Madison County investment discussion brings primary fight

EDWARDSVILLE — A report on Madison County investments is spurring a political fight between Treasurer Chris Slusser and his Republican primary opponent, former county administrator Doug Hulme.

At last week’s Finance Committee meeting Slusser reported that the county was on pace to receive a “record” $5.2 million in investment income for the fiscal year.

While Slusser touts “record” investment income, Hulme calls it a “mediocre $5.2 million” that is “ignoring the serious liquidity risks” of Slusser’s investment strategy.

He claims Slusser’s move toward long-term investments has led to “millions in municipal bonds to go ‘underwater’ due to rising interest rates.”

Public funds can only be placed in “safer” types of investments, meaning the rate of return is often lower than other investments, but are protected from some market fluctuations.

The county is also required to keep a certain amount of cash available.

Slusser has said previously the three most important issues are safety, liquidity (the ability to convert the investments to usable cash) and return.

“We are on pace for record returns on county investments,” Slusser said. “We are projecting $5.2 million in investment income this year.”

He noted that from 2012 to 2016 the county earned an average of $826,000 annually, and that average increased to $3.96 million from 2017-2022.

Slusser became treasurer in 2016, replacing Kurt Prenzler, who had become County Board chairman. Hulme had served as Prenzler’s chief deputy treasurer before becoming county administrator. He was fired in April 2020 amid allegations he improperly accessed data for political purposes and has since filed a number of lawsuits against the county.

Prior to being appointed treasurer Slusser had been a County Board member and chairman of the Madison County Republican Party.

“We focused on increasing income by diversifying the portfolio and actively managing the funds,” he said.

In 2016, there with 85 investments in the county’s portfolio and 71 were CDs.

“Now we have 573 holdings, including a mix of municipal bonds, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, federal agency bonds, CDs and treasury bonds,” Slusser said. “The Illinois Public Funds Investment Act doesn’t allow us to purchase stocks or mutual funds.”

On Wednesday he noted that the county has more than $50 million in cash on hand, in part because of the ARPA funding it received, and he has no plans or reason to sell any bonds before they mature.

The county has shifted most of its funds away from banks for the time being.

“Most local banks are cash heavy with PPP and ARPA funds, they are not seeking big deposits” Slusser said.

Hulme also claimed that a $5.2 million return on a $200 million portfolio (Slusser pegged the number at about $160 million) is a return of 2.6 percent, which “significantly underperforms the two-year U.S. Treasury bond, which is over 3 percent.”

On Wednesday the rate for the two-year bonds were about 3.3%, after a recent increase.

“Slusser’s investments are under performing the ‘risk free’ market significantly and his statement that he is tops in Illinois speaks to his inexperience,” Hulme stated in his release.

Slusser countered by saying that during Hulme’s time as deputy treasurer, the most the county received in investments was right at $1 million per year.

He also said that bringing all those investments back to Madison County banks would be counterproductive, because they would offer very little. He said investment income would fall to between $400,000 to $500,000, and result in increased taxes or layoffs.

The primary race between Hulme and Slusser has been heightened by a great deal of personal animosity between the two.

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