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How are Rochester's public funds being invested?

On June 10, I went to a select board meeting in Rochester to voice concerns in the investment practice of the town’s public funds. Rochester has around $1.8 million in a public trust. This money is invested in bonds, stocks and mutual funds by an elected board of trustees.

 

This public fund is making money for Rochester’s future self. Do you know where this money is invested? This is precisely my concern. This money is foremost the taxpayers’ asset and they should know and agree on how it is managed.

 

I argue they do not have much knowledge of its very existence. No blame goes to the trustees, as they have done their job to oversee the fund, yet at the moment the practice is to pay around $1,350 each month to People’s United Bank Wealth Management to decide for us where and how to invest our public fund and cemetery trusts.

 

Despite its name, People’s United has nothing to do with uniting the people of Rochester. We are throwing $15,200 not into, but out of, the community each year. This is “standard” practice. I argue it is a dependent way of doing things. We are depending on the judgment of a company that has no relation or interest in Rochester’s local context or values to invest our money.

 

Subsequently, we are invested in some of the most controversial companies in the world, a great part being oil and gas companies. We need a public forum with the trustees to talk about our investments. I went to the select board meeting to bring awareness of this practice with the leaders of our community. I was greeted with a sense of incapacity from the board. The board felt they have no more power than a citizen like you or I to question it. This is concerning to me, as we elect the board to advocate and pay attention to the functions of the town and the security of our future.

 

Nonetheless, it is my responsibility as a citizen to inform the taxpayers of Rochester that under the management of People’s United Bank we have around $80,000 in direct Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Philips 66 stocks. This does not include additional $26,000 investment in BP Capital Markets PLC corporate bonds and a portion of the over a million dollars in mutual funds also going to the fossil fuel industry.

 

You may have nothing against these companies personally, except that one may give you a cent difference in price at the pumps from another. Yet, as a town, Rochester has good reason to question investing in their business. I understand how important oil, coal and gas have been to light and heat our homes and to move us around. Let us be grateful to the progress we have made on the account of fossil fuels, but the trajectory is failing. The fossil fuel industry owns more money than the history of money (a phrase coined by 350.org,) yet prices for the consumers rise and extraction practices are getting risky and complicated (fracking is a good example.) These choices are leading to stress on the everyday household and more carbon in our atmosphere. Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp, and BP PLC make it on to the top 200 carbon-emitting companies in the fossil fuel industry. For perspective, we reached 400 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere this spring. It has never been that high in recorded history (way before humans came along).

 

Rochester knows the hardship of this number. As survivors of Irene, we need to protect the future of Rochester and of towns across the nation and globe, by divesting our public funds from the fossil fuel industry and investing in a better energy future. The fossil fuel industry will not change its practices unless the economics and public opinion change.

 

At the moment we are ourselves part of the industry by owning stocks. Rochester is in a position to choose its future by doing our own business, not giving it to People’s United Bank, and by divesting from industries that are harming the health and security of Rochester. At the select board meeting, the leach fields in the back of the school were in discussion and select board member Marvin Harvey noted that he was really glad the original plan from 40-some years ago to treat and dump into the White River is forever off the table. This statement is a testament to the value Vermont holds in our natural resources. Our public investments should not exclude these values. For this reason I asked the select board to organize a warned town meeting with the trustees of the public funds to facilitate our understanding and evaluate current investment management under People’s United.

 

The select board did not think it could organize a meeting, but I was recommended and encouraged to take my concerns directly to the Board of Trustees of Public Funds. The trustees are elected volunteers, so let us help them by voicing our concerns. Rochester might want to develop and vote on guidelines for preferred practices in which the trustees would follow. I urge you as taxpayers and voters of Rochester and the surrounding area to call the trustees today: Barbara DeHart, 767-4465, Ann Pierce, 767-3350, and Michael Harvey, 767-4408. Please voice your concerns to them and your support for a warranted public meeting to discuss Rochester’s Public Funds investment portfolio and management practice.

 

To a better future…thank you!

 

Wade, Rochester and Waitsfield

 

 

 

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