This week’s citizen’s address is a conversation between Governor Calvo and Chief John Wusstig of the Guam Fire Department, along with Lt. Mark Torre and Sgt. JP Aguon from the Guam Police Department. It was an open conversation about the early retirement proposal and the government’s finances.
Chief Wusstig brought up concerns of whether the early retirement proposal will hurt the retirement fund, and the shortage of staff at Guam Fire Department. The Governor responded that the major problems are with the General Fund. If the General Fund destabilizes, the Governor made the point, then it will not be able to contribute to the Retirement Fund. This is what happened in the CNMI. Lt. Torre gave general support for the early retirement program but wanted to see a transition period to train new officers to fill the ranks. Sgt. Aguon echoed Lt. Torre’s concern, then said the early retirement program could take higher-earners off the rolls of the General Fund and save the government money.
This conversation originally was 32 minutes long, but was edited to over 6 minutes for upload to the Governor’s YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/GovernorofGuam. These are the salient points of the conversation. Our office has the original roll of the conversation if you’d like to see it. The files are too large to email.
You can view the weekly address by going to Weekly Address 080612
The transcription of the conversation follows:
Governor Calvo: I think it’s important to hear some of the issues from those that are public servants…and what those issues are, and potentially, what questions you may have and also, recommendations (you may have) as we move forward.
Chief Wusstig: Well yes, Governor. I do have about 28 years of actual service–a little over 28 (years), plus my accumulated sick leave takes me up beyond the 30 (years of service to be eligible for early retirement). My only concern is…we’ve heard…in doing this with the early retirement are we going to jeopardize the Retirement (Fund) itself…in helping us in our latter years–in drawing from the retirement, is it going to jeopardize that? That’s a big concern of ours. On the side of the fire department, because again, I’m committed to the fire department. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t even think about it, is because through the years…through attrition, we’ve reduced the number (of firefighters). So we’re running (a) skeleton crew down there.
Governor Calvo: Something that, what I found quite interesting–in my last meeting at the governors conference, I did make mention that we in government of Guam, that (retirement) contribution–in terms of a percentage of our personnel costs for government of Guam was at nearly 30 percent. And, the governors, most of them, their mouths just dropped. The most important thing to…recognize is if the General Fund destabilizes, then everything else destabilizes. If you look at what’s happened in the Northern Marianas, where (their) General Fund has been at near-collapse, they have not been able to pay the Retirement Fund. And of course, what happened with their retirement fund? They filed for bankruptcy. We do not want to be in that position. What would happen…if there’s a refusal to look at the Retirement Fund, if there’s a refusal to look at benefits, then it leads to layoffs. And if you have layoffs, that’s a lot of people who…won’t be contributing to the Retirement Fund. As for the personnel issues, even when it comes to early retirement–is there a way to do it in an extended period, some sort of transition period, where we can still make use of the expertise of those who will be retiring, so that there is adequate time for the recruitment and training of new firemen coming.
Lt. Torre: I’ve been in (the Guam Police Department) for 23 years. With the early retirement, I agree with it to some degree, because I think there is some benefit, but I like the idea sir, of you having that transition period where you don’t just cut the bottom off…and we lose all these retirees just like that. That’s what happened in ’99 (during the last early retirement program). When that happened, we as PO3s, Police Officer 3s, were forced to do, or to take on roles, that were traditionally handled by lieutenants and above. We were not ready for that. So the brain drain–we felt it incredibly. It hurt us because we were inexperienced. We didn’t know how to make certain decisions. We didn’t have the training. We didn’t have the tenure. So that was always a challenge. And, quite honestly, it made some of us look foolish. But we hung in there, and that’s because we wanted to do what was right: and that was to stick around and to commit to the oath we took.
Sgt. Aguon: I’m going on 25 years of government service–24 with the Guam Police Department. I’ve always told my wife, “I got four more years.” Until this early retirement (proposal) came out, I said, “I got four more years.” I was counting it down: six, five, now four. Whenever there’s any kind of adjustment in anything, it should be phased…so it doesn’t hurt…the department. That’s what I can offer as a suggestion. And the money you save also, you can get us cars…but most likely we need personnel. We’re definitely going to need it. That’s the way to offer it to the people, especially for the people who have the old (defined benefit) retirement plan. The longer I stay in, the more I make, the more the government is going to have to fork out (for my retirement annuity). I’m trying to make the government save money from paying me. It’s just an offer–or a suggestion that could be considered.
Governor Calvo: I know we have a long journey ahead of us. I want to thank you so much for your input, but you have my word–my assurance, that as we traverse this course, we will be listening to the issues that have been brought forward by all GovGuam workers, by the people, (and) the taxpayers. And we will do this with as much intention of ensuring that there is the least pain possible. I want to find ways to ensure that we look at all other options other than layoffs as we try to stabilize this government. So, again, I want to thank you so much for your candor and I look forward to your continued input as we move along. Again, thank you so much for the service you’re doing.