St. Croix–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, continued budget hearings on Tuesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix. The Committee considered the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Executive Budget for the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and the Bureau of Information Technology (BIT).
Positive T. A. Nelson, Commissioner of DOA, said the FY 2022 General Budget request for the DOA is $6,282,973. An amount of $4,678,473 appropriated to Personnel and Fringe Benefits. At the same time, $1,444,500 allocated toward Supplies and other Services, including Animal Service Contracts (400,000) and Operational Staff Funds for the Industrial Hemp Program ($357,000).
Commissioner Nelson pointed out that they anticipate receipt of non-appropriated funds from the Agriculture Revolving Fund ($140,000), generated for the sales and services of planting materials such as seeds, seedlings, and trees to the community, and the Tourism Advertising Fund ($1,000,000).
According to Nelson, this will total $1,140,000 in non-appropriated funds for the Fiscal Year 2022. Federal grants funds already awarded, he added, such as the multi-year USDA Specialty Corps Grants, Forest Legacy Grants, Urban Forestry Grants, and other grants, totaling $763,792, giving a total of $8,186,764 in funds available for the Fiscal Year 2022.
Regarding DOA’s FEMA Projects, Nelson said that of DOA’s 37 FEMA projects totaling $6,961,338.85, they successfully drew down $543,166.02 through VITEMA for 16 projects which have been completed, and six (6) project drawdown requests are pending VITEMA approval. According to him, the 15 remaining DOA projects are all obligated and are pending completion or inspection.
Nelson pointed out that the Abattoir on St. Croix has faced several challenges, but they diligently reopened the facility. The Abattoir on St. Thomas, he added, recently completed its structural assessment, which determined it was safe to continue repairing the building.
Furthermore, they are awaiting a detailed scope of work to continue working on this disaster recovery project. Meanwhile, DOA has shipped animals from St. Thomas monthly for slaughter and repaired and upgraded the animal shelter.
The Fiscal Year 2022 budget of $6,282,973, said the Commissioner, is an increase of 38.4-percent compared to the 2021 budget allocation. This gradual increase, he added, helps to advance their mission but is a far cry from what is necessary to achieve their objective to reduce the Territory’s dependency on food imports.
According to him, the majority of the Fiscal Year 2021 operating funds have been used to pay reconstruction of hurricane-damaged buildings, purchase of new equipment, repair and update of the abattoir, adjustments to staff salaries, restoration of wells, cleaning of waterways, relocation of the St. Croix Famer’s market, refurbishing the St. Thomas administrative building, and various other projects.
Rupert Ross, Director of the Bureau of Information Technology(BIT) and Chief Information Officer for the Government of the Virgin Islands, said the budget for the Fiscal Year 2022 is a little over $14.7 million. He added that for the Fiscal Year 2022, a little over $3 million is from the General Fund, and just below $11.7 million is proposed under the Miscellaneous.
According to Ross, the General Fund supports Personnel Services ($1.6 million), Fringe Benefits ($747,000), Supplies ($75,000), Other Services and Charges ($520,000), and Utilities (100,000). The Miscellaneous request supports the Bureau’s management plan to integrate, consolidate, and transform the government’s individual department and agency infrastructure.
The BIT Director pointed out that the Bureau requests $2,343,258.00 for the Fiscal Year 2022 to fund 25 positions—19 positions filled, and six (6) are vacant. He said the request also supports overtime payments and the implementation of salary increases and reclassification initiatives for the Bureau’s existing staff.
BIT’s vacancies, said Ross, include adding a Chief Technology Officer, Program/Project Manager, Project Coordinator, Accounting Analyst, two (2) Network Analysts. Furthermore, of the twenty-five (25) positions, fifteen (15) positions are classified non-union, and ten (10) are exempt. He pointed out that the request also supports overtime payments and the implementation of salary increases and reclassification initiatives for the Bureau’s existing staff.
The BIT Director said the agency could not have achieved the level of success without the support of the Governor, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Finance, Property and Procurement, and the Department of Justice. Furthermore, BIT would not be successful without the support of the agency collaboration, including but not limited to VITEMA, Division of Personnel, Department of License and Consumer Affairs, Department of Health, Human Services, Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Senators at Tuesday’s hearing were Chairman Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Milton Potter, Carla Joseph, Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Javan James, Sr., Samuel Carrion, and Novelle Francis, Jr.