Category: Senator Kurt A. Vialet

V.I. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURAL REQUESTS APPROXIMATELY $4 MILLION FOR FY 2018

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on an overview of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget from the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA).

The Fiscal Year 2018 General Fund Budget for VIDOA is $4,084,440. Comparatively to FY 2017 this is $502,560 or 10.96% reduction. VIDOA is also anticipating an appropriation of $870,000 from the Miscellaneous Section, $255,000 for the Agriculture Revolving Fund, $1,000,00 from the Tourism Revolving Fund, $563,898 for Federal Funds and $500,000 for drought relief.

“VIDOA is supposed to receive $500,000 for the Miscellaneous Fund,” said Sen. Vialet. Carlos Robles, Commissioner of VIDOA, said, “By Act 6836, those monies are required to be a part of the overall budget. However, this has not been the case for several years. For FY 2018, VIDOA will finally receive the $500,000.”

According to the Post Audit report, from FY 2017 to FY 2018 the budget for personnel services has decreased by $83,000. Sen. Brian Smith inquired if the reduction affects critical vacancies. In response, Director of Administration and Management of VIDOA Delreese Brown said, “Yes, some of the key job openings include a heavy equipment mechanic, three heavy equipment operators, three butchers, an accountant, industrial engineer, property manager, horticulturalists and a maintenance supervisor.”

“The director of the Office of Management and Budget stated that for FY 2018, $1.5 million is allocated to fill critical vacancies in all departments,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. He asked, “What is the cost for the vacancies at VIDOA?” Director Brown stated that approximately $375,000 is needed.”

Sen. Vialet also had inquiries concerning VIDOA funds that are received quarterly.

“How much monies do VIDOA receive from VLT’s?” asked Sen. Vialet. Director Brown stated that $11,000 every quarter and the funds go towards any animal issues that Director of Veterinary Services Dr. Bethany Bradford may be experiencing. Additionally, Sen. Vialet asked, “Do VIDOA get $1500 quarterly from the Casino Fund?” Director Brown stated that an estimate of $20,000 per quarter is received and it goes into the Agriculture Revolving Fund.

In addition to VIDOA, the Office of the Territorial Public Defender (OTPD) and the Virgin Islands Public Broadcast System (WTJX) shared the FY 2018 Budget.

For FY 2018, The governor’s recommendation is $4,227,120. This is almost $300,000 less than OTPD request of $4,560,000. The budget breakdown is as follows. Personnel services are $2,700,000, capital outlays are $160,000, fringe benefits are $850,000, supplies are $149,000, other services are $595,100, utility services are $106,000.

Samuel Joseph, Chief Public Defender, justifies the $4,560, 000 based on current caseloads, resources and commitment of the staff. “As of June 30, 2017, the current workload is 692 cases territory wide. There are 20 cases pending appeals before the Virgin Islands Supreme Court,151 new cases have appointed on St. Croix and 146 new cases in the St. Thomas/St. John District,” said Chief Joseph.

Tonya-Marie Singh, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of WTJX stated that the FY 2018 budget request is $4,400,000. The budget breakdown is as follows: Fringe benefits are $857,149, supplies are $80,000, capital outlays are $26,500, personnel services are $980,390, utility costs are $208,849, and other services and charges are $1,247,112.

Committee Members present are senators Kurt Vialet, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Dwayne DeGraff, Tregenza Roach, Neville James and Brian Smith.  Non-committee member Sen. Janette Millin Young was also present. The next Committee on Finance meeting is on Wednesday, August 30th at the Capitol Building.

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OTAG, DSPR AND DOL DEFEND FY 2018 BUDGET APPROPRIATIONS

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St. Croix–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, met on Wednesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix for its Fiscal Year 2018 budget hearing from the Office of the Adjutant General (OTAG), Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation (DSPR), and the Department of Labor (DOL).

According to Brigadier General, Deborah Howell OTAG is requesting an annual appropriation of $1,102,317 in territorial funds slightly lower than last year’s request. She said the requested FY2018 fund was sufficient to support their priorities. She said the V.I. Government payroll supports 34 territorial employees; 26 are 100-percent federally funded including 17 Base Security Guards, 3 are 75-percent federally funded and 5 are 100-percent territorially funded. She pointed out that the federal full-time support force of 288 personnel exists to ensure that they are always ready.

