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Onus for making payments on GovGuam

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - Finding money in the Government of Guam these days is almost an impossible task.  With an already tight budget for the current fiscal year and more debts just piling up, it's becoming harder for the government to continue operating status quo and meet its financial obligations. The latest example is the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which needs $15 million before the end of the year - $2 million by the end of this month.

But officials are having a hard time answering the $15 million question.

Mental Health director Wilfred Aflague says it's not his responsibility to ensure federally mandated deposits are made to the court appointed management team. Last week Federal Judge Consuelo Marshal ordered that $15.9 million be paid out in installments to implement the team's plan of action - it's strategy for meeting the requirements of the consent decree.  "So far there was a deposit of $1.5 million and that's the only amount that's been deposited so far. The new order from Judge Marshal calls for a deposit of $15.9 million throughout a span from November 30, 2010 to May 2012," he said.

The first $2 million is due on November 30.  And Aflague says the governor of Guam, as the principle defendant in the lawsuit, carries the burden of making sure it's paid.  He explained, "None of these funds were budgeted items. They were not anticipated. So it would be up to the Government of Guam...at this time, I have not spoken to anybody about the deposit, but it is something that has to be done since it is a mandate of the judge."

Meanwhile, the $15 million ordered by the judge does not include money to build the One-Stop Service and Treatment Center that is also included in the plan of action. According to Aflague, Mental Health is looking at options that would take the burden of funding that project off of local taxpayers.  "That item is an item that we, the Department of Mental Health, as well as the management team, have presented to The Matrix Group, which had been contracted by the Governor's Office to see if we could seek federal funding," he said.

An update on that is expected in mid-December. Aflague added that despite the high price tag, he is behind the plan of action, which was developed with input from stakeholders throughout the community.  "I am sure there are people out in our community - the powers that be in the senators' offices, the Governor's Office - that may question that plan. But I feel that I have been lucky that the federal management team have shared this plan as it had been born as an initial idea and then worked out and fleshed out," he said.

Meanwhile, the management team is expected to release a status report in December.  Bureau of Budget Management & Research director Bertha Duenas says she isn't sure where the government is going to come up with the cash to pay the $2 million needed this month much less than $15 million total needed before the end of the fiscal year.  Duenas says the current administration will have to work with the incoming administration to find solutions as she says the government is looking at $50-60 million in obligations that is not included in the current year budget.

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