Tuesday, December 10, 2013
WATERVILLE — A request to amend the city's investment policy prompted a debate tonight about whether the city should refrain from investing in fossil fuels.
That debate turned heated when Mayor Karen Heck said climate change is an issue, and the community grassroots group, Sustain Mid-Maine, is concerned about the use of natural resources and care of the Earth.
"Is there an interest whether we want to exempt fossil fuel from possible investment?" Heck asked.
Her question drew a quick response from Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1.
"That's a political question; and when we're dealing with taxpayer funds, it's our obligation to maximize our return, regardless, ..." he said.
The debate arose as the council was considering revising the city's investment policy, adopted in 2008. Councilors ultimately voted 7–0 to revise it, allowing for expanded investment options for trust funds such as Pine Grove Cemetery's perpetual care fund and the Haines Charity Trust.
The city has long administered the Haines trust and recently took over the cemetery trust.
City Manager Michael Roy said surplus funds generated by taxes are invested in governmental obligations. State law prohibits investment of taxpayer money in stock funds, but trust funds such as the cemetery and Haines funds may be invested in stocks, he said.
The investment issue came up because the city came into possession of the $1 million cemetery trust fund, and that had always been managed with governmental obligations, stocks and other varied investments, Roy said.
"They're not tax-generated funds," he said.
Heck reiterated that those two trusts are not tax-generated, and thus the city could opt not to invest in fossil fuels.
Councilor John O'Donnell, D-Ward 5, agreed with Stubbert.
"We have a fiduciary duty to maximize the proceeds," said O'Donnell, an attorney.
Heck said the city has a duty to maximize care of the Earth and its people, as use of fossil fuels contributes to climate change.
"It's not a political issue; it's science, Fred," she said.
Stubbert pointedly disagreed.
"Maybe you think so, but most people don't," he said.
O'Donnell responded with "Let's move the question."
Heck did not appear to be satisfied with Stubbert's view on fossil fuels.
"I'm really sorry to hear that. Honestly, I'm really sorry to hear that," Heck said.
She said people who are knowledgeable about fossil fuels and climate change would come to the council to discuss the issue.
In other matters tonight, councilors voted 7–0 to approve a fee schedule for use of Quarry Road Recreation Area; they also voted unanimously to accept $150,000 from Colby College, to be paid over a five-year period, for helping the city to pave Mayflower Hill Drive from where it crosses Messalonskee Stream to the intersection of Mt. Merici Avenue.
The city would repair the road, for up to a total cost of $165,000, and use $150,000 from surplus and $15,000 from a 2013 general obligation bond.
Roy said the project will start soon.
"I think in the next two weeks we'll see that done," he said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247