April 16, 2003 – The Government Employees Retirement System board is considering a V.I. government offer to purchase part of Havensight Mall on St. Thomas for $1.5 million, according to the GERS administrator, Laurence Bryan.
The board met Tuesday on St. Croix to go over the proposal, which Bryan said appears to be for the purpose of widening the Havensight road onto mall property. GERS owns the mall, which lies along the West Indian Co. dock, and WICO manages it.
(For background on plans to expand roads in the Long Bay area, including Havensight, see "4-lane Long Bay road on the drawing board".)
Bryan said the proposed deal involves several parcels of land, including one where a ScotiaBank branch now sits.
"It's our initial opinion — and the board feels — that the offer is low," Bryan said. He said the board will have the property appraised and then determine whether the government is making a fair offer, or if further negotiation should be undertaken.
In other business before the board Tuesday, Willis Todmann, GERS chief financial officer, reported that the retirement system remains in poor financial condition. So far this fiscal year, he said, GERS has collected $52.1 million but disbursed $78.6 million, for a deficit of $49.4 million.
GERS officials have long lobbied the Senate to increase employer and/or member contribution rates. The government owes the system well over $500 million. So far this fiscal year, $51.7 million was paid out in annuities to retirees, while $37.2 million was collected in government worker contributions.
Retroactive pay raises present a problem, Todmann said, because the government is obligated only to pay GERS the employers' share of the benefits, which amounts to 14.5 percent of the raises.
Bryan encouraged the board to adopt a policy of allowing members to pay overdue contributions out of their initial annuity checks, which he described as a practice that has been ongoing for about 40 years. Otherwise, he said, some recipients could begin getting benefits before their mandated contribution to the retirement system is fully paid, and that could leave GERS "exposed."
The board also discussed a few cases over the years in which members designated a beneficiary in the event of their death and an estranged spouse disputed the payout of benefits. "We would like there to be no question as to who gets paid," attorney Alfonso Nibbs said. Some courts have ruled in favor of an estranged spouse, regardless of who the retiree had designated as beneficiary, he said.
"It appears that we give the appearance that an employee can designate who they want to receive the benefits, and the statutes are saying 'no,'" Nibbs said.
Bryan said the board also voted unanimously to begin searching for a company to replace Oppenheimer Capital as one of the system's investment managers if that company's performance does not improve by the end of this quarter.
Board members present at the meeting were the chair, Raymond James; and Yvonne Bowsky, Vincent Liger, Marvin Pickering and Leona Smith. Carver Farrow was absent.
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