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Budget cuts trim payroll

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 2, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has cut by almost half the workforce at the Saipan Mayor's Office due to lower revenue projections for the next fiscal year.

If previous mayor Juan Tudela had only a little over 60 personnel last year, Mayor Donald Flores will be operating with a smaller workforce after Fitial proposed only 32 full time employees for the municipality.

Flores told Saipan Tribune he is disappointed with the large cut made on his workforce.

"From 62 full-time equivalents (FTE) we're now down to 32 people. How can we deliver all the needed services to the people?" Flores asked.

Of the proposed 32 employees, about 10 are administrative workers while 22 are community personnel.

Saipan Tribune learned that the governor's proposed budget for Saipan is US$746,465, covering both personnel and operation. This is a significant drop from the US$1.4 million allocated under the last budget law, Public Law 16-32.

During a two-hour budget conference with the governor yesterday, Flores insisted on getting back the 12 positions cut by the governor but Fitial was firm in his decision, saying the municipality employs "too many" workers such as 40 community workers. He also cited the hiring of heavy equipment operators even when the office lacks such equipment.

Flores justified that these are just titles and that many of these workers perform community work or in customer service.

The current 62 FTES, according to Flores, is in fact fewer compared to his predecessor, former mayor Tudela.

The mayor's budget representatives also explained that the personnel cut could jeopardize existing employment contracts, leading to lawsuits against the government.

Fitial, however, stood firm, saying the government has no money to pay for the additional salary.

"My point here is, even if I provide you the 12 FTEs where are you going to get the money to pay for their salary? If I return these positions, do you have money to pay them?" Fitial asked Flores.

As governor, Fitial said, it is his job to control government expenditures and asked Flores-along with the other mayors-to live within their means.

Left with no choice, Flores told Saipan Tribune that he, too, will be working as a community worker just to deliver services to the people.

"My plan is to implement multi-tasking [among employees] because we may have only 10 administrative staff and only 22 community workers, so I am going to quit sitting in the office and start going out to work too," he said after the conference.

Flores has only one request for the administration: "The people of Saipan will suffer because there's no money. I just hope this government will not spend on other things. I just hope they won't hire, promote, and really stick to the austerity measures."

He said he would be frustrated if expenditures of other agencies will keep going up while the Saipan municipality is suffering.

Fitial emphasized that the Saipan Mayor's Office is not the only agency that will experience a cut in their budgets.

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