In summarizing the budget request, Sylma Sablon, Director of Administration and Business Management said the appropriation of $60,800 for the miscellaneous budget of OTAG for FY 2018 is earmarked for the National Guard’s Pension Fund. She added that a stipend of $100 monthly is paid to every qualified retired National Guard member who has reached the age of 55 and who is eligible.

In regards to the $5,400,051 projected federal funds that support the master cooperative agreement for FY2018, Sablon said $937,270 is for payroll of the Army National Guard which employ 23 full-time security Guards; $3,337,565 support the facilities and maintenance program; $193,000 is projected to cover the telecommunications program; $426,902 support environmental program; $102,616 for the Air National Guard operating and maintenance program; $122,100 for the distance learning program; $198,678 support the electrical security system; and $81,920 for the anti-terrorism program.

With the $1,102,317 from the General Fund; the $60,000 miscellaneous fund; and the $5,400,051 federal projected allocation of $5,400,051, the total Funding projected for OTAG amounted to $6, 502,368.

Colonel Deborah Lobbenmeier, United States Property and Fiscal Officer for the V.I. National Guard said their federal revenue projected for the V.I. National Guard for FY2018 is approximately $48.4 million. This she added is a $2.3 million increased over FY2017.

According Lebbenmeier, of the $48.4 million, it includes $27.3 million for full-time employees’ payroll; $4.6 million for part-time soldiers; $5.0 million for services and supplies; $6.6 million for installation support and $4.7 million for operations and training. She pointed out, in addition to their budget, they estimate an additional two to three million dollars to enter the territory from indirect support to the National Guard.

Lebbenmeier told the Committee that the federal monies received demonstrate the critical importance of the local government providing its share of matching funds to execute federal dollars and federal funding at the recommended level. She added that they have estimated that during FY2018, 75-percent or approximately $36.3 million will remain in the Virgin Islands economy.

Pedro Cruz, Commissioner of DSPR said their proposed FY2018 budget is $6,602,054 and it consists of $3,513,720 for Personnel Services; $1,805,733 for Fringe Benefits; $227,319 for Supplies; $307,548 for other services; and $747,734 for Utilities. The Commissioner added that they receive a quarterly allotment from the Casino Revenue Fund where in FY2016 they received $145,235 and for the past two quarters of FY2017, they have received $68,224.

In respect to the Territorial Parks Fund, he said last FY they collected $271,797 and for FY2017 to date, they have collected $133,590. These collections, he noted, derived from parks’ fees, rentals, and charges for the use or operation of facilities, concessions, open spaces, and recreation facilities.

As for the Athletics Fund, he said in FY2016 they have collected $51,388 and for FY2017, to date, they have collected $21,512. These fees are derived from the collection of sports and recreation programs.

In reference to DSPR Revenue, they have 91 vendor spaces territory wide—43 in the District of St. Thomas/St. John/Water Island and 48 in the District of St. Croix. Through these spaces and facilities, they have collected $133,590.

According to the Commissioner, The Paul E. Joseph Stadium/Terrence Martin Softball Park/Festival Village is in progress. He said after the surcharge earthwork and testing required for the geotechnical report is completed, there will be a period of inactivity for 90 days. This is necessary in order to allow the ground to settle and be firm for the construction of the stadium. He added that during the process of the surcharge earthwork, 30 local individuals have been hired. This number will dramatically increase during construction phase.

Other testifiers for DSPR were: Calvert White, Assistant Commissioner, District of St. Thomas/St. John; Craig Williams, Assistant Commissioner, District of St. Croix; and Elroy Hill, Deputy Director, St. John.

Catherine Hendry, Commissioner of DOL said their recommended funding for FY2018 is $5,057,357—$3,912,935 from the General Fund and $1,144,422 from the Government Insurance Fund. The total non-appropriated local funding is $798,156 and non-appropriated federal funding is $6,353,294 for a total budget of $12,208,807. According to her, this budget does not include the $1,500,000 under the miscellaneous section which is specifically to pay the interest payment on the Unemployment Trust Fund loan.

