Aug. 17, 2017 (Hagåtña) — We’re now in talks for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget and the one thing that hasn’t really been discussed are the services these annual budgets provide for.
While the administration is pleased that the Speaker’s office wants to better plan ahead with a biennial budget, something we recommended in 2011, there are concerns with this budget that includes shortfalls to first responders’ budgets that are potentially life-threatening, but also amputates our island’s only public hospital’s ability to save lives.
In the last 6 years of this administration, we have tightened our belt, with the help of the Legislature. We’ve seen three fiscal years with a surplus, that includes an operational surplus for one of those years. And at the same time, we’ve paid payroll, paid COLA, paid tax refunds (something we continue to fight for in court), and continue to pay other obligations.
We got rid of the deficit in Fiscal Year 2012, and the surplus continued in Fiscal 2013. We saw another surplus in Fiscal Year 2016. The point is, this administration has been able to manage the Government’s funds while also IMPROVING services – we have hired more police officers, gotten more school buses, increased our ambulances (from 1.5 working ambulances in 2011 to about 15 today) and every fire house has a fire truck (unfortunately this is something that hasn’t happened in at least a number of decades).
The discussions these past few days are pointing at reversing this positive trend in making our island a better and safer place.
CONCERNS WITH THE LEGISLATURE’S PROPOSED BUDGET:
Severely restricts funds, creating shortfalls, certain agency funding to include:
- Guam Fire Department: $2.5M
o Shifts $1.4M from General Fund to the Tourist Attraction Fund.
o Cuts $1M for 5 vacant critically needed civilian positions and funding for overtime.
- “The impact to the community is the potential shut down of 1-2 fire houses (and) as a whole, the other stations will have to cover larger jurisdictions delaying response times. What this means in the end is potential lives lost or not given the full opportunity for the best chance of survival in any particular incident. Our people have come to expect at minimum, the current level of Fire and Emergency Services and this cut will not sustain that.” – Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas
- Guam Police Department:$2.7M shortfall
o Results in the inability to fund vacancies for police officers and civilians, including FY2018 Police Cycle for 33 police officer trainees and hiring a criminalist to assist with cases. Instead, it authorizes the Governor to use his transfer authority to provide $1.7M — which is not a real appropriation because he would have to take money from somewhere else. “As we at the Guam Police Department had put the proposal for the budget together, we looked at what was a reality, what we really NEEDED. We were being judicious with the use of the peoples’ money and … this is what the people are asking for. And we know this firsthand when the Lieutenant Governor and I go out and canvas the community … we talk to them and ask them what services they are looking for and what public safety needs they have. … And to shorten the budget by even $1, does have a resounding impact on our abilities to keep the people safe.” – GPD Chief JI Cruz
o Without the additional police officers, we can continue to reduce our overtime, which means we’re no longer requiring our officers to work that many hours.
o MANDANA Task Force and Neighborhood Watch Program: These programs allow police to interact with the community to “prevent crime from happening rather than reacting to crime.”
- Guam Department of Corrections:
o Failed to fund $2.6M requested for Consolidated Agreement with GMHA for the health clinic, which could threaten the improvements made that allowed for the removal of the 1991 consent decree.
o Reduces $1.8M for food service contract.
o “The impact to the agency would be catastrophic for the Department of Corrections because more than likely the federal government and the federal courts will probably re-instate the consent decree if the clinic closes.” – Tony Lamorena, DOC director
o DOC recently hired more officers, which eased our overtime from $120,000 to about $50,000. We planned to hire more officers in FY2018 with our requested budget and fully eliminate overtime. This is unlikely with the Legislature’s proposed shortfall.
- Guam Memorial Hospital: $26.9M
o Paying vendors, being able to pay supplies, not being able to hire nurses and other staff in critical areas, such as the Intensive Care Unit and Critical Care Unit.
o “We wouldn’t be able to provide the services, to include medication and supplies, to the individuals who walk through our door seeking our help.” – PeterJohn Camacho, GMHA administrator