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Commissioners Hear Retirement Fund Report

By D.C. Koviack

 The Wyoming County Commissioners heard a report from the county’s investment fund managers, Merrill Lynch, on Tuesday. Despite July’s 15 percent downward correction, Gary Crisci and William Bender told the commissioners that the stock market has made a good recovery in August and that year to date the Retirement Fund is up 3.73 percent. Although Crisci and Bender were both upbeat about the continued health of the fund, they did recommend two changes. Both were okayed by the commissioners.

The first involves the replacement of one of the investment firms managing the county’s large cap growth portfolio. “Janus has been underperforming,” noted Bender, “and it’s dragging the portfolio down.” Bender added that Janus was the only manager to not hit its benchmark over the last three years. He and Crisci recommended that the county switch to Victory investment management for its large cap growth portfolio, which is in part also managed by Winslow Investments.

The other recommendation was to create a new High Quality Dividend portfolio based on companies with the best dividend return. Money for this new portfolio would be taken, in part, from the Janus fund with the remainder being awarded to Victory. Additional monies for the High Quality Dividend portfolio would come from the Eaton Investment portion of the Eaton/MFS controlled value large cap portfolio.

The third portion of the county’s large cap investments is handled by C.S. McKee, and is known as the Large Cap Core portfolio. It will not contribute money to the new portfolio. In November, when the Endowment Fund portion of the Retirement Fund is closed out, that money, some $470,00, will also be funneled into the High Quality Dividend portfolio, which will ultimately have about $770,000 in assets.

Bender and Crisci told the commissioners that the Retirement Fund is divided up among stocks, bonds and other investments precisely where experts recommend it be for best and most secure growth. “We have just over 39 percent in Large Cap Stocks,” Bender said, “and that’s where we want to be.” Bender said that financial experts felt that Corporate America is very strong. “They have good balance sheets and billions in cash,” he noted. He added that despite the fact that the market remains quite volatile, earnings overall are growing and analysts say that will continue.

In other business, the commissioners have proclaimed next week, Sept. 4-10, as Literacy Week in the county. The Wyoming-Bradford Counties Literacy Program reported that despite funding from the state being completely cut, it intends to continue to serve the people of the region. State funding comprised about $61,000 a year of the program’s $100,000 annual budget.

“We are determined to continue,” noted Program Director Sherry Spencer. She added that the program has been approaching various corporations, including the Marcellus Shale drilling companies, for grants, as well as applying for other grants to round out its budget. Additionally, two staff persons who left have not been replaced. “We’re trying to cut wherever we can,” she said. Except for a few paid positions, the program runs with all volunteer tutors and trainers, and while it is called the Wyoming-Bradford Counties Literacy Program it serves people from surrounding counties as well.

Last year the program tutored 60 adults and teens in basic reading and writing. It also taught 60 English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Spencer admitted that some children graduating with a high school diploma are functionally illiterate, unable to do much more than sign their names, yet those who go through the program often achieve personal success beyond being able to read.

“They go on to get a GED if they don’t have one, or to get a CDL license so they can get a better job,” she explained. Vivian Vannan, who tutors ESL students, added that among that group, many who learn English do so as a first step toward becoming U.S. citizens. “These students are often from countries that cannot afford them jobs or that are in upheaval because of war. Becoming a U.S. citizen is their long-term goal and learning English is the first step,” she said. Currently, the program has a waiting list of adults who wish to improve their basic reading skills or who wish to learn ESL.


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