Saturday, June 20, 2009

GovGuam Agencies Owe $800,000 in Back Rent

Agencies owe $800k in back rent
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
June 22, 2009

The Guam Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Public Health and Social Services owe more than $800,000 in back rent to the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission, according to the commission -- money that is supposed to be put into a trust to benefit ancestral landowners.

The two agencies use office space in former military buildings on Tiyan that now are part of the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission inventory. The property licensed to the agencies is former Spanish crown land, which means there are no original owners to claim it.

The commission, which admittedly has little experience leasing property, last month turned the matter over to the Guam Economic Development Authority for collection. At least one of the agencies is disputing the amount owed.

GEDA, which has experience leasing government land, since 2007 has been helping the commission lease Spanish crown land to generate money for the landowner's trust. It did not negotiate the licenses with Public Health and Guam EPA.

At the end of last year, the landowner's trust held $397,657, according to a financial statement prepared by the commission. That money is supposed to compensate ancestral landowners or their heirs if their property was returned by the federal government but still is being held by the local government.

Public Health, which uses the Tiyan building for its Women, Infants and Children program, owes the commission much more than that, according to an invoice prepared by GEDA -- $432,000.

And Guam EPA owes the commission $371,278, according to a GEDA invoice.

The two agencies each are using 8,000 square feet of space, which requires them to pay $8,000 per month, according to their licensing agreements -- payments that started in late 2004.

That means each agency should have paid $480,000 by now, according to the GEDA invoices, but Public Health has paid only $48,000 and Guam EPA has paid only $108,721.10.

Guam EPA Administrator Lorilee Crisostomo said her agency disputes the amount owed.

She said rental payments were withheld years ago because of disparities in the way different agencies were being charged for the use of Ancestral Lands property.

According to a 2006 audit by the Office of the Public Auditor, Guam EPA and Public Health were being asked to pay thousands of dollars a month to use the land while the Guam Police Department and Guam Fire Department, which were using more land, were not being charged at all.

"They are only pushing us because we are federally funded," Crisostomo said.

She said Guam EPA already has paid what it owes for past years and it only owes money for the current year.

Crisostomo said Guam EPA cannot legally pay any other past amounts without permission from lawmakers.

Guam EPA also uses an airport-owned building on Tiyan for its administrative offices, but Crisostomo said the airport does not charge any rent. Guam EPA is required to maintain the property in lieu of rent, she said.

In contrast, she said the Ancestral Lands Commission is charging Guam EPA thousands of dollars a month for a building Ancestral Lands does not maintain.

Public Health Director J. Peter Roberto did not return a call for comment.

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