ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet continued budget hearings today, in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.Ã‚Â The agenda consisted of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget proposals for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, The Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority, and the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority.
Monica Williams Carbon, Esq., the Chief of Staff for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor delivered testimony. According to Williams Carbon, the Office is the second largest revenue generating office in the Territory.Ã‚Â The recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is $7,083,263. This is comprised of $4,430,307 for Personnel Services. This would allow for the staffing of 94 positions. Some of these positions are partially funded (50%) for a period during the fiscal year. If fully funded, 106 positions would be available for Fiscal Year 2023. $2,303,647 is available for Fringe Benefits costs. $349,309 remains for other services and charges. There are 37 vacancies, four retirements and seven resignations. There were six new hires. Four were promoted.Ã‚Â
Williams Carbon spoke about the technological improvements that were being undertaken. Those included the transitioning to a new vendor to transition to a new billing and collections system. This was done because the previous system was unreliable, causing the inability to report to auditors, and tracking property tax revenues. It is expected that this new portal will allow members of the public to use online services to pay tax bills, search for properties and view tax payments for a property and verify ownership for a property. New e-recording capabilities are being negotiated with the current vendor, which would allow persons, such as attorneys and to use the system to record documents remotely.Ã‚Â A vendor is being considered to establish an unclaimed property database system. The Office is also considering upgrading the archiving, imaging, and indexing system for real property with the Division of Recorder of Deeds. The automation of the Notary Division is being considered, as well as the assessment and reassessment of real property.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
Wayne Biggs, Jr, the Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority delivered testimony. The recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is $6,613,000. Some of the objectives for Fiscal Year 2023 included working with the management team to develop a strategic 5Ã¢â‚¬â€œ10-year plan for the Economic Development Authority, reviewing and approving the annual operating budget, evaluating progress towards current year objectives, implementing strategies to help retain, expand, and attract business, as well as participating in at least four marketing events and activities to enhance business recruitment and retention/expansion efforts.Ã‚Â $3,238,157 is available for personnel services, a decrease from Fiscal Year 2022. There were 45 total positions. 14 of these were unclassified filled. One position was unclassified vacant. 24 positions were classified filled. Six positions were classified vacant.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
The Economic Development Authority has spoken about the need for economic diversification. Biggs stated that the US Virgin Islands did not suffer as much devastating effects during the COVID-19 Pandemic but reminded the body about the devastation that occurred following the effects of the 2017 hurricanes. To assist with this diversification, the Vision 2040, the 20-year economic development strategy has been developed. In this plan, eight target industry sectors were identified. These included agribusinesses, professional/technical services, coastal/ocean resources, renewable energy, health sciences, research and development, light manufacturing; and VI-Style Tourism.Ã‚Â There were eight vacancies, inclusive of two retirements and one transfer.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
Andrew Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority delivered testimony. According to Smith, the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget was set so that planned expenditures do not exceed its cash flow under its existing authorized base rate approved by the Virgin Islands Public Services Commission. The budget does not include any expenditures, operating or capital that are federally funded. Mr. Jacob Lewis, the Chief Financial Officer of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority delivered additional testimony regarding the AuthorityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Budget.Ã‚Â The AuthorityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fiscal Year began on July 1, 2022.Ã‚Â There were 7 retirements, and 51 vacancies.Ã‚Â Mr. Lewis stated that a soft hiring freeze had been implemented. The proposed budget for the Authority totaled $255,391,626 for the Electric Budget, and $32,724,483 for the Water Budget. According to this budget, there will be no rate increases. Proposed personnel costs totaled $36,567,273. Senate President Frett-Gregory voiced skepticism in the budget, stating that Ã¢â‚¬Å“perspectiveÃ¢â‚¬Â was needed, and stating that WAPA was not playing fair.Ã‚Â
Senators present at todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s committee hearing included Kurt Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel CarriÃƒÂ³n, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Angel Bolques, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Carla J. Joseph, Franklin D. Johnson, and Kenneth L. Gittens.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â