Public Health's office leases could get audited

NOT CONDEMNED: The main entrance to the abandoned Department of Public Health & Social Services main offices is seen on Sept. 26 in Mangilao. Public Health abandoned the $5 million building in November 2019, claiming it was condemned. The Department of Public Works stated that's not the case and it's structurally sound except for electrical issues that need to be repaired. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Government auditors could knock on the doors of Guam Department of Public Health offices and other GovGuam agencies that played a role in the department's move to and spending on commercial office space rentals following a minimally damaging fire in November 2019.

"I assure you that we will consider this as a topic as we finalize our list of audits for calendar year 2022,"  said Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz.

Public Health has chosen to rent various commercial office spaces, opting to abandon its $5.6 million fully concrete main office in Mangilao - even when the Department of Public Works determined the building is structurally sound.

The building, however, needs to get some electrical work done after its electrical panels overheated, causing a fire on Nov. 27, 2019, that was reported to have caused minimal damage.

The day after the fire, the department's director at the time Linda DeNorcey, emailed officials and staff to begin packing as a real estate agent was showing her "a few more potential places" for Public Health offices to relocate to.

DeNorcey, in emails to administration budget officials seeking funding for the relocation, stated that the building has been condemned.

Department of Public Works Director Vince Arriola debunked that assertion in a recent interview. "If it was at that condemned stage, we would have issued a notice of violation, we would have shut it down, my signature would have been on it personally," Arriola said. "We weren't going to let that building languish. Absolutely not. It's too valuable a resource of the government."

He said the building would eventually be retrofitted but couldn't say what it would be used for.

An emergency declaration gave Public Health $250,000 to start the relocation to commercial office spaces. One rental costs $16,500 a month. Another incurs recurring costs of $25,000 a month, according to purchase orders released to The Guam Daily Post under a Freedom of Information Act.

Public Health relocated – instead of addressing the electrical issues at its building – 19 months ago.

The Guam Daily Post has been unable to get the total cost of Public Health's commercial rent expenses so far.

Public Health's claim for insurance payout from the fire was denied. The only damage reported in a letter from an insurance adjuster was a $600 door that the Guam Fire Department broke down to get access to the building. An insurance adjuster's report indicated the building's electrical panels appeared to have overheated and that the problem could be avoided by preventative maintenance.

At the time of a 2017 Guam Office of Public Accountability audit report on GovGuam office rent costs, Public Health was already incurring rent costs of more than $1 million a year, making it the third-highest renter among GovGuam entities, according to the audit's report. The Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency was the highest-paying tenant with an annual rent of $2.7 million in Tiyan, followed by the Guam Office of the Attorney General, which was paying $1.5 million a year at the ITC building in Tamuning.

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