Gresham's debt analyst seeks many happy returns
Every morning Mark Tolliver wakes up early to catch the MAX train from downtown Portland to Gresham City Hall. He arrives at 7 a.m. so he can catch the opening of the markets to secure the best bonds for the city to invest in.
"If I got in later, I would miss out on good bargains for the city," he said.
Tolliver, 64, has worked for almost 10 years as a debt management analyst for the city of Gresham's finance department. He is focused on investments, debt management and accounting and financial work.
On a day-to-day basis, Tolliver scans the markets and keeps track of interest rates. Unlike other businesses he has worked for, his hands are partly tied as to where he can invest city money.
"We are very restricted in what we can invest in by state regulations," Tolliver said.
The city is not allowed to invest in stocks or mutual funds, because while long-term they perform, there is more short-term risk. So, Tolliver and others focus investments in bonds that have been graded AA by investment services. There is no limit on the length of maturity, though they try to avoid riskier options by sticking to shorter-length bonds.
"For our portfolio, we are limited to basically three years for corporate securities," Tolliver said. "That number was chosen because it is unlikely a large company would collapse in that time frame."
Tolliver noted that the rate of return on Gresham's investment portfolio, which totaled $200 million in 2017, is one of the best for comparable cities across Oregon. In 2017, the rate was 1.38 percent.
"That was one of our better rates," Tolliver said.
The city of Gresham also has a fairly unique practice of investing in its Urban Renewal issuances. The practice offers better interest rates for both sides, and it's a trusted investment since the Gresham City Council also serve as the board of commissioners for the Urban Renewal District.
The debt management side of his job isn't as involved as the investments. Gresham has about $85 million in long- and short-term debt, which Tolliver said is "very sound and conservative."
"If you take an average city, the line would be about $100,000 of debt per citizen," he added. "We are in a very solid position in terms of debt we have outstanding."
Path to Gresham
Before joining Gresham, Tolliver found himself working alongside attorneys. He would help present financial matters to juries. During trials, Tolliver would put in 70-hour weeks, compiling research and information. But during the down periods he found himself with too much time on his hands.
"I started working part-time through an agency," he said. "Gresham needed help with financial work, so I came on a temporary basis."
Eventually everyone involved agreed it would be better if Tolliver joined full time.
"Gresham has a good reputation for having high quality people," he said. "Everyone is accomplished and skillful at what they do, which made my decision to come full time easier."
In addition to his work for the lawyers, Tolliver has worked for Standard Insurance doing investments, and worked in New York at Lehman Brothers and other accounting firms.
He is a graduate of Baruch College, the city university of New York.
When he isn't focused on investments and financials, Tolliver loves to play bridge. In 2015, he was a member of a team that won the national senior bridge championship. That allowed the group to travel to the world championships in India, where they placed fourth.
"It was a wonderful experience," Tolliver said.