ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt A. Vialet convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday to receive testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Invited testifiers are officials from the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation (DSPR) and the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee (VIOC). Lastly, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0299 to expand the power of the Enterprise Zone Commission.
The Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation Commissioner Calvert White noted that the recommended FY 2021 budget totals $6,832,390 for the General Fund. The budget represents a 20% reduction or $1,581,292 in comparison to the allotment disseminated in FY 2020. Defending the FY 2021 budget, White indicated that the monies will allow DSPR to achieve goals inclusive of opening all the facilities, growing Sports Tourism, transforming the department into self-sufficiency, upgrading technology, and to fill all staff vacancies. The FY 2021 budget breakdown is as follows: $4,168,702 or 61% for personnel services, $335,935 or 5% for other services and charges, $2,128,664 or 31% for fringe benefits, and $199,089 or 3% for supplies. Overall, the proposed funds are distributed into three major categories to be utilized for the operating budget for each division. White mentioned that $2,534,256 is for the Division of Facilities, Parks, and Open Spaces, $2,720,622 is for the Division of Sports and Recreation, and $1,577,511 is for the Office of the Commissioner. Due to the lack of monies in the budget to purchase and store sports equipment, Sen. Sarauw cautioned that funds should be budgeted to purchase recreational equipment such as balls, baseball bats, and jump ropes to engage youths in the community.
The Virgin Islands Olympic Committee President Angel Morales noted that VIOC did not receive funding for FY 2020. However, VIOC is requesting an appropriation of $300,000 for FY 2021. The purpose of the funds is to support the 24 member Federations to train athletes and allow them to participate in competitions around the world. The majority or 75% of VIOC’s operating expenses are covered by grants awarded from the International Olympic Committee and Pan Am Sports; according to Morales. Moreover, the beginning phases to purchase and build an Olympic Committee Headquarter and/or FEMA approved disaster shelter already began. However, Morales indicated that the process halted due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Subsequently, lawmakers voted and approved a measure sponsored by Senate President Novelle Francis, Jr. Bill No. 33-0299- An Act amending Title 29 of the Virgin Islands Code, chapter 19, section 107 relating to the powers of the Enterprise Zone Commission, to expand its authority; amending section 116 to designate the South Shore of St. Croix as an Enterprise Zone; and adding subchapter IIIA to govern the Virgin Islands South Shore Enterprise Zone. Although Economic Development Authority Acting CEO Wayne Biggs expressed support for the measure, he stated that amendments are required to strengthen the bill. Biggs cited that economic activity can be achieved in these zones. However, production is the number one economic activity, then warehousing, trading, transport, and forwarding. Collectively, policymakers agreed that the bill will boost the economy and allow for a greater diversity of small businesses in the Territory. Ultimately, the bill was forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. ###