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GERS Witnesses a Financial Revival with a $50 Million Positive Shift

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In the recent Thursday gathering of the Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) Board of Trustees, a noteworthy financial revival was unveiled. The GERS reported a favorable cash inflow of $18.5 million, a sharp contrast to the preceding year’s shortfall of $31 million. This progression, depicting a significant positive shift close to $50 million, signifies a notable stride towards enhancing the pension system’s financial steadiness.

Furthermore, the board members were updated during the meeting that the earlier issue of unsettled rent, which was a point of concern during August’s assembly, has been predominantly addressed. The outstanding amount has reduced drastically from over $68,700 as of September 30 to a mere $232 currently. “Our rental backlog is virtually zero at this juncture,” remarked Angel Dawson, the GERS Administrator. He further elaborated that the Department of Justice, which had accrued considerable arrears, is “in the process of sorting things out for the forthcoming fiscal year.”

Mr. Dawson also shared a brief overview of the ongoing endeavors at Havensight Mall, indicating that the razing of several standing warehouses to pave the way for the Hilton construction initiative is on hold until the completion of a new warehouse, which is presently under construction. “We are anticipating the demolition of warehouse four and five to ensure there’s no hindrance to the ongoing construction undertakings,” he mentioned, adding that regular weekly meetings are being organized to guarantee the project remains on track.

Regarding the mall’s infrastructure, GERS is in the queue for permits to install a new generator, a move projected to considerably benefit the tenants, “as the existing generator operated by WICO usually runs for about a half hour,” Mr. Dawson noted. He is optimistic that the permit acquisition and housing construction for the generator will conclude before the year’s end. Ensuring adequate backup power for the mall is vital to avoid a situation where each tenant operates individual temporary generators during a WAPA power interruption, a scenario Mr. Dawson described as not only aesthetically displeasing but also “environmentally unsound” due to the potential exhaust emissions.

Touching on GERS’ central operations, Mr. Dawson indicated that 220 retirement applications were received for the fiscal year 2023, with 140 of them still in the processing queue. For the new fiscal term, 11 applications have already been submitted.

He also highlighted that as of September 30th, refunds exceeding $9.8 million were issued, predominantly to “non-vested employees who exited government service and were eligible to reclaim their contributions.” An additional 43 death benefit cases led to a disbursement of slightly over $2 million.

As per Mr. Dawson, the total retiree payroll stands at $11.1 million, primarily processed through the ACH banking system. GERS continues to manage 49 mortgages, constituting a portfolio of $7.8 million.

In reviewing the institution’s investment portfolio, board member Nellon Bowry emphasized that the presented data might mislead a reviewer into assuming that the GERS portfolio diminished by the reported $130 million withdrawal. Nonetheless, the infusion of $158 million from the Bryan administration, as part of the resecuritization agreement, was not effectively highlighted, Mr. Bowry contended. “The withdrawal is factual, yet it potentially misrepresents the portfolio’s reduction by that sum,” he expressed.

Mr. Dawson aimed to elucidate by noting the net cash surplus of $18.5 million, which, against the last year’s deficit of $31 million, “exemplifies a nearly $50 million positive shift.” Despite this favorable trend, he pledged to collaborate with the GERS finance squad to render the figures more transparent.

Following the review of Finance and Investment reports, the Board of Trustees transitioned into an executive session to deliberate on an impending legal issue before adjourning.

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GERS

Revival of GERS Personal Loan Program Boosts Support for Government Employees

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In a pivotal move, the V.I. Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) Board of Trustees has reinstated a modified version of the Personal Loan Program for government employees, a service that had been on hiatus since 2015. This development, announced following a board meeting on January 25, marks a significant redirection in GERS’s strategy and services offered to its members.

Allocating a sum of $20 million to this initiative, the funds are to be evenly distributed between the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts. This decision aligns with the stipulations of a 2016 legislative act championed by Senator Kenneth Gittens, which mandates GERS to provide loans up to $20 million, capping individual loans at $10,000. These loans feature a structured repayment plan spanning five years, inclusive of interest.

The board will undertake an annual review of this program’s continuation, evaluating it against the backdrop of government contributions and investment performance. The board’s discussion emphasized their constrained role in the program’s execution due to legal requirements, underscoring the complexity of their mandate.

This reimplementation is grounded in comprehensive assessments of its financial viability, as presented by GERS staff and consultants during the January 25 meeting. Board Counsel Pedro Williams stated, “Our fiduciary duty is to adhere to legislative mandates, even when they diverge from our preferred course.”

In a forward-thinking proposition, the board considered extending this program to retirees, provided they meet the necessary security and collateral prerequisites, despite current legal limitations. A board member suggested, “Amending the law to include retirees in the program, with appropriate financial safeguards, would be a prudent step.”

The board also engaged in confidential discussions on trade secrets and sensitive personal information, maintaining the integrity and privacy of their operations.

The relaunch of the GERS Personal Loan Program signifies a prudent, yet optimistic stride in offering financial support to government employees and potentially retirees. This initiative is a testament to the improving stability of the pension system, bolstered by the landmark bond sale agreement in 2022, an initiative led by Governor Albert Bryan, enhancing the financial security of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ public servants.

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