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Pay raise raises concerns

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - GovGuam employees gathered en masse last night at a public hearing on a government pay raise. While Department of Administration director Lou Perez says the raises will begin being issued out as soon as the next pay period, many other issues were brought to light during the hearing.

A packed public hearing on a public sector pay raise plan seemed to raise more questions than it answered.  Naomi Lujan-Gonzales, executive director of the Civil Service Commission, advised senators to proceed cautiously on Bill 469, which would implement the pay raise and provide an additional $5.5 million to fund it.

In her written testimony Lujan-Gonzales says of highest concern is the lack of a process for employees to appeal the pay grade status before the bill is enacted into law. Another area of concern for the CSC: what they identify as a lack of checks and balances in the compensation study implementation policies and procedures contained in the bill.  Lujan-Gonzales states that she supports a compensation adjustment, but says it "needs to be done right".

Another concern, this voiced by JFK High School principal Ken Chargualaf is the lack of incentive for senior employees.  "We are quite concerned that once you reach the last pay scale, which is Step 13, that's it. You're done. That will be your salary until you retire," he said.

Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means Senator Ben Pangelinan admits this is an issue that needs further attention.  He said, "What we are hearing from employees out there is that while we may be accomplishing the ability to recruit objective goal of this implementation of the new plan we may be affecting negatively our ability to retain good seasoned employees."

Another unresolved issue is the fate of a ten percent raise for public safety officers. "When we implement a government-wide pay plan it does not translate into a 10% increase for the law enforcement personnel and how do we handle that? Do we supplement the increase under the hay plan to get them to 10%? But that take the uniformity out of the advancement of the employee under the Uniform Pay Plan; that's something my colleagues are grappling with right now."

Meanwhile, so is the Governor's Office. The governor's legal counsel is working to find the cash to implement the third increment owed to law enforcement required by law. Legal counsel Shannon Taitano Lujan says an order from Superior Court Judge Michael Bordallo that requires the third increment be paid remains under review as they continue to look into the possibilities of securing the funding. Adelup has until a December 16 hearing to pay up or show cause for not being able to implement the raises.

"Our challenge this fiscal year unlike the previous fiscal years is there may not be sufficient funding to implement it but I'm working with BBMR to ascertain whether it can be paid," she noted.

But how the rest of the pay increase will be funded is another question Pangelinan is grappling with. During the hearing Pangelinan was told by Rev & Tax the money would come from an overflow in a remittance of withholding tax of federal employees. But Pangelinan says there is no guarantee the money will be available, saying in past years it is Guam that owed money back to the federal government.

When asked if this revenue source is not set in stone," Senator Pangelinan said, "That's correct that's correct that source of revenue is not set in stone not even sand yet."

And it seems neither is the future of Bill 469. Pangelinan says he will now work with DOA on revisions to the legislation.

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