According to Commissioner Hendry, DOL Unemployment Division processed 1,516 new claims, paid $7,132,303 in benefits to eligible claims, collected $2,615,246 in contributions owed by employers, and collected $528,124 in surcharge. She added that in regards to the Worker’s Compensation Administration, they have handled 4,089 active cases; processed payments that resulted in $1,268,106 million being disbursed to injured workers; and paid $2,171,007 to medical services providers.

Other testifiers for DOL were: Wean Williams Farrell, Assistant Commissioner; Atty. Nesta Christian-Hendrickson, Legal Counsel; Chivonne Romnry-Lee, Director of Business and Administration; and Gary Halyard, Director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Committee members at Wednesday’s budget hearing were: Chairman Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Neville James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach, and Dwayne DeGraff. Non-Committee members were Senators Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Novelle Francis, Jr.

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DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE REQUESTS OVER $4 MILLION FOR FY 2018

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on an overview of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget from the Department of Finance.

The FY 2018 recommendation for the General Fund Budget is $4,878,000. This is a 10% reduction of $564,750 in comparison to the FY 2017 Budget of $5,442,750. The proposed budget also includes $778,095 for the Government Insurance Fund, $217,749 for the Indirect Cost Fund and $5,873,844 for combined Appropriated Funds.

“Is the 10% reduction in the General Fund Budget attributable to the reduction of personnel services?” asked Sen. Tregenza Roach. Commissioner Collens said, “Yes, the department has removed positions in personnel that are not needed with respect to the Board of Tax Review.”

Sen. Vialet inquired about the increase of the Government Insurance Fund. Commissioner Collens said, “I don’t know why there is an increase but when we looked deeper, the department found that some employees have a family plan with more dependents. The fringe benefits increased because of that.”

The Department of Finance budget breakdown is as follows: $3,079,720 for personnel services, $1,143,551 for fringe benefits, $1,051,080 for other services and charges, $94,000 for capital outlays, $360,000 for utilities and, $$217,329 for supplies.

“In comparison to FY 2017, why is there a 66% variance for supplies for FY 2018?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. Commissioner Collens said, “In meeting the mandate, we recognized that it’s better to take stock of inventory rather than purchasing new supplies.”

Lawmakers also requested further information about the utility costs.

“In FY 2017, the utility cost was $667,000,” said Sen. Vialet. “However, for FY 2018 it is $360,000. This is a substantial decrease.” Commissioner Collens said, “We attributed the reduction to conservation efforts, which have decreased consumption and expenditures.”

Sen. Roach asked, “What are the expenditures to date for utilities?” Commissioner Collens stated that the department has expended $327,000 as of July 30th.

Separately, Margaret Guarino, Director of Finance and Administration for V.I. Public Finance Authority (PFA) stated that the FY 2018 budget has not been approved by the PFA Board. However, she said that the proposed FY 2018 budget will be used for operations, payroll and administrative expenses.

“Is there a significant difference in the governor’s recommended budget of $1.7 million for FY 2017 in comparison to FY 2018?” asked Sen. Brian Smith. In response, Director Guarino stated that it is currently the same.  Then Sen. Smith asked, “What is the debt ceiling for the government of the Virgin Islands?” Director Guarino stated that it is $1 billion. “How close are we to reaching it?” asked Sen. Smith. Director Guarino stated that we are $737 million away.

Senators also inquired about rum production and resolving the decline of the bond ratings. Sen. Vialet asked, “Is the rum production in FY 2017 the same for FY 2018?” Denise Rhymer, Legal Counsel for PFA said, “In comparison to FY 2016, there is a slight increase in terms of the rum cover over sold in U.S. during the first quarter of FY 2017.”

Sen. DeGraff inquired about the continual decrease in bond ratings and what is PFA doing to fix the situation. Valdamier Collens, Executive Director of PFA said, “PFA is working to fix this comprehensive task to increase bond ratings. One of the ways is to improve the internal metrics.”

In addition to the Department of Finance and PFA, the Virgin Islands Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also shared their FY 2018 budget requests.

