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 at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands. Lawmakers received testimony concerning the budgets of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement, and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority.
In block one, Lisa Alejandro, Commissioner Nominee for the Department of Property of Property and Procurement delivered testimony. Per Alejandro’s testimony, the general fund request for Fiscal Year 2024 is $13,759,829, which is the same as Fiscal Year 2023. Of this request, personnel services is funded at $2,773,915, which covers 29 filled exempt positions, totaling $1,936,500, and 15 filled classified positions in the amount of $635,715, and four vacant exempt positions in the amount of $158,700. There is one vacant classified position in the amount of $43,000. Fringe benefits is funded at $1,302,088. Operating supplies is funded at $426,940. Utilities are funded at $400,000. Other services is funded at $8,856,885. Included within other services is $7,357,300, to cover associated costs with the Government’s property insurance program. Mandatory operating costs such as personnel, fringe benefits, utilities, and insurance are satisfied, the department’s actual operating budget from the General Fund is $1,926,526.
The operating budget request for Fiscal Year 2024 under the business and commercial properties revolving fund is $4,839,130. This covers personnel services of 2,680,885 for thirty-two filled Exempt positions, $1