ST. THOMAS – Members of the 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands’ Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, led by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Senators received testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA), the Bureau of Corrections (BOC), the Division of Personnel (DOP), and the Office of Collective Bargaining defended their budgets.

Patrick Farrell, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs, stated that the Governor’s recommended General Fund appropriation for the FY 2024 budget totals $1,180,390. The FY 2024 budget breakdown is as follows: $15,000 for utilities, $10,000 for capital outlays, $312,783 for personnel services, $148,008 for fringe benefits, $56,425 for supplies, and $638,174 for other services and charges in addition to the General Fund, OVA is slated to receive an additional $450,000 from the miscellaneous section. Out of that, $225,000 covers medical services and the remaining $225,000 is for death benefit payments. In response to a line of questioning by Senator Frett-Gregory, Farrell noted that OVA is currently serving 8,000 veterans, providing burial assistance for 47 deceased veterans, which cost an estimated $3,000; providing 195 veterans with travel assistance from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico, and providing a total of 11 veterans with travel services on the mainland. Presently, families of the deceased must pay upfront for funeral costs and seek reimbursement from OVA afterward. However, Farrell noted that he would like to eliminate the cost to the deceased’s family and have OVA pay for the funeral expenses upfront. Senator Frett-Gregory stated that a non-Germaine amendment will be created to streamline that process.

Wynnie Testamark, Director of the Bureau of Corrections, noted that the FY 2024 General Fund budget totals $37,408,693. Compared to the FY 2023 appropriation of $37,171,087, this is an increase of $237,606 or 0.64%. Additionally, BOC is slated to receive $345,595 in Federal funds, bringing the total sum to $37,754,288 for Fiscal Year 2024. The breakdown is as follows: $15,320,252 for personnel services; $6,842,051 for fringe benefits; $3,683,000 for supplies; $10,163,390 for other services and charges; $400,000 for utilities; and $1,000,000 for capital projects. BOC has 260 budgeted positions for FY 2024, of which 174 are filled and 86 are vacancies. Approximately 73% of the 174 posts filled are classified. The vacancies are funded at 50% of the General Fund. Senator Diane Capehart inquired about the timeline for filling vacancies. Kyza Callwood, Chief Strategy Officer and Acting Public Information Officer, stated that there is an aggressive timeline to fill 20 positions by the end of FY 2023. Media campaigns for the vacancies include radio ads, social media ads, recruitment fairs, and internal distributions.

Cindy L. Richardson, Director of the Division of Personnel, mentioned that the Governor’s recommended FY 2024 budget totals $50,995,536. In FY 2023, although the General Fund appropriation was $50,995,536, due to Act No. 6817, an additional $52,410,167 was appropriated. Compared to FY 2024, this is a reduction of $1,414,632. Overall, DOP’s FY 2024 budget totals $51.5 million, with an expectation of $45,110 from the Training Revolving Fund. Richardson stated that the overall budget recommendation is to fund approximately $50.9 million from the General Fund for each fiscal year. $530,867 each fiscal year will be funded from the Indirect costs. The breakdown of the FY 2024 General Fund budget is as follows: $50,000 for utilities, $25,000 for capital outlay, $2,851,311 for personnel services, $1,306,584 for fringe benefits, $120,000 for supplies, and $46,642,640 for other services and charges.

Regarding the Office of Collective Bargaining, the Governor’s recommended budget for FY 2024 totals $1,375,564, according to Juliette Thomas, Coordinator of Administrative Services at OCB, who testified on behalf of Joss Springette, Chief Negotiator at the Office of Collective Bargaining. OCB is not slated to receive miscellaneous funds or Federal Funds. The breakdown of the General Fund is as follows: $740,766 for personnel services, $316,076 for fringe benefits, $45,000 for supplies, $192,500 for other services, $13,000 for utilities, and $68,222 for capital projects Thomas noted that the annual Key Performance Indicators contribute to negotiating four Collective Bargaining Agreements, hosting two Labor relations training for management, and a 10% reduction in caseloads.

Senators present at the meeting are Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Jr., Diane T. Capehart, Kenneth L. Gittens, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Franklin D. Johnson, Ray Fonseca, Javan E. James, Sr., Samuel Carrión, and Carla J. Joseph.

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