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Erie County credit rating upgraded

Fitch Ratings has upgraded Erie County's credit rating two notches, from BBB-minus to BBB-plus and given the government a stable outlook.

Even with the possibility that Erie County ended 2008 with a small deficit, Fitch made note of the county's ability to stabilize its financial position, build modest reserves and close projected budget gaps.

Erie County's credit is rated by three agencies. Aside from Fitch, Standard & Poor's rates the county BBB-plus. Moody's Investors Service has assigned a slightly lesser rating, Baa2 since July, when it upgraded the county from Baa3.

Erie County's credit ratings plummeted out of the A range with the budget crisis of 2004-05.

The Moody's and S&P ratings for Erie County are identical to the ratings those firms give the City of Buffalo. Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz finds special meaning in that parity.

"Buffalo's control board recently allowed the city to borrow money under its own authority with the same ratings," he said, calling on Erie County's state-appointed control board to let county government borrow money on its accord.

For more than two years the control board has blocked Erie County from selling bonds for major projects, arguing that the control board itself should sell the bonds that will finance repairs to bridges, roads and county buildings.

The control board, with one of the best credit ratings that can be obtained, says it can save millions of dollars on repayment costs.

"I urge the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority to immediately authorize the county to sell bonds for our 2007 and 2008 capital projects," Poloncarz said. "This will not only ensure the completion of these much-needed projects but stimulate our local economy."

The control board's executive director, Kenneth Vetter, said he had not seen the Fitch report and could not comment.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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