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.