Costs to Cover Firefighters' Compensation Snafu Leaves Guam Fire Department in $3.5M Financial Hole

Guam -- While the Governor's Office took back about $1.1 million from the Guam Fire Department, it looks like the latter agency will need a portion of that money back to pay for a costly mistake. The fire department is already millions of dollars short this fiscal year, and recent settlements and a Civil Service Commission decision will only add to the Department's need for more cash.

GFD will be $3.5 million in the red before the end of the fiscal year. But because the fire department failed to properly compensate four firefighters hired in 1998, GFD will have to find at least a quarter-million dollars to correct the mistake. CSC executive director Vern Perez says four Department of Revenue & Taxation employees laterally transferred to the Guam Fire Department back in 1998, telling KUAM News, "When they did make that transfer there was an understanding that the transfer would not have the employee incur a loss in salary or a tremendous loss, and would actually try to match their previous salary as close as possible."

Six years later, those four firefighters have not been compensated accordingly. Perez confirms the fire department failed to make good on its deal with the employees who incurred a significant loss in pay when they became firefighters. One of the four employees filed a grievance with the Civil Service Commission. The CSC board of directors determined the four should have been paid the lateral transfer rate because of their previous government service.

Explained Perez, "They ordered GFD to receive the calculations from the employees or from GFD that would calculate the hours worked, regular time, overtime, all benefits and losses incurred by the employee and that they will then pay that out as well as attorney's fees associated with that appeal."

Perez says the other three employees in the same boat filed grievances but settled with the Guam Fire Department, based on the CSC board's action. Those settlements have not been signed yet because some of the provisions in the agreement were open-ended. For the one firefighter who took his case through the Commission, calculations are still being worked on to determine just how much money he's owed.

According to Perez, it's a considerable figure. "I do understand the numbers are significant - dozens of thousands of dollars for each of them; maybe one, maybe two above $100,000," he explained.

Fire chief Mike Uncangco admits the Department needs at least $3.5 million to get through the end of the year. With the settlement agreements and attorney fees, the Department needs a bigger cash infusion.

$1.1 million was available during the previous fiscal year. Because the Department did not use the money in time, the Governor's Office transferred (or as Governor Felix Camacho said, "reallocated") the money into a special account. Despite the fact the money was given but not used, the fire chief is confident the millions the Department needs will be provided down the road. That money is expected to come from the Governor's transfer authority and the millions set aside in the Governor's Office's special account for critical needs.

But had the Fire Department paid the employees correctly the first time, hundreds of thousands of dollars could have gone for other needs such as ambulance repair, uniform allowances, or the start of promotions.