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COUNTY WILL GET $211 MILLION FROM SALE OF TOBACCO BONDS

Erie County sold off $640 million of its Big Tobacco settlement to investors Wednesday, a move that will bring the county about one-third of that amount in upfront cash.

The county will receive $211 million in cash from the sale, money that will arrive early next month.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra said the sale isn't a bad deal, though it might seem like one on the face of it. It's actually the safest bet, he said.

"It's better to take the money upfront," said Giambra, citing "uncertainties" in the tobacco industry.

"There's the possibility of the bankruptcy of the tobacco companies. There's the possibility they may legally find ways to avoid these payments," Giambra said. "They have a lot of money, and they can pay good lawyers."

Financial experts in New York City said Erie County entered the market at a tough time, because many municipal bonds are on the market and other counties are also going forward with selling tobacco settlements.

Monroe and Chautauqua counties have sold their settlements over the past few weeks, the analysts said.

Erie County's bonds, offered to investors over two days this week, were rated "A" by Wall Street -- the market's third-highest rating, one that means the bonds are seen as a good investment with slightly more risk than the top two grades.

Herman Charbonneau, a financial analyst at Roosevelt & Cross in New York City, said Wall Street was watching Erie County's sale in light of other upcoming municipal bond offerings from New York City, Georgia and Washington State.

"This is highlighting the fact that most of the buyers only have so much money to spend," said Charbonneau.

One factor that worked in Erie County's favor is that the county's settlement was offered to retail buyers in addition to regular large-scale customers, Charbonneau said.

"It was very successful. I was quite impressed with the results," he said of the results of Erie County's sale to retail buyers, who are individuals or small-scale buyers.

Joseph Passafiume, the county's budget director, said the county will receive the $200 million in proceeds from the sale on Oct. 5.

Passafiume spent several days in New York City this week, meeting with investors and drumming up interest in the county's offering.

"We're taking this very seriously," Passafiume said. "I'm very pleased so far."

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