Donald Cole, the Executive Director of PSC stated that the FY 2018 budget is $2,782,807. He also stated that the FY 2018 expenditures are $1,792,173.37. Personnel services and fringe benefits total $1,309,652.87, capital outlays is $9,200 and $473,320.50 covers electricity, water, office supplies, repairs and maintenance, automotive repairs, rent land/building, professional services, security, communication, advertising, transportation, insurance, travel and other services.

Nellon Bowry, Director of OMB stated that the appropriation request is $4.44 million this includes $2.45 million from the General Fund and $1.99 million from the Indirect Cost Fund.

Committee Members present are senators Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Neville James, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach and Dwayne DeGraff. The next Committee on Finance meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 23rd at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Conference Room on St. Croix.

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VIRGIN ISLANDS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SHARES FY 2018 BUDGET

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony on an overview of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE).

“During the last ten fiscal years, VIDOE has experienced severe budget shortfalls valuing $45,829,588 making it extremely challenging to meet all of the Department’s mandatory program needs. This year is no different,” said Sharon McCollum, Ph.D., Commissioner of VIDOE.

For FY2018 the General Fund recommended budget is $156,755,559. This is a reduction of $10,295,271 in comparison to $167,050,830 for FY 2017. The budget breakdown is as follows: $93,081,386 for personnel services, $39,962,587 for fringe benefits, $3,965,048 for materials and supplies, $11,494,660 for mandatory costs, and $8,251,878 for utilities.

“Can you expound on the $8,251,878 representing a 17% reduction of $1,748,122 that is for utility services?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. Commissioner McCollum said, “VIDOE has been diligent in managing electrical and water bills. If needed, supplemental funds can assist with costs.”

According to the post audit report, in FY 2017 the Federal E-Rate Reimbursement Trust non-appropriated funds was $8,225,804. This is a 69% reduction for FY 2018 representing $2,548,365.  “Comparatively, why is there a $6 million reduction?” inquired Sen. Blyden. Anthony Thomas, Chief of Staff for VIDOE stated that the challenges come from operational demand.

“The E-Rate Program covers specific aspects of the cost of technology servicing repairs for thirty-one Activity Centers. However, the E-Rate does not provide funding for supplies or damaged equipment that is caused by environmental challenges and unexpected power outages,” added Commissioner McCollum.

Lawmakers also inquired about Federal Funds, grants and awards.

“Can you give me a ballpark figure of Federal Funds allocated for Adult Education?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner McCollum said, “It is approximate $1 million. The monies were in serious jeopardy because the former director did not submit the paperwork.” Sen. Vialet stated that it is important for individuals who are charged to overlook Federal Funds to do their jobs because the oversight can be costly.

Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “In terms of Federal Funds, the post audit reports states that the efforts to attain current grant status on awards remain unanswered.” Commissioner McCollum said, “There is no response to the post audit report because VIDOE has submitted status reports monthly to the Office of Management and Budget and Government House.”

Separately, for FY 2017 the reimbursable value of National School Lunch Program was $4,918,989. From FY 2013 to FY 2016, the Virgin Islands Inspector General conducted an audit report on the School Lunch Program.

Steven van Beverhoudt, CFE, CGFM Inspector General of the Virgin Islands Office of the Inspector General shared some of the challenges found upon completion of the audit report.

“We found that complete, accurate, and current records of receipt, distribution, and warehousing of inventory were not kept. Inventory records were modified or adjusted without proper written justification,” said Inspector General Beverhoudt. “Education officials were negligent in securing and accounting for inventory received, delivered, stored, and/or used at district warehouses and schools.”

“The audit highlighted several issues with the School Lunch Program. Thus far, what changes has VIDOE implemented?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner McCollum said, “VIDOE has collaborated with the United States Department of Agriculture to train staff on recipe preparation, plate presentation, and customer service.”

In addition to the VIDOE, the Office of the Inspector General shared FY 2018 budget request. Inspector General Beverhoudt stated that the budget proposal for FY 2018 is $2,023,605. This is a reduction of $224,845 in comparison to the FY 2017 appropriated amount. The breakdown is as follows: $1,277,416 for personnel services, $461,237 for fringe benefits, $64,952 for supplies, $40,000 for utilities and $180,000 for other services.

