A handful of retired government employees attended the monthly trustee meeting for the Government Employees Retirement System on Thursday, but they weren’t authorized to speak because they haven’t received annuity checks and therefore aren’t considered members.
Official retirees Miguel Nico and Eurman Foy asked questions on behalf of retirees Valencio Jackson and Lawrence Lewis, who retired from their jobs eight months and 17 months ago, respectively, but have received none of their retirement pay.
According to Jackson, who was a tax collector, his employer still owes $4,500 into the retirement system and he wrote a letter to Austin Nibbs, GERS director, asking for the amount to be deducted from his annuity.
Lewis, former Agriculture commissioner, requested GERS deduct $20,000 from his retirement amount so he can start receiving checks.
“The only good thing I can say about this system is that it treats you equal,” no matter what the job was or where the retiree worked, Lewis said.
Both men said their letters, sent several months ago, were not acknowledged. They said their situation is not unusual as there are more than 90 retirees in the same boat.
Retiree Marjorie Emmanuel was allowed to address the board. She said she wrote two letters inquiring about banked vacation pay from 2010 and neither letter was answered.
Lewis said if more people were educated in the ways of GERS, there would be more transparency.
“The system is weak in reporting to individuals,” he said. “No employee gets anything to tell what they have contributed or should have been contributed or what the government has contributed or should have been contributed.”
Responding to the retirees, Nibbs said he forwards correspondence to the appropriate manager but does not reply. He doesn’t know if staff members respond.
“I’m happy to report, as of this morning, everything is taken care of as far as the system is concerned,” Nibbs said, referring to annuity checks for Jackson and Lewis and the 90 others and Emmanuel’s credit for unused vacation. He added the retirees will be paid “sometime in March.”
When asked by Nico when retirees will be reimbursed for paying the government’s portion of their retirement, Nibbs responded, “whenever the government pays it.”
The GERS financial report for January revealed the dire financial situation in black and white. Collections of loan payment, rentals and retirement contributions totaled just under $15 million. The disbursements of almost $24 million included annuity payments, administrative costs and loan payments. The year-to-date loss is almost $48 million – one million more than last year.
GERS investments were discussed during the board meeting, especially Carambola Resort. Last week Gov. Kenneth Mapp criticized GERS for investing millions more that the resort is worth.
“He is upset we invested $15 million and got back $8 million,” Nibbs said. Mapp estimated the value of Carambola at $4.5 million and the GERS board agreed it is worth at least $5.5 million. Nibbs said an appraisal will be obtained soon.
“The governor is totally incorrect. It was way below the appraised value,” Nibbs said. According to Nibbs, the governor said GERS should accept a $20 million deal to purchase Carambola, but that he doesn’t know anything about a proposal.
Other investment problems plaguing GERS include a loan for a St. Thomas supermarket that is behind in payments and Havensight Mall that has not submitted an itemized budget for 2015. The board agreed there would be no budget approval until a $2 million request is itemized.
Bruce Thomas, investment officer for the retirement system, reported the GERS investment company Pacific Investment Management Company is in “turmoil” and losing top executives. The government’s $20 million in assets will be sold this month, in line with a vote by the board in October 2014.
“As I mention every month, we continue to see assets decline, although we see positive returns,” Thomas said.
Other discussion by the board resulted in putting the scholarship program on hold because there is no funding source.
Attending the meeting were trustees Carol Callwood, Judge Edgar Ross, Leona Smith, Vincent Liger, Michael McDonald and Chairman Wilbur Callendar.