GREEN RIVER – Sweetwater County commissioners officially decided in a 5-0 vote on Tuesday that the county will no longer do business with Bank of the West.
Commission Chairman Reid West and Commissioners Randy “Doc” Wendling, Don Van Matre, Wally Johnson and John Kolb voted in favor of it. The decision will take effect on Oct. 1, when the county hopes to finalize transfers to other banks.
In early August, the bank announced it will no longer finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic along with coal mines or coal-fueled power plants that were not making an effort to transition to renewable sources.
Commissioners expressed disappointment, anger and a desire to remove its funds from the bank at its Aug. 8 meeting, but decided to wait before making any decision.
Sweetwater County Treasurer Robb Slaughter told them at that meeting it wouldn’t be as simple as transferring money from Bank of the West to another bank, the Rocket-Miner reported.
When the county received the news, it didn’t have time to look at the policy statements “so we didn’t overreact,” Slaughter told the Rocket-Miner on Tuesday.
Since the meeting, Slaughter researched the bank’s official statement at blog.bankofthewest.com/change and read the sections on “unconventional Mining techniques and Coal.”
“To more fully understand the policies in the BOW statement, I reached out to contacts within the bank and asked for further clarification,” Slaughter said in a written recap. “On Aug. 10, I (along with the commission) received a letter from an executive vice president that basically affirmed the policy decision of the bank.
“Since that time, I have been in contact with several local banks that have offered services in varying degrees to help us mitigate this issue. I am continuing to meet with representatives of other local banks this week. After the conversations I have had, I am confident that we will be able to receive full collateralization of our assets and be able to replace the services that were previously provided by Bank of the West/BnP Paribas.
Collateral is property that is pledged by a borrower to protect the interests of the lender. Slaughter added that he has reached out to Sweet-water County Clerk Dale Davis “to more fully understand the services the BOW has been providing his office” along with the IT director Tim Knight.
“I have also been meeting regularly with Deputy County Attorney Jim Schermetzler to help me with all of the intricacies that are involved with a change like this,” Slaughter said.
“After having researched all of the factors that are necessary in making a decision of this magnitude, I believe that BOW/BnP Paribas policy statement is inconsistent with the values we hold here in Sweetwater County,” Slaughter said in the statement. “While I agree that it is important that we consider environmental concerns, I think the corporate policy is too restrictive to be acceptable to the majority of our residents.”
Schermetzler on Tuesday recommended that commissioners do not take action until all of the county’s deposits were transferred.
“I think we need to make a statement,” he said.
Kolb agreed with Johnson, adding that the county cannot stand by when someone attacks its industries.
About 45 percent of the county’s revenue comes from oil and gas, slaughter said.
Slaughter said the goal moving forward is to continue working with other banks to replace the services that Bank of the West provided.
The biggest challenge will be payroll. The county will run a sample payroll with banks to test things out before Oct. 1.