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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget overview from the Virgin Islands Bureau of Economic Research (BER).

The BER Fiscal Year 2018 budget request is $662,592. The budget breakdown is as follows: $512,592 for the General Fund and $150,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund. The budget includes $302,000 for personal services, $113,092 for fringe benefits, $14,200 for supplies, $44,000 for utilities, and $39,300 for other services; stated Bernadette Melendez, Director of BER.

“Is the Department of Tourism paid out of the $150,000 for the Tourism Evolving Fund?” asked Sen. Dwayne DeGraff? Director Melendez stated that she is not sure.

According to Sen. Vialet, the allotment would be coming out of the Tourism Evolving Fund and not out of the General Fund.

Sen. Janette Millin Young inquired, “Why is BER dipping into the $150,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund.” In response, Director Melendez stated that the line item for BER is down to $15,000. The monies cover any economic related studies that are requested.

Separately, BER was awarded $250,000 Technical Assistance Grant on July 11, 2017. The primary purpose of the grant is to develop and implement the 2017 Consumer Price Index (CPI) based on the new 2016 Household Income Expenditure Survey, according to Director Melendez.

“How will the grant award assist BER with its duties for FY 2018?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. Director Melendez said, “CPI is an important economic indicator that captures price trends in new sectors, such as technology and broadband services. CPI also provides current data on expenditures of consumers in the Territory.” She added that currently, BER receives secondary data that is voluntarily submitted by the government and private sector.

Sen. Blyden asked, “Do BER meet with government agencies and the private sector to ensure the data submitted is accurate?” Director Melendez stated that the staff verifies the accuracy of the data during meetings held with various entities.”

“How do you get data from St. Croix, if all of your five of your staff members are in St. Thomas?” inquired Sen. Vialet. Director Melendez stated that BER has ways to collect data without physically being on St. Croix. The data reports are voluntarily submitted from the various private and government sectors.

However, the accuracy of the data collected was still questionable.

“I don’t know if the data is really accurate. The problem is that we continue to see numbers that are submitted voluntarily. At some point, data reports should be mandatory. The challenge is that there needs to be a process that synchronizes the data from all agencies,” said Sen. Vialet.

In a line of questioning, Sen. Janelle Sarauw inquired about the status of the economy and what are the contributing factors in the condition of the economy. In response, Director Melendez said, “The economy is growing. Construction, manufacturing and tourism are the main sources contributing to the growth of the economy.”

Separately, Office of the Governor, the Virgin Islands Fire Service and the Division of Personnel also shared their FY 2018 Budget requests.

Rochelle Benjamin, Director of the Business and Administration for the Office of the Governor stated that the budget request is for $9,203,565. The budget breakdown is as follows: General Fund is $8,690,973, BER is $512,592 and the Tourism Revolving Fund is $150,000.

Clifford Joseph, Director of the Virgin Islands Fire Service stated that the FY 2018 Budget request is $18,816,221. “Approximately 96% of these funds will be allocated to personnel costs. The remainder will be allocated to mandatory costs such as rent, travel, communications, and utilities,” added Director Joseph.

Milton Potter, Director of the Division of Personnel for the Government of the Virgin Islands stated that the FY 2018 Budget request is $3,230,927. This is a 6.8% decrease in comparison to the FY 2017 Budget of $4,145,535. The monies for the FY 2018 prime accounts $3,230,927 for the General Fund and $632,091 for the Indirect Cost Fund.

Committee members who are present: Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Neville James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach, Dwayne DeGraff. Non-committee members present Janelle Sarauw, Tregenza Roach, Jean Forde, Janette Millin Young, Myron Jackson and Novelle Francis.

The next Committee on Finance meeting as it pertains to the FY 2018 Budget, will take place on Wednesday, August 2nd at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix.