Finance satisfied with $5.4M budget for FY 2018

FINANCE Secretary Larrisa Larson said her department is satisfied with the $5.4 million budget proposed by the governor, adding that it will support their enforcement plans and operations.

She told the House budget hearing on Friday that they expect to get more because they are also entitled to 2.5 percent of the hotel occupancy tax collections.

“We asked for a $5.4 million budget and that was also the governor’s proposal and we have other resources such as Public Law 18-1 which entitles us to a percentage of the hotel occupancy tax so if they give us $5.4 million plus the other resources, that will give us a total of $6. 7 million,” Larson said.

“It’s never enough, but we understand the situation. As revenues grow, I know there will be some changes, so we’ve come a long way already.”

The hotel occupancy tax collections will fund the enforcement sections of the department such as Customs, she said.

Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson, Customs Director Jose Mafnas and Customs Capt. Jesse Atalig smile as they listen to Rep. Leepan Guerrero after the House budget hearing on Friday. Photo by Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

Customs Director Jose Mafnas said the funds will be used for the training and uniforms of their officers.

He said they are planning to hire more officers. “Due to the new airlines coming in, we are proposing to hire 15 more. We will distribute them to all ports especially to the airports. Then we can shift some of the senior officers to the other sections like the investigative unit. So 15 will be sufficient for now,” he said.

Mafnas said Saipan has 64 customs officers while Tinian has four and Rota eight.

“I cannot complain — we have adequate funding,” he said. “And the hotel occupancy tax helps us a lot. I am not asking for too much as there are other law enforcement agencies that are also in need of funding. We are happy with what we have and we are flexible — we can always work with what we’ve got. What’s important is we don’t compromise or breach enforcement efforts at the port.”

Citing the improving economy, Mafnas said their excise tax collections have increased by $2.7 million.

“But our biggest challenge in tax collection is the under-valuation of products or goods. For example, just two weeks ago, a stainless ice-making fridge was declared as having a value of $250. We cannot accept that. That’s an insult to the commonwealth. We Googled it and gathered more information. If it’s valued at $2,000 then we will assess it at that value.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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