In lobbying for a $3.2-million budget next fiscal year, Saipan Mayor David Apatang said he would like to have all his furloughed staff back.
Speaking at the House Ways and Means’ budget hearing last Tuesday, Apatang told lawmakers that he needs all his staff for his office’s upcoming projects, as well as to continue other programs to benefit the community.
The Saipan Mayor’s Office is asking to be allotted $3.2 million in fiscal year 2021, which is $1.8 million more than the $1.4 million that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is proposing for the office.
At the budget hearing Tuesday, Apatang said he understands the CNMI’s current fiscal situation as impacted by the loss of tourism due to COVID-19 but he also underscored the need to maintain his office’s operations, in terms of staffing and maintaining their equipment.
With projects in line for the year, particularly the Street Naming and House Numbering System, the Saipan Mayor’s Office would be needing a core number of individuals for its implementation, which include mapping, the 911 system and the data support system, he said. These are on top of the current projects that the office is implementing such as the beautification programs, junk clearing, and the animal shelter, among others.
With the help of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, the Saipan Mayor’s Office was able to obtain equipment for its clearing operations, but would need funding for maintenance and parts.
“That is very important for us to continue to service our community here throughout the island, and work with the Marianas Visitors Authority also to clean up the tourist sites,” Apatang said. “I would like to have everybody back but we have to wait and see ’til our economy goes back to normal.”
Twenty-eight of the office’s 71 staff were let go soon after the Office of the Governor cut everyone’s 2020 budget by 48%, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Saipan Mayor’s Office’s budget officer, Terri Camacho, told lawmakers at the hearing that their office “does not have enough money to lead [them] all up to the end of the fiscal year with the general fund.”
She added that 10 of their staff are under the general fund, 33 are funded by the CARES Act, and 28 were terminated. The work hours of the staff that remained have also been cut to 64 hours.
In the budget proposed by the governor, no funding was also allotted for the office’s operations, according to Camacho. “Our operation budget is very critical because we use this budget for supplies, specifically for the tools and machineries that we have, and equipment, like our chainsaw. We need to get chains for our chainsaw. We need to get stuff for our bush cutters, and safety things for the staff.”
Camacho added that the only thing provided for the mayor’s office is their rental, communication, personnel services at $8,000, fuel at $90,000, Official representation, and utilities. There is no budget for repair and maintenance of their vehicles and equipment.
“We try to stay within…what we have in the general fund. …I don’t know if the mayor can live with this budget and do all his duties and respond to the needs of the community with nothing at all,” she added.