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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.