Fifteen Tinian municipal employees who were furloughed since Oct. 1 were ordered to return to work yesterday following late Tuesday afternoon’s signing of a $3.841-million local budget for fiscal year 2014—despite the administration’s “reservations” about the local bill.
In his capacity as acting governor late Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider signed at past 5pm the budget measure, Tinian Local Bill 18-1, into Tinian Local Ordinance 18-1.
“After six days of local government shutdown, I am relieved to enact this local bill into law and restore government activities on Tinian. It is because of the affected employees and their abilities to provide for their families that I am approving this law despite my reservations which I feel compelled to share with you,” Hofschneider said in signing the measure.
Hofschneider, a former senator from Tinian, said the partial shutdown of Tinian services and the hardships endured by employees and their families “should serve as a harsh reminder of the consequences of failing to timely pass a balanced budget.”
His greatest concern is an over $2 million discrepancy between fiscal year 2013’s projected revenues and actual income collected.
“We are all aware of the hardships caused on Tinian when the Dynasty Hotel and Casino was shut down for an extended period of time last year. However, we cannot afford to simply turn a blind eye to the fact that Tinian’s economy may face similar problems in 2014,” Hofschneider said in his message to Tinian and Aguiguan Legislative Delegation chair Sen. Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian) and Tinian Municipal Council chair Antonio SN. Borja.
Hofschneider said both the Tinian Casino Gaming Commission and the Tinian mayor “should be cognizant of this as they prepare future revenue estimates.”
The lieutenant governor encouraged the commission and the mayor “to use more accurate revenue projection models to predict future fiscal income.”
The affected employees are those whose salaries come from casino revenues on Tinian. Most government employees on Tinian are funded through CNMI general fund revenues.
Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz, in an interview yesterday, said he’s glad that the 15 furloughed employees are now back to work.
Dela Cruz said it would be up to the Tinian delegation whether to have the affected employees receive their salaries for the days they were furloughed.
Sen. Frank Borja said he is considering a separate bill that would provide back wages to furloughed employees as a result of the partial shutdown, since it “was not their doing.”
Hofschneider said there were various safety measures provided in last year’s local budget ordinance to address any budget shortfall in fiscal year 2013, “which should have been applied with greater results during that same year.”
Section 405 of Tinian Local Ordinance 17-2, for example, allowed the Tinian mayor to proportionately reduce appropriated budget amounts during the course of the fiscal year so as not to create a deficit.
“However, for whatever reason, this Administration has no actual knowledge of how these measures were used during 2013 to handle the shortfall,” Hofschneider said.
The fiscal 2014 Tinian local spending measure, Tinian Local Ordinance 18-1, provides the same safety measures to address budget shortfalls.
These measures include work hour cuts, wage cuts, furloughs, reduction-in-force, reduction in expenditures for “all others,” or a combination of these.
The work-hour cuts are not supposed to exceed eight hours per biweekly pay period and do not apply to Tinian Gaming Control Commission inspectors.
Hofschneider also said the fiscal 2013 Tinian budget measure specifically requires the Tinian Municipal Treasurer to prepare and transmit a quarterly report analyzing the island’s financial status.
“Meeting this requirement during fiscal year 2013 would have been of great help to the Tinian and Aguiguan Municipal Council, the Tinian and Aguiguan Legislative Delegation and this Administration as we all worked together toward creating a balanced budget for fiscal year 2014,” the acting governor said in his transmittal message.
Hofschneider also pointed to Section 408 of Tinian Local Ordnance 17-2 establishing a timeline in which the casino commission and the municipal treasurer, through the Tinian mayor, were to provide projections and proposed appropriations.
Absent the passing of a balanced budget by Oct. 1, 2013, no funds could be spent.
Hofschneider, a former chairman of the Tinian Legislative Delegation, said because budgetary planning steps were not followed in 2013, both deadlines were not met “and our people were left without a livelihood for these past six days.”
The lieutenant governor also encourages the mayor to ensure that the Tinian municipal treasurer timely files quarterly reports analyzing the island’s financial condition to ensure that Tinian’s operational budget can be balanced throughout 2014.
This is also to ensure funds are available to pay government employee salaries and other costs associated with necessary government operations and services.