Committee Members present are senators Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Neville James, Brian Smith, Nereida O’Reilly, Tregenza Roach and Dwayne DeGraff.  Also in attendance was non-committee member Sen. Janelle Sarauw.

The next Committee on Finance meeting will take place on Monday, August 21, 2017 at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Conference Room on St. Croix.

 

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PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RELATIONS BOARD REQUESTS OVER A MILLION DOLLARS FOR FY 2018

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony on an overview of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget from the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB).

For FY 2018, the governor’s recommended budget for PERB is $1,106,370. The budget breakdown is as follows: $654,000 for personnel services, $274,521 for fringe benefits, $16,800 for utilities, $10,000 partially covers supplies, $154,049 will partially assist with other services, charges, and professional services.

Zandra Peterson, Executive Director and Certified Officer of PERB stated that PERB needs an additional appropriation and allotment of $208,620. If approved, this will bring the FY 2018 budget request to $1,314,990. “The additional monies will assist the Board in continuing to serve the employees of the Government of the Virgin Islands while maintaining a positive relationship with our vendors,” added Director Peterson.

“We are in a new financial era. The budget that was sent down by the governor demonstrates prudence and it shows that we are going in the right direction fiscally. Realistically speaking, maintaining the solvency of the government without harming private entities is our paramount for FY 2018,” said Sen. Brian Smith.

According to the post audit report, the cost of Communication/Broadband has increased from $3,700 to $6,000 and the telephone services has increased from $9,000 to $15,000. Sen. Blyden asked, “Can you expound on that?” In response, Director Peterson stated that both services were expanded and the telephone system was upgraded.

Sen. DeGraff inquired, “How would you quantify savings for the government?” Director Peterson said, “Consolidating the work load amongst the staff, maintaining the same fees for car rental services for the past ten years, and board members conducting in-house hearings are some of our cost saving measures.”

Separately, Yarah Farrington, Administrative Assistant for the V.I. Labor of Management Committee (VILMC) stated that governor’s recommended budget for FY 2018 is $158,000. This is a decrease in comparison to the FY 2017 Budget of $175,000. The breakdown is as follows: $96,000 for personnel, $5,000 for supplies, $62,800 for other services and charges, and $16,200 for Health Insurance and fringe benefits.

Despite the governor’s recommendation, VILMC is requesting $22,000 more bringing their FY 2018 budget request to $180,000. Defending the proposed budget, Joseph Gumbs, Former Vice Chair of the Labor Management Committee stated that the additional funds will help VILMC to continue operating from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018.

Sen. Vialet said, “For FY 2018, we have to operate within the confines of what was recommended by the governor because of the fiscal condition of the Territory.” He added that one cost saving measure would be to utilize more office space on St. Croix because of the cost of rent on St. Thomas is much higher.

Sen. Blyden suggested that another way to reduce expenses is to combine government services.

He asked, “Is it possible to consolidate the services of PERB and VILMC?” Avery Lewis, Labor Co-Chair of the VILMC stated that the entities should not be combined because the services that PERB provides are much more expanded. “VILMC assists with the decision-making process with management, promotes and prepares rank and file employee involvement and address the employment environment,” said Lewis.

In addition to PERB and VILMC, The Office of Veterans Affairs also shared their budget request.

The FY 2018 budget request general fund appropriations are $790,344. The will cover approximately $346,344 for personnel salaries and fringe benefits, $27,000 for operating expenses, $300,000 to cover medical travel and death benefits and $117,000 of projected non-appropriated funds that will be from the Virgin Islands Lottery and Taxi-Cab Commission; according to Patrick Farrell, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs.

Committee members who are present: Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach, Dwayne DeGraff. Non-committee members present: Myron Jackson.

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BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH REQUESTS $662, 592 FOR FY 2018

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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.

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LEPC AND BIT BUDGET REDUCED

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St. Croix–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, met on Thursday, July 27, 2017 in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix with the Law Enforcement Planning Commission (LEPC) and the Bureau of Information Technology (BIT) for their 2018 Budget hearing.

