Weatherford Democrat

February 25, 2014

Treasurer’s investment policy on hold


Weatherford Democrat

By JUDY SHERIDAN

A investment policy for Parker County — proported to help boost county revenues by tens of thousands of dollars — drew discussion but not approval from County Judge Mark Riley and commissioners Monday, less than a week before primary elections.

According to recently appointed Parker County Treasurer Jenny Barnwell, a candidate for office and the revised policy’s author, the proposed policy is more flexible than the current one.

The policy would use investment vehicles like U.S. Treasury bonds and notes, in addition to the county’s two money market accounts, she said.

Those two accounts together netted around $6,000 for the county in 2012, Barnwell told the Democrat, while a laddered, structured portfolio — offered by one of the county’s current dealers — would allow the county to move “from .03 percent to .5 percent or better, she said, yielding “a little over $100,000 per year, based on $3.5 million.” 

The proposed policy meets the standards set by the state in the Public Funds Investment Act, according to Barnwell, offering safety as well as liquidity. It includes the percentages of the different investment vehicles the county can hold, as well as their maturity limits, she said. 

“If we wanted to buy treasury notes, bonds or bills, we can hold them up to three years,” she told the Democrat. “If we want to do a fully collateralized repurchase agreement, we can hold those for 90 days.”

In addition, the proposed policy requires broker dealers who want to do business with the county to provide company financials, she said, ensuring they have “as deep pockets as we do.”

Her policy has been reviewed by the Texas Association of Counties and county financial adviser First Southwest, the treasurer told the court, as well as the legal departments of three other entities that write policy.  

When Barnwell asked commissioners to approve the policy, Judge Mark Riley said that the court — who he said was ultimately responsible — should look at “controlling it a little more,” and suggested an internal investment review team including the county auditor and attorney.

“This policy tends to go back to a more fluid, independent investment, and I’m not sure that’s what we ought to be doing,” he said, “to put that much into where one person does something that the court has to rubber stamp.”

Barnwell said she planned to start an investment committee — that would include the auditor, the county judge and a commissioner — to meet with prospective broker dealers once the policy won approval, later bringing viable prospects before the court.

“It’s not that we’re going to go out and put $32 million out there into a bunch of bonds that aren’t safe for this county,” she said. “That’s not the way this policy has been written. There are safeguards in here with this policy according to the PFIA.”

When Commissioner George Conley asked about a deadline for policy approval, Barnwell said PFIA would soon find it unacceptable for counties to leave money in money market accounts, which she told the Democrat that Parker County had done for 18 years.

“The PFIA doesn’t think it’s a prudent way to manage taxpayer dollars,” she said, adding that the market in Texas “has been excellent.”

“If you’re sitting on a money market account, anyone that knows — knows what you’ve lost,” she said.

Barnwell said there are still cuts to be made in the county budget — in office supplies, travel and attorney fees — but little thought has been given to the county’s ability to make money.

“There’s still a lot that we could cut,” she said, “but why aren’t we looking at our own investments to where we don’t have to furlough employees?”

“We have the ability to make more money through this office and do it safely at the same time.”

The judge and commissioners have had the new policy for about six weeks, she said, with no questions from any except Commissioner Dusty Renfro, who asked for a copy of the current investment policy.

Riley ended the discussion by saying the court needs to appoint the committee and get involved in that process, a sentiment echoed by Commissioner Larry Walden.

“I think our objectives are the same, that we’re safe, within the limits of the law and get as high a return on our investment as we possibly can,” he told her. ”It seems to me in your position, the more you have sharing that load with you the better off you’d be. 

“I agree with the judge. Get the people in place you’re talking about.”

Barnwell, who said she has has worked for months on the policy, said the delay in approving it can be chalked up to a lack of communication.

“If the county judge and commissioners had communicated with me,” she said, “all of their concerns would have been answered, and they could have approved my policy in court [today].”