ST. THOMAS- The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet continued budget
hearings today, in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, St. Thomas. The day’s agenda consisted
of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Budget proposals for the Department of Public Works and the
Division of Personnel, along with two lease agreements.
The Committee received testimony from Derek A. Gabriel, the Commissioner of the Department
of Public Works. The recommended budget of the Department totaled $24,351,949 to be derived
from the General Fund. The Department currently has 230 employees. There were 22 new hires
and 23 vacancies. 11 resignations were submitted. Five employees were from the Dislocated
Worker Program, and four workers were from the Senior Community Services Employment
Program. Director Gabriel also spoke of staff shortages, which he sought to improve, as well as
the various road improvements that have been completed by the Department throughout the
Senator Vialet voiced concern over employee salaries, especially those of engineers within the
Department of Public Works. Director Gabriel agreed, stating that engineers with the applicable
experience should have an increased salary.
Testimony was also received from the Director of the Division of Personnel, Cindy L.
Richardson. Director Richardson informed the Body that 636 hiring actions were completed to
date for Fiscal Year 2022. This included 393 new employees to the Government of the Virgin
Islands. This totals 6,065 Government of the Virgin Islands employees. The Division of
Personnel currently has 43 funded positions. 42 of the positions are filled, with one vacancy. 28
positions are in the St. Thomas/St. John District and 15 are in the St. Croix District. 10 positions
are represented by a union. 16 positions are classified non-union, and 17 are exempt. The
recommended Fiscal Year 2023 and 2024 recommended budget totals $44.5 million.
Separately, the Committee heard testimony considering two lease agreements between the
Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through the Commissioner of the Department of
Property and Procurement and Liberty Mobile USVI, Inc., Bill No. 34-0254, an act approving
the leasing of an improved portion of Parcel No. 3C-C-1 Estate Fortuna, No. 8 West End
Quarter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands consisting of approximately 2,000 US square feet or 0.046
US acres of land and Bill No. 34-0276, an act approving the leasing of Parcel No. 6-4-1 Estate
Carolina, No. 1 Coral Bay Quarter, St. John, Virgin Islands to develop, construct, operate,
maintain, repair, replace and upgrade a wireless communication facility and for other related
Vincent Richards, the Deputy Commissioner of the Property & Printing Division of the Virgin
Islands Department of Property and Procurement delivered testimony in support of both
measures. Each lease is for a term of 10 years, with the option to renew for five additional
periods of 5 years each. These renewals are automatic, unless Liberty Mobile USVI Inc. provides
the Government with at least 30 days written notice that they will not renew the lease. The rent
for each referenced parcel will be $18,000 per year, payable in equal monthly installments of
$1,500 per month during the terms of this lease. Liberty Mobile USVI Inc. is also required to pay
the Government of the Virgin Islands 35% of any revenue generated from the collocation of any
equipment from other telecommunication providers on these communication towers.
Bala Balakrishnan, the General Manager of Liberty Mobile USVI provided additional testimony
in support of the measures. Balakrishnan informed the body that these lease agreements would
allow the construction of facilities that would improve wireless capabilities in the US Virgin
Islands, particularly for first responders. Neighborhoods such as Estate Fortuna and Estate
Carolina have been identified by Liberty Mobile as areas with poor or non-existent service. The
Coral Bay site would allow improved service in the Coral Bay, Eden, Palestina, Carolina, and
Calabash Boom areas. Estate Fortuna and its surrounding areas would also see improved
coverage. The Committee voted in favor of the proposed lease agreements and will be sent to the
Committee of Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden,
Dwayne M. DeGraff, Janelle K. Sarauw, Kenneth L. Gittens, Samuel Carrión, Javan E. James
and Franklin D. Johnson.