Franz A. Christian, Director LEPC which is the Commission vested with the responsibility of assisting the Governor in developing policies, plans, programs, and budgets directed at improving the coordination, administration, and effectiveness of the criminal Justice System within the territory said, originally the Commission was appropriated $915,603 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 from the General Fund, but was subsequently reduced due to budgetary constraints.

According to Christian, the governor recommended $818,769 for FY 2018 General Fund. He pointed out that 52-percent of that budget represents salaries, 23-percent represents fringe benefits, and 25-percents represents operating expenses.

Director Christian said the Commission will manage an estimated $3,011,241 of Federal Funds. These funds will benefit our youths, families in need of assistance, domestic violence intervention, and support of our criminal justice systems.

He told the committee that his long-term goal is to transfer his vested grant managers’ positions from Federal Funds to the General Fund Budget. The reason he said, is that the Commission can no longer afford to operate and manage millions of federal dollars without having adequate staffing to fulfill their federal mandates.

Other testifier was Ana Creque, Financial Management Supervisor.

Angelo Riddick, Director and Chief Information Officer (CIO), of BIT said the two major operational responsibilities of his agency as a central coordinating agency are to address the Information Technology (IT) implementation and Emergency Communication infrastructure operations within the Executive Branch of the Virgin Islands Government.

According to Riddick, BIT requested a budget for FY 2018 in the amount of $2,266,483. In addition, they also requested $3,122,732 under the Miscellaneous Appropriations to support the IT infrastructure and emergency communications operations within the Enterprise. The request, he added, includes $1,861,993 to cover the cost of software licensing for Microsoft products, and the cost of renewal licensing for BIT’s video conferencing system.

Riddick explained to the Committee that the request of $1,260,739 is an additional for maintenance costs and lease for tower sites territory-wide. The request will also cover the cost of maintaining The Virgin Islands Government Transparency Portal, as well as other IT and emergency communications costs, to include the cost associated with connecting to the viNGN infrastructure and the cost of the V-Block for continuity of operations and data storage. This, he added will bring their total budget to $5,389,215.

The BIT Director and CIO requested a lump sum appropriation budget saying it is to effectively manage and move funds from one category to another category given the unique circumstances that occur on a daily basis.

Other testifiers for BIT were Hasina Harris, Chief Operational Officer and David Parris, Facilities Manager.

Committee members at Thursday’s budget hearing were: Chairman, Senator Kurt A.Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Tregenza A. Roach and Brian A. Smith. Non-Committee member was Senator Alicia “Chucky” Hansen.

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WASTE MANAGEMENT AND INSURANCE BILLS VOTED OUT OF FINANCE COMMITTEE

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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, met Thursday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix. The committee took testimonies on two pieces of proposed legislations, Bill No.32-0066 and Bill No.32-0042.

Bill No.32-0066 proposed by Senator Marvin A. Blyden is an act making an appropriation of $500,000 from the Anti-Liter and Beautification Fund to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (WMA) for the purchase of surveillance cameras to be installed at selected bin sites.

Senator Blyden said the appropriation was necessary due to individuals that are going to bin sites and are illegally dumping garbage in all sorts of manner without regards to littering. He added that it’s time we start to issue citations to violators and the best way we can do this is by installing surveillance cameras at the sites.

Testifying in support of Bill No.32-0066 was Vincent Ebbesen, Solid Waste Director, WMA, who said unmanned bin sites are open to the public for use throughout the day and night. He added that surveillance cameras will help the Authority monitor the unmanned bin sites for illegal dumping, unsanitary practices and other activities that pose a health risk.

According to Ebbesen, the cameras will help WMA assess fines for littering and illegal dumping activities. In addition, the cameras will allow WMA to monitor the bin sites for cleanliness by scheduling additional pickup services.

Clarina Modeste Elliott, Executive Assistant Commissioner of Finance, appearing on behalf of Commissioner Valdamier Collens said based on their review of the condition of the proposed funding source and the relevance of its use, they support the legislation as proposed. She pointed out that with the collection of these fines or fees generated would afford the opportunity for the replenishment and sustainability of the Anti-Liter and Beautification Fund.

