Published: Jul 6, 2023

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 a meeting regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands at the Capitol Building. The Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority, the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, and Legal Services of the Virgin Islands defended their respective FY 2024 Budgets.

In block one, Joel A. Lee, the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue delivered testimony. In testimony delivered by Lee, he revealed that the Department’s proposed FY 2024 budget totaled $13,818,313. This is fully funded from the General Fund. This budget represents a 6% decrease from the Fiscal Year 2023 revised budget of $14,333,921. Fiscal Year 2023’s budget was increased by $758,790 to fund negotiated wage increases. The FY 2024 budget request is almost entirely comprised of personnel costs. $6,628,998 for personnel, and $3,618,685 for related fringe benefits, totaling $10,247,683. The remaining is attributed to supplies of $321,200, other services and charges of $2,679,430, utilities of $380,000 and capital expenditures of $190,000.

This also includes IT maintenance support, elevator maintenance, vehicle maintenance, and maintenance of the Bureau’s machines and equipment. The Department has four rentals on the island of St. Thomas and two on the island of St. Croix for a total cost of $831,665. $144,290 is allocated for machine rentals. The proposed FY 2024 personnel cost of $6,628,998 funds a total of 157 positions. 105 positions are in St. Thomas, fifty are in St. Croix, and two are in St. John. Within the last fiscal year, there have been two new hires, two promotions, eight resignations, and two retirements. Within the budget, there are thirty-three funded vacancies. The Department has two GVI Fellows, one in St. Thomas and on St. Croix. Lee stated the Department has had issues with retention of employees, calling it a “training ground” for accountants stating that they eventually move on to other departments and more lucrative positions. Lee further mentioned that the Bureau’s current tax system was implemented in 2000, stating that the system is reaching the end of its useful life.

Chair Donna A. Frett-Gregory continued to voice her commitment to the budget process, stating that “We have to figure out how serious we are about collecting our revenues,” stating that “If we are not supporting the internal revenue, we are not doing our job.” She urged the department to submit their needs, particularly voicing concern over lack of enforcement officers in the Excise Tax Division.

In block two, Wayne Biggs, the Chief Executive Officer of the V.I. Economic Development Authority delivered testimony. The total proposed budget for the 2024 Fiscal Year totals $6,613,000, which is the same that was requested in Fiscal Year 2023. During the first half of Fiscal Year 2023, 63% of the USVIED’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) across all departments and divisions had a completion rate of 50% or higher, and 33% of the KPIs had been met or were nearing completion. The Fiscal Year 2024 budget is inclusive of $3,210,696 for Personnel Services, which funds forty-seven full-time positions. These forty-seven full-time positions are also inclusive of filled positions, existing vacancies and two new positions.

Of these positions, there are twenty-nine positions in the St. Thomas – St. John District, and eighteen in the St. Croix District. There are thirty-three classified positions and fourteen unclassified positions. Two new positions added to the department include a Director of State Business Credit Initiative, who would be responsible for overseeing the Territory’s 90 SSBCI Program and ensuring strict compliance with all federal guidelines and ninety-one regulations, and an EDC Compliance Officer, who would assist the EDC 92 Compliance Unit with managing its growing EDC beneficiary portfolio. In Fiscal Year 2023, three new hires were onboarded, bringing the total amount to thirty-four employees. Of these thirty-four employees, twenty are in the St. Thomas – St. John District and fourteen are in the St. Croix District. This number excludes three employees of the EDPC (Economic Development Park Corporation) which operates as a fully autonomous unit.

There are currently thirteen vacancies at the Authority. An additional employee at the EDPC is currently being onboarded. The budget includes $1,055,550 in professional services, an increase from $901,835 in Fiscal Year 2023. $512,500 is budgeted for marketing. $218,814 of the advertising and promotion budget will be repurposed to professional services to support the recently executed contract with an international marketing firm to launch a global marketing campaign.

