Government Employees Retirement System board members last week heard proposals to stave off bankruptcy and why it would be wise to sell off its assets now if bankruptcy was unavoidable.
Board member Ronald Russell said the policy committee he chaired had a proposal it wanted to make immediately to the Senate. The proposal would have the government of the Virgin Islands dedicate a proportion of its tax income to paying the annuities of retirees (about $11 million a month). The government has previously set forth plans of dedicating some of its income from the refinery or marijuana legalization as a revenue stream for GERS, but little result has been seen from those plans.
Russell said the revenue stream he is proposing from the government to GERS would give the same priority to paying retirees as paying the salaries of present government employees.
Chairman Nellon Bowry said in a recent meeting with senators it appeared to him they were leaning to a stopgap measure that would delay bankruptcy with a one-time infusion of money. He said he understood the Senators’ leanings because an infusion of cash just to delay bankruptcy would be a smaller number than a comprehensive approach. However, he urged his board members to take every opportunity to advocate for a comprehensive solution.
The board took action that appeared to indicate the belief the pension system would not go into bankruptcy soon. The board amended a previous resolution that allowed for the pension system to sell assets as needed. The amendment said the system would not be allowed to sell its real property such as the buildings where its offices are located or the Casino Control Commission building or Havensight Mall.
Bowry said the original resolution was intended to keep the board from being forced to sell its assets during bankruptcy proceedings. He said properties sold during bankruptcy proceedings might only get “yard sale” prices.
Board members at its September monthly meeting also discussed the Water and Power Authority is behind nine pay periods on its contributions to GERS. Administrator Austin Nibbs told the board WAPA presently owes GERS $3.1 million.
St. Thomas board member Andre Dorsey said, “They have the money.” He said GERS should take immediate legal action against WAPA to get what is owed. The board passed a motion to take legal action if the debt is not resolved in 60 days.
Dorsey also tried to get GERS more money by having GERS leases of its property to others contain the requirement that lessees pay utilities in advance. GERS lessees presently owe GERS over $42,000 for utility bills. Dorsey moved that policy be that leases would deposit a certain amount of money at GERS from which GERS would draw payments for the utilities. The motion failed.
Nibbs reported the number of retirees added to payroll from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 15, 2021, was 301. The number of retirees deleted from payroll during the same period was 318.
He said the number of retirees as of Sept. 15 was 8,682. The gross retiree payroll for the Sept. 15 pension period was, according to Nibbs, $10,813,654.58.