Bill No. 32-0042, proposed by Senator Neville James, is an act repealing the Virgin Islands Code where necessary and adding a chapter entitled, “The Virgin Islands Insurance Holding Company System Regulatory Act.”

This repeal, according to Senator James, is to meet the accreditation standards established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and update the insurance laws of the Territory placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions, and providing greater and more effective protection to the policyholders of the Virgin Islands.

Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Director of the Division of Banking, Insurance and Financial Regulation said in her testimony that the territory is required to adopt Bill No.32-0042 as part of the requirements to obtain accreditation by the NAIC.

Director Brady said the NAIC is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. Territories, which includes the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to Director Brady, accreditation is the designation given by NAIC to a state or territory that has demonstrated that it has met and continues to meet all required legal, financial and organizational standards. A significant aspect of the Bill pointed out Director Brady, is that it gives to the Commissioner of Insurance the authority to examine, not only the insurance companies within the holding company system, but all of the insurer’s affiliates that are also a part of the holding company system whether or not they engage in the business of insurance.

Director Brady drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that, the Territory’s adoption of Bill No.32-0042 is vital in the context that because Guardian Insurance Company, one of the leading insurance companies in the Territory, is part of an insurance holding company system and is at present the Territory’s only domestic, multi-state insurer, meaning that Guardian is domiciled in the U.S. jurisdiction and is also licensed to conduct business in other U.S. jurisdictions.

Other testifiers at Thursday’s meeting; for WMA was Rasheed Hodge, Network Administrator and for Banking and Insurance were: Atty. Glendina Mathew, Assistant Director and Legal Counsel; Atty. Monica Williams Carbon, Division Legal Counsel; and Cheryl Charleswell, Chief Financial Service Examiner.

The Committee voted in favor of both Bills and sent them to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Committee members in attendance were: Chairman Senator Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Neville A. James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Brian A. Smith, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Non-Committee member was Senator Novelle E. Francis Jr.

 

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COMMITTEE ON FINANCE CONSIDERS REAL PROPERTY TAX BILL AND PROPERTY & PROCUREMENT LEASE AGREEMENT

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ST. JOHN- Members of the Committee on Finance met on Tuesday at the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room. Chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the meeting was held to consider a Bill amending Title 33 VIC and a Leasing Agreement between the Department of Property and Procurement and Island Green Building Association, Inc.

Bill No. 32-0030, proposed by Sen. Janette Millin-Young, seeks to amend Title 33 VIC, section 2404, by including three exceptions when assessing the fair market value of real property; by including a 60 day time-period within which the Lieutenant Governor must complete a reassessment and add a sentence providing that if the Lt. Governor fails to comply with the provisions of subsection (d), the taxpayer is considered to have won the appeal and the real property taxes based upon the prior assessed value of the property; adds subsection (e), which sets real property valuation maximum for residents who are eligible for the homestead exemption at 1% percent if three specific conditions are met; adds a subsection (f) that sets a value for the real property arm’s length, open market transaction; adds a subsection (g) that sets the requirements for a mass appraisal and adds a subsection (h) defining terms used in the section.

“Something is wrong with the property taxes in Love City. Our task today is not to point fingers, it is time to break the cycle of stress and the dispossession of our people,” stated Sen. Millin-Young.

Dolace McClean, Legal Counsel for the Property Tax Division of the Office of the Lt. Governor’s Office, accompanied by Tax Assessor Ira Mills, provided their testimonies stating that they are in favor of any intent to have a uniform and equitable tax system for property taxes, if the system does not prove detrimental to other taxpayers.

Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of the Property & Printing Divisions of the Dept. of Property and Procurement, spoke in support of the Leasing Agreement during his testimony between Island Green Building Association, Inc. and the Government of the Virgin Islands (Dept. of Property and Procurement.) The association intends to lease a portion of Parcel 6-A Estate Susannaberg, No. 17A Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, approximately 19,704 square feet, for a period of 20 years.

The Lessee will develop and implement sustainability solutions for the handling of household waste, sewage, building materials and unwanted items.