In block three, Gary Molloy, the Commissioner of the Department of Labor delivered testimony. The proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget for the Department totals $22,267,708. $12,729,388 is requested from the General Fund. $7,842,135 comes from federal grants, $1,904,464 from the Government Insurance Fund, and Penalty and Interest contributes $191,720. Of the requested $12,729,388 from the General Fund, $4,066,249 is dedicated for personnel services, $4,194,268 for Fringe Benefits, $446,902 for supplies, $2,791,370 for other services, $222,418 for utility services, and $1,008,000 for capital projects. The Department currently has 116 employees territory-wide. There are currently twenty-one vacant/new positions. The total budget for the Government Insurance Fund for FY 2024 is $1,405,043 budgeted for salaries and fringe benefits for twenty-one positions, with a remaining $499,421 for mandatory operating costs.

The total federal budget for Fiscal year 2024 totals $4,073,898, which is budgeted for salary and fringe benefits. The remaining $3,768,238 is allotted for other mandatory operating costs. These funds are used to help serve the US Virgin Islands workforce and community, with employment services, unemployment insurance, job placement, workers’ compensation insurance, and other services and compliance as mandated by local and federal law. Molloy reminded the body that the focus of the department going forward is to continue operations to be more customer service centered through the automation of manual processes, and the integration of key services in key areas. VIDOL expects to receive $7,842,135 for Fiscal Year 2024 from federal grants.

These funds have been marked for specific initiatives. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) & Employment Services (ES) grants in total is $4,417,113 with the WIOA funds being $2,345,202 and the ES grants totaling $2,071,911. The Unemployment Insurance grants will provide $2,545,771. The Labor Force Statistics and Compensation Safety & Health grants will provide $435,747 which the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to conduct surveys and compile Virgin Islands employment data. Occupational Safety and Health State Grant will provide $294,205. The Jobs for Veterans Grant will provide $149,301, which is used to fund VIDOL’s Disabled Veteran’s Outreach Program (DVOP), which provides two dedicated coordinators to assist our Veterans.

Workforce Development expects to receive $4,417,113 from the WIOA and ES Federal Grant and requests $1,660,617 from the General Fund. The general fund monies are utilized for the Summer Youth Work Experience Program, and the administrative and operating costs for Youth Employment and Youth apprenticeship. More than eight hundred youth in all programming were served through the Youth team. Labor relations is requesting $338,926 from the general fund. Workers Compensation is expected to receive $1,445,097 from the Government Insurance Fund for personnel, fringe benefits, and other services. The Division of Occupational Safety is scheduled to receive $294,205 in federal grants, $459,376 from the Government Insurance Fund, and requests $151,837 from the General Fund.
Chairperson Donna A. Frett-Gregory continued to caution departments to properly budget. Frett-Gregory stated that agencies had fund balances that were millions of dollars in the negative.

Finally, in Block four, Shelby King-Gaddy, Esq, the Executive Director of Legal Services of the Virgin Islands delivered testimony. The proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget for the department totaled $2,007,700, the same as FY 2023. Per King-Gaddy’s testimony, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands has been in a state of rebuilding to replace the experienced attorney resources that were lost after the hurricanes of 2017. There are seven attorneys at LSVI. Four are in St. Croix. This does not include the Executive Director. There are three in St. Thomas. The St. Croix office has an outstanding offer to an attorney awaiting admission to the Virgin Islands Bar Association. At the beginning of Fiscal Year 2023, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands was seeking to fill three attorney vacancies and asked the Legislature for additional funds to assist with attracting and retaining attorneys. Two positions were filled, and one outstanding offer has been extended. Legal Services is still in need of support staff to fill two positions to assist the attorneys.

In 2022, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands had a total of 855 cases. 585 cases were filed at the St. Thomas office and 270 cases were filed at the St. Croix office. To date, 2023 numbers suggest a 30% increase in cases. In 2022, 39% of cases were family law, including divorce, custody, and child support. Estate planning represented 38% of all cases. This included powers of attorney, last will and testaments, deeds of gift, and revocable transfer of death deeds. Housing issues represented 15% of total cases, an increase from 11% in 2021. A majority of the clients served by Legal Services were over the age of sixty. The second largest served population were people aged 26-45.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Diane T. Capehart, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Javan E. James, Sr., Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter.

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