrough like that," Thomas Campanella, the county administrator, said yesterday.
Moody's Investors Service this week assigned a Aa rating to the certificates. Standard & Poor's Corp. rated them AA-minus.
The county plans on Aug. 27 to] price the $28 million issue, which will fund construction of a new 300-bed jail and the acquisition of two existing office buildings. Morgan Stanley & Co. is the lead underwriter.
"Martin County is the only county and one of only seven local municipal entities in California whose general fund fixed asset leases are rated at this high level," Moody's said.
In assigning its rating, Moody's cited Marin County's sound financial operations and strong socioeconomic indicators, including per capita income that is more than one and a half times the state average.
Steven Zimmerman, a senior vice president of Standard & Poor's, said the county's "very limited debt" also helped the rating.
Marin County has essentially operated on a pay-as-you-go basis. It has no outstanding or authorized general obligation bonds and only $1.8 million of existing certificates. Those certificates were placed privately last spring.
Marin County, located north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, is known for its wealth, quality of life, and scenic seacoast and park areas.
Its finances contrast with less fortunate California counties. Butte County and certain other rural counties, for example, have been pushed near the brink of insolvency by stagnant revenue bases and soaring health and welfare costs.
"How we deal with our budget process and funding controls" is one reason for the high rating, Mr. Campanella said. He noted, for example, that Marin County's budget "is based on revenues, not needs."
Mr. Campanella also noted that the county monitors its budget throughout the fiscal year to stay within prescribed limits. The proposed $164 million budget for fiscal 1992, which began July 1, assumes maintaining an even level of service with fiscal 1991.
Mr. Campanella said the county also has managed in recent years to control spending -- as a percentage of the overall budget -- on such items as law enforcement and health services. Marin County also does not have a county hospital and therefore is spared the need to provide operating subsidies for such a facility, unlike certain other California counties.
Marin County also has benefited in recent years from a steady rise in assessed valuation and economic development.
California's five-year drought has affected Marin County. It took an extraordinary level of rain last March to preclude adoption of a planned 50% voluntary rationing policy. The Marin Municipal Water District, which serves the central and southern areas of the county, is investigating the possibility of desalting ocean water for additional supplies.
Marin County also plans a $16.5 million tax and revenue anticipation note issue late in August. Moody's rates the notes MIG-1 and Standard & Poor's rates them SPI-plus.