[Regional Editor's Note: Bob Sartor is the grandfather of Milford Patch Editor Ryan Sartor. — Gary Jeanfaivre]
Here are some statistics about the City of Milford Pension: The fund was worth $35 million in 1984, and is now worth $330 million. In recent years, the City of Milford has annually contributed approximately $340,000 to the fund. The fund pays out $1.5 million each month. Bob Sartor is retiring at the age of 84, after 39 years of service to the City of Milford.
How did you first get started with the Pension Board?
My term first started in 1973 when I was asked to go onto the Zoning Board of Appeals. And I spent 10 years on that. And then I was not reappointed after my second term and a guy by the name of Bob Hardiman, who was the Chairman of the Democrat Town Committee, told me that I was going to go on the Pension and Retirement Board.
I had just gotten back from vacation in Florida and I said to Bob, "I haven't got a clue. I don't know the difference between a stock and a bond." And he says, "I don't care. You be at the Aldermen meeting on Tuesday night with a resume." I said, "I've never filled out a resume in my life." He says, "Well, do it this time." So, I was there and they caucused and said, "Alright, you're on." That was really how it started.
In the years since 1983, what did you learn in your time at the pension board?
Basically, the difference between a stock and a bond. No, after I got onto it, I was on it for three years before I was chairman, but the two previous chairmen really helped a lot and taught me a lot of things and I picked their brains, pretty much.
The guiding light behind the whole investment system is John Beirne, our investment adviser. He was the one who talked the City into removing the pension funds from the bank to an active management and that was in 1977 or '78. He's been the advisor of this Pension Board all of this time and he has done a tremendous job.
Everybody thinks that I'm just the smartest guy in the world because the Pension Fund grew, but actually I'm the smartest guy because I knew how to use the talent that I had on the Board, that was the difference.
Has the Board had hard times over the years? Such as in 2008 when the stock market collapsed?
Oh, yeah. You can't control market place. We've had some down years, but the thing is that the Board had the wisdom enough to diversify. That's the whole point: diversification in your funds. When I came on the Board, we had three money managers and they were all balanced accounts between stocks and bonds. Over the years, to own stocks and bonds wasn't enough because we couldn't pay our bills.
So, we diversified, we changed a few money managers as things progressed. We haven't fired many managers, three or four at the most in my years on the Board. We keep them and if they start to go downhill, I just send them a letter to shape up and things get better.
We have seventeen different people who handle our money and each is a different area of investment. It ranges from large stocks to bonds to gold stocks — we don't own any gold, just gold stocks, foreign investments — we have a lot of money in foreign investments. We're now in two different real estate funds.
Our investments are discussed and reviewed and the condition of the fund is discussed every month at the monthly meeting and every money manager that we have has to make an appearance every six months to report on what they're doing. So, we spend three quarters to an hour talking to every manager, twice a year, so we know what's going on.
Isn't Milford one of the only self-sustaining pension funds?
It's called 'fully funded.' Yes, and to my knowledge, John Beirne advises about five towns in Connecticut and they're the only ones that are fully funded. Except for maybe Greenwich and the south end of Fairfield County, where the tax payers put the money in.
What does that mean to be 'fully funded'?
If everybody who worked for the City retired today, there's enough money to pay off their pensions for the rest of their lives. We pay out in expenses — just for pensions alone — $1.5 million each month. For a town the size of ours, 50,000 people, that's a lot of money.
When I came on the board, the fund was valued — I don't remember exactly — it was in the range of $35-40 million. Today, the value of the fund is $341 million. We were up to $400 million before the market had a turndown a few years ago.
What's next for you?
I've retired. I'm not going back into City service anymore. The reason that I've retired now is my age. And not so much my age, but it's that thing of 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' For the winter coming on, I have a hard time driving at night. I have a hard time keeping my balance on ice and storm. I put in a hard last winter, just getting through all of that. I don't think that I should do that anymore. It's not worth it to have an accident.
There are capable people to take over now. I wasn't always of this mindset that there were people there who could take over the job, but right now there are people that can do it.
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