The Department of Public Lands wants to add seven more positions to its arsenal, including one engineer to speed up the homestead process.
Public Lands Secretary Marianne Teregeyo told the House Ways and Means Committee during the department’s budget hearing Monday that they are looking to hire an engineer to hasten the awarding of homesteads in the Commonwealth.
As of publication, the department is focused on 1991 and 1992 homestead applicants.
With a backlog that spans more than 20 years, DPL has yet to address over 2,500 homestead applications on Saipan, over 190 on Tinian, and over 320 on Rota.
Teregeyo believes that sharing engineers with the Department of Public Works is not as efficient as she wants it to be, and is seeking to hire either a civil engineer or an environmental engineer.
“If we have an in-house engineer, we could have him [or her] design a scope of work and we can issue a request for proposal for it or an engineer can design it and a construction company could come in. The same is applicable for future homestead sites,” said Teregeyo, who also recognizes that there is a bigger backlog of homestead applications compared to the number of recognized sites.
“In order to move forward and plan ahead, we need designs. We are at the mercy of the engineers for DPW, and they are busy with their tasks [for DPW],” said Teregeyo. “With an in-house engineer and [some time], we would be able to pump out the plans that are at least on the table right now.”
The other proposed positions are mainly administrative ones, Teregeyo said, to help ranking management with their duties and responsibilities.
“We need additional staff for our real estate division, accounting, and more,” she said, adding that the additional staff for accounting is a notch above the priority list and is second only to the engineer.
In order to address these concerns, DPL is looking to ask the Ways and Means Committee for a budget of $4.85 million, which is also Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ recommendation. DPL got a budget of $5.1 million in fiscal year 2017.
Unlike other government agencies, DPL does not get money from the general fund. What is being proposed is more of a predicted expense report since DPL gains funding from money generated by public land leases, while the rest is remitted to the Marianas Public Land Trust for investment.
“[Teregeyo’s] priorities is to focus on the homestead, to make sure we move along the homestead backlog and also to proceed with the homestead program on Pagan,” said Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan).
Demapan said that Teregeyo also brought up infrastructure as an issue, that the lack of three requirements—access roads, sewerlines, and power lines—also hinder the homestead program.
“That is going to be their priority,” he said, reiterating that 1991 and 1992 homestead applicants are the next in line.