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GERS Board Works Around the Big Problem

The V.I. Government Employees’ Retirement System’s board of trustees on Thursday rolled through routine items such as electing officers and approving the replacement of a water line and a proposal to repair the exterior of its St. Thomas complex. However, the big problem – the fact that GERS is spending much more money than it is taking in and headed toward bankruptcy in 2023 – hung over the meeting and no solution was seen.

The meeting started with a dozen concerned citizens attending in the GERS boardroom located at Orange Grove on St. Croix. But the number quickly declined by two as active GERS member Patricia Oliver and a supporter were escorted out by security.

The problem was that Oliver is still an active employee of the government, and Edgar D. Ross, GERS board vice chairman, said only retirees were allowed to speak at the meeting, according to law.

Oliver demanded to see where the law said that and pressed to get her questions on the floor. As she was being escorted out, Ross cited a section of Title 3 of the V.I. Code that he said validated his point.

Next retiree Bevan Smith Jr. asked, after hearing that the board found it did not have the legal right to cut retirees’ payments, what was going to be the solution. He said, “We know we have a problem. We want to know what we are going to do to resolve it.”

Austin L. Nibbs, GERS administrator, said, “The board has done everything it can do.”  He said it was now up to the Virgin Islands government to solve the problem. He said GERS had “exhausted” all its resources in trying to come up with a solution.

However, it does not look good that the government, which is having trouble borrowing money to pay its employees, will be able to help.

The retirement system invoiced the government for $1.4 billion last September for actuarially determined employer contributions’ shortfalls dating back to 1991. The GERS system has also asked the government to pay $47 million in missing employer contributions since 2011.

Nibbs said he has not received any word from the government about making payments.

Smith suggested that GERS might work on getting chunks of payments – such as getting all the payment necessary to clear the employees who are retiring in the next three years – “so they won’t have to go through what many of us have gone through.” 

Smith said he did not get a payment from GERS for several months after retiring.  The retirement system will not make annuity payments to a retiree until the government completes its obligatory payments to that employee’s account, which affects 225 retirees who have not received a retirement check yet.

Of the 225 retired employees who have not yet received a GERS payment, 196 retired in 2016, 25 retired in 2015, and four retired in 2014. If there are no funds owed by the government or the retiree to GERS, payments generally start within 90 days of the retirement date.

Nibbs told the Source that all government agencies are presently making their mandatory GERS payments except for the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center on St. Croix and the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corp. He wrote a letter last week to the East End clinic requesting back payments, interest charges and penalties. The letter said the payments stopped coming from the East End Medical Center in August of last year.

Nibbs told the board he has a meeting scheduled with JFL officials.

The treasurer’s report indicated that in December, GERS took in $15 million and disbursed $22 million.

In selecting GERS’s officers, Wilbur Callender was chosen to remain chairman of the board and Ross will remain as vice chairman.

The proposal by Jaredian Design Group to repair the exterior of the St. Thomas complex was approved to not exceed $435,350. The water line to be replaced at Havensight Mall is expected to cost $54,000.

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