Public hearings on two bills that would dip into the $22 million of anticipated surplus from fiscal year 2019 were heard on Tuesday.
• Bill 230-35, introduced by Sen. Joe San Agustin, would appropriate $1 million to the Guam Housing Corporation.
• Bill 235-35, the primary author of which is San Agustin, would appropriate $1 million from the general fun to the Guam Office of the Attorney General.
President of the Guam Housing Corporation Alice Taijeron testified in support of Bill 230. She said the funds would assist them in continuation of services such as providing loans to qualified persons who have been unable to secure conventional financing.
She noted, in response to a question from San Agustin, she has spoken to Adelup “and we’re looking at … creative ways to assist Guam Housing in creating revenue.”
If received, the $1 million would be used for loans and property renovations. Anything left over would be used to purchase and renovate inexpensive home in order to offer them to CHC clients, Taijeron said.
The GHC also lends to qualified Chamorro Land Trust lease holders so they may be able to build on Chamorro land trust property.
Taijeron said in previous years GHC was mandated to use $500,000 of its operational budget to fund a first-time homeowners assistance program. Additionally, under previous administrations GHC used $300,000 to provide housing for displaced persons.
She said they are currently “playing catchup” and half of their $3.1 million budget is used for loans for first time homeowners.
According to the fiscal note on the bill from Bureau of Budget Management and Research the agency’s expected revenue for this year is $3.29 million. The fiscal note raised some questions at the hearing.
“The bill starts off talking about the First Time Homeowner’s Program in the intent as if that’s what we’re going to fund with this $1 million but its not actually in the bill language,” Sen. Therese Terlaje noted, pointing out comments from BBMR’s fiscal note. “The mandate of the bill is to use the money for programs, operations and personnel and this is also what BBMR is pointing out – that this is also going to be used for personnel.
“But usually your personnel is supposed to be funded out of your revenue,” Terlaje added.
Taijeron said she doesn’t have any intention of hiring new personnel: “I’ve really kept that at a minimum since having come on board.” She said the agency is going through a process of aligning its operations to its mission and mandates.
Terlaje, reiterating her earlier point, asked if the current revenues will be sufficient to cover existing personnel and whether personnel levels will remain the same.
Taijeron said she does want to hire an accountant and a strategic planning person which falls in line with their latest effort of realignment.
Sen. Telo Taitague asked if the governor would support that bill: “Have you had the opportunity to talk to the governor on whether she would support this bill or not?”
Director Taijeron said she has spoken to the governor but “couldn’t speak to whether she supports the bill or not.”
Stephanie Mendiola, general counsel for the Attorney General’s Office, testified in support of bill 235-35. She said the funds, if received, would be used for the enhancement of the Child Support Enforcement Division and an upgrade of the automated system for management of its cases.
“We recognize and do not discount the importance of other government priority areas warranting the need for resources. However, this $1 million request for funding is aimed at avoiding a $6 million burden to general fund, which would result if CCED falls into non-compliance and loses the current 66% federal funding participation,” Mendiola stated. “Furthermore the total expense of $3 million for this project will pay itself back in savings over approximately three fiscal years and result in significant savings for the government of Guam from that point forward.”
Acting Attorney General Fred Nishihira said they hope to be able to procure the system that would allow them to move forward with upgrading the CCED.