DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, HOUSING AUTHORITY AND BMV DEFEND FISCAL YEAR 2023 BUDGET

Published: Aug 23, 2022

ST. CROIX – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet, continued budget hearings today, at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. The agenda consisted of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget proposals for the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, the Virgin Islands Housing Authority, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Denise George, Esq., the Attorney General of the United States Virgin Islands delivered testimony on behalf of the Virgin Islands Department of Justice. The proposed budget for the Department was $19,220,118. This included $10,661,090 for personnel services, $3,998,407 for Fringe Benefits, $171,144 for Supplies, $4,074,404 for other services, such as rent, training, professional services, automotive repair, airfare, and advertising, $256,560 for utilities, and $58,513 for capital projects. The Department of Justice has 166 employees. 100 employees are in the St. Thomas-St. John District. 66 employees are in the St. Croix District. 40 employees are attorneys, and the remaining 126 are critical staff. There were seven vacancies. As of August 15, 2022, 25 individuals had left the Department. However, George said that 23 new employees had been hired in the last fiscal year. This included 10 new attorneys and 13 additional staff. Two additional employees will join the Department before the end of the month.

George mentioned the successes of the Department of Justice, saying that the Department had just won an excise tax case, which brought millions of dollars in revenue back to the territory. It also prevailed in an attempt in federal court to sue the government on ancillary excise tax refund claims and prevented the loss of millions of dollars in revenue, by defending the constitutionality of the timeshare tax. The Department of Justice represented the Government of the Virgin Islands in the GERS District Court and Superior Court Cases that resulted in negotiations for the dismissal of both cases that ensured the successful refinancing of the outstanding matching fund revenue bonds for the benefit of GERS. She mentioned that a new St. Croix Medical Examiner’s Office would be completed by the end of 2022. George said that the biggest challenges in the Department included staffing and proper compensation for staff.

Robert Graham, CPM, the Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority delivered testimony. The Fiscal Year of the Housing Authority differs from that of the Fiscal Year of the Government of the Virgin Islands. The Fiscal Year for the Housing Authority begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st. VIHA’s total budget for Fiscal Year 2022 totaled $57,527,913. This is derived solely from HUD Federal Funding. This included $18,198,147 in Public Housing Operating Subsidy, $15,550,557 for Housing Choice Voucher Program, $11,237,290 for Capital Fund Grant Program (2022), and $10,386, 491 for the Capital Fund Grant Program (2021).  In Fiscal Year 2022, there were 240 budgeted full-time positions. There were 106 exempt active positions, 32 vacant exempt positions, 70 nonexempt active positions and 32 vacant nonexempt positions. The Authority manages approximately 3,000 public housing units in 21 communities. Public housing inventory consists of 11 property groupings called Asset Management Projects (AMPs). The inventory is grouped into four AMPS in the St. Thomas-St. John District and seven in the St. Croix District. VIHA directly operates nine AMPs, while two, the Louis E. Brown Villas I and Louis E. Brown Villas II, are privately managed.

Graham spoke of the issues that existed when it comes to securing housing in the territory. Programs such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program have been highlighted, but the territory has a severe lack of units to rent. The Authority pays about $15 Million annually in Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) to about 800 landlords in the territory and the mainland. During Fiscal Year 2022, the Authority expects to pay, on average about $824 per month or $9,888 annually to landlords to house an average household of three persons. The Authority spends about 19% more than in the mainland to house individuals. The average payment per household in the mainland is about $8,000. As of June 2022, the tenant based, and project-based waiting list combined consisted of about 4,700 families. The average wait time for individuals on the tenant-based waiting list is two years.

Barbara Jackson-McIntosh, the Director of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles delivered testimony. The proposed total budget for the Bureau totals $5,247,685. This includes $2,856,322 from the General Fund, $1,004,570 in the BMV Fund and $1,386,793 appropriated from the Personalized License Plate Fund. The Bureau currently consists of 63 positions, of which 61 are filled. There are two vacancies. Seven positions have been requested to be added within the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. The entire General Fund and BMV Fund appropriation will be used for personnel services, while the Personalized License Plate Fund will be used for personnel services, fringe benefits, supplies, rent, utilities, as well as maintenance and operating expenses.

Jackson-McIntosh spoke about the various improvements that the BMV had undergone. The St. Thomas office has been relocated so that it can be demolished and renovated. The St. Croix office has not been relocated because the Bureau is working with FEMA to get the necessary authorization to consolidate and to work in conjunction with the Department of Property and Procurement to use the BMV and the P&P project worksheet to complete the building. The integration of BMV and Superior Court databases was completed through a grant. As a result of this work, real time information can be verified, such as when a lien is placed on a vehicle for unpaid traffic tickets. Online services, which began in 2020, have serviced more than 15,000 customers. These services have included an electronic queue system, where customers can schedule their own appointments and receive reminders. A paper reduction initiative is also being undertaken, where most forms will be completed by a customer service representative and signed by the customer using an electronic signature pad. Customers can also complete and upload forms online.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Kurt Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Javan E. James, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter.

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