ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet continued budget hearings today, in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. The agenda consisted of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget proposals for the University of the Virgin Islands, the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, and the Office of the Virgin Islands Inspector General.
Dr. David Hall, the President of the University of the Virgin Islands delivered testimony. According to Dr. HallÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s testimony, the past academic year was one of the most challenging of his tenure as President. Ã‚Â The total budget requested for the University of the Virgin Islands, is $36,851,293.Ã‚Â This figure includes the salaries and benefits for regular and temporary employees, and operating expenditures. This was inclusive of $27,805,458 for general operating requirements. There were 422 total positions. There were 64 vacant positions: 18 in the St. Croix District and 46 in the St. Thomas-St. John district. Hall indicated that an additional $2,324,260 was being requested. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several aspects of the University, one of which was lower enrollment revenue. Also, COVID-19 federal funding is ending, and the university is unable to cover unfunded mandates. There have also been increases in GERS contributions, health insurance, and property insurance after the hurricanes.
Hall stated that a vaccination mandate was implemented, with 100% of employees complying. However, only 56% of students were compliant. During this period, the 8% salary was restored to affected employees, as well as having a 4% raise pool applied. Due to reduced COVID cases in the territory, a testing exception will exist for students who are unvaccinated. Other major historic achievements during the fiscal year included the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony of the Medical Simulation Center, the unveiling of the VI Agricultural Plan and the building sign of the 18,000 square foot 13D Research and Strategy Innovation Center. The University of the Virgin Islands also climbed to the sixth position among U.S. Public Schools in the category of regional colleges in the Southern region. It also ranked 35th among all southern regional colleges, which was an improvement from the previous year.
Senator Vialet voiced major concern about the enrollment at the University of the Virgin Islands, which has decreased significantly in the last 5 years, particularly after the 2017 Hurricanes, as well as the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Hall stated that final enrollment numbers were not yet available for the 2022-2023 Academic Year.Ã‚Â According to Camille McKayle, the Provost, and Vice President for Academic Affairs, to date 1,320 students had enrolled for the upcoming academic year.
Peter Chapman, the CEO and Executive Director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park delivered testimony. The RTPark is a self-funded and fully autonomous entity and does not request General Fund operating support from the University of the Virgin Islands. There are currently 12 positions, which are all exempt. Most of the revenue from the RTPark is derived from fees charged to companies that receive task benefits, consistent with Virgin Islands Code, Title 17. These fees are then reinvested into economic and community development programs which primarily benefit Virgin Islanders and UVI stakeholders. The RTPark is not requesting any funding from the Government of the Virgin Islands and has not received any funds from the Government for the past 5 years. The Fiscal Year 2023 Budget is scheduled to be approved by its Board of Directors in September 2023. Corporate Revenues for Fiscal Year 2022 from the RT Park totaled $10,460,363.
Chapman stated that last year, the RTPark was able to launch the Catalyst Fund, which was designed to provide financing for larger businesses and real estate redevelopments to make the USVI an attractive destination for businesses. This fund totaled $5 Million. However, Chapman stated that the RTPark was oversubscribed by more than $2 Million, meaning that they had $5 Million available to meet $7 Million in loan capital requested by viable businesses. $30 Million in federal CDBG-DR funds is currently being pursued.
Delia Thomas, the Deputy Virgin Islands Inspector General delivered testimony. The budget recommendation for Fiscal Year 2023 totaled $2,425,010, a reduction of $348,989, or 12% from the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriation, which was $2,773,989. The proposed funding for personnel and related services totaled $1,889,828. This is inclusive of $1,357,468 for personnel services, and $532,360 for fringe benefits. There were 15 filled positions with five vacancies. Thomas also stated that there was a goal to complete all outstanding audits, inspections and administrative tasks that were initiated prior to the previous Inspector General, Steven vanBeverhoudtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s retirement in November 2021. There was a goal to complete six reports, however only three were completed.Ã‚Â After November 2021, two additional reports were completed.
Senators present at todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s committee hearing included Kurt Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Angel Bolques, Jr., Novelle E. Francis, Jr, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Carla J. Joseph.