Guam governor holds fire stations hostage to tax increase

 After failing in numerous efforts to pressure Guam legislators into immediately acting on bills for either a temporary business privilege tax increase or a sales tax to respond to a projected $67 million budget deficit, Governor Eddie Baza Calvo has settled on cutting fire department services as something that can be done immediately. 

 

Deputy Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas, said the Piti and Astumbo-Dededo fire stations will be shut down, effective Sunday, Mar. 4 at 8:00 a.m. He described the closures and other cuts in fire department services as "extreme" and as a threat to life saving capabilities of the department, but estimated that they would result in a $2.7 million savings.

 

Meanwhile, Guam lawmakers are crying foul. According to Vice Speaker Therese M. Terlaje, the Calvo administration has said there's enough money on hand to meet payrolls through April, suggesting the closure announcement amounts to fearmongering.  

 

In a news release, Senator Telena Nelson pointed out that Calvo's BPT increase would not produce any revenue until late in April and "pleaded" with the governor to postpone the scheduled closure of the two fire stations and other cost-cutting measures within the Guam Fire Department. 

 

Nelson has introduced Bill No. 251-34 (LS), which lists several fees intended to expedite services for code enforcement and may be allowed to supplement the Guam Fire Department for any impending cuts in its operations. The combined projection of code enforcement and fire emergency services amounts to nearly $4.7 million, greater than the pro rata reduction of the $2.7 million reduction imposed by Adelup on the Guam Fire Department.

 

Regarding the bill’s introduction, Senator Nelson said, “The governor’s team has stated that we have enough cash to make payroll and that he could cancel some of the cuts to the Guam Fire Department if he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. The fees at the Guam Fire Department have not been adjusted since 2006, and the creation and adjustment of the fees will help the department meet their revenue shortfall.”

 

While neither tax increases nor fee adjustments will result in cash available to the government right now, the government’s fiscal team said that cash can be managed to prioritize public safety if revenue replacements are found.

 

“I ran for elected office to serve people and solve problems. The firefighters at the Guam Fire Department have dedicated themselves to saving the lives of our people and providing emergency services to our island, we must provide them with the financial resources necessary to execute their duties. I respect Governor Calvo – he is a man of great faith. I am pleading with you, Governor. Work with us. We need to save the Guam Fire Department, our people, and our island,” Nelson said.  

 

Senator Nelson will publicly hear Bill No. 251-34(LS) and has committed to bringing the bill to the floor as soon as the legislature convenes.

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