The Sustainable Living Center will serve as an asset to the community of St. John, visitors and businesses. Upon approval and completion, the Center will include an expanded recycling/upcycling center for glass/plastics, composting area, community center and library. Harith Wickrema, President of Island Green Building Association, Inc., claims that the Center will create enough energy that the excess will be sent to the grid for public use.

The meeting concluded with Bill No. 32-0002, Bill No. 32-0010 and Bill No. 32-0030, passing favorably with all committee members voting affirmatively. They will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The leasing agreement between the Dept. of Property and Procurement will be held in the Finance Committee pending documentation.

Chairman Vialet concluded by thanking the testifiers and staff for their support and patience during the meeting.

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FINANCE COMMITTEE VOTES FAVORABLY FOR SIN TAX MEASURES

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The Committee on Finance, Chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, met to receive testimony on and reconsider Bill Nos. 32-0005 and 32-0007 – both bills regarding the Government’s Five-Year Financial Plan – following an early morning protest from members of the private sector who oppose the measures.

Testimonies given by private citizens and the Governor’s financial team conveyed the serious implications if the territory continues to plunge further into fiscal collapse. “At this point, a series of bad decisions were made, without thinking about the future generations,” stated Sen. Vialet.

Bill No. 32-0005, proposed by Sen. Neville James, Sen. Kurt Vialet, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Sen. Myron D. Jackson, was passed favorably 5 to 2. Voting in favor were Sens. James, O’Reilly, Vialet, Brian A. Smith, and Marvin A. Blyden. The Bill seeks to amend and enhance revenues for the Territory by implementing excise taxes on tobacco products, alcohol beverages and on sugar carbonated beverages, and the establishment of a new timeshare fee. The Virgin Islands Code currently includes a timeshare occupancy tax of 10.5%.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (“BIR”) will assess on and collect from timeshare owners the existing hotel room occupancy tax of 12.5%. Accordingly, Title II of the bill would repeal the timeshare occupancy tax. In addition, the Act establishes a new timeshare fee, the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee, in the amount of $25.00 per day of occupancy of any timeshare in the Virgin Islands.

The measure also authorizes revenues generated from the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee to be allocated as follows: 25% to the Virgin Islands Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, 50% to the General Fund and 25% to the Hospitals. Section 3 significantly amends Title 33, chapter 3, section 42, which establishes the rates and base for certain excise taxes on imported goods. As currently in effect, the statute imposes very low tax rates on most liquor and tobacco products. Imported beers, for example, are taxed at a rate of $2.08 (for foreign beers) or $1.55 (for U.S. beers) per case or each 24 bottles Whiskies and other liquors are generally taxed at a rate of just $6.00 per case.

The purposed increases in the excise tax rates on liquor and tobacco will provide the benefits of both increasing revenue and supporting public health. Products on which the 20 excise tax rates will include:

Foreign and U.S. beers, from $2.08 and $1.55 per case, respectively, to $6.08 and $5.00; and Cigarettes, from 45% to 45% plus $8.00 per cartoon; and Carbonated beverages, from 3% plus $0.36 per case plus $0.005 per fluid ounce (except those in reusable canisters, which will now be taxed at 4%); For most spirits and liqueurs from $6.00 per case (or $2.50 per wine gallon, if greater) to 10% of value; and for wines and brandies, from $2.04 per case (or $0.85 per wine gallon, if greater) to 10% of value. Cumulatively, the proposed excise tax rate increases, are projected to generate approximately $12.2 million in new revenues annually. Chairman Vialet added that these items in which the taxes are proposed, are not necessities or essential for our consumption.

Bill No. 32-0007, proposed by Sen. Myron D. Jackson and Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, was passed favorably 5 to 2. Voting in favor were Sens. O’Reilly, Jackson, Vialet, Blyden and Smith. This Bill seeks to amend by adding the following language at the end: ‘Commercial real property includes buildings with residences of 5 or more units,’ and Subsection 2301 is amended to include a new subsection to read: ‘In no event, may the application of exemptions and credits reduce the amount of tax due for any real property to an amount less than $360.’ “Times have changed, so there’s no way we can sit here, do nothing, and believe we will be able to move forward and solve our problems.” said Chairman Vialet.

The Bills were both passed favorably to the Committee on Rules & Judiciary for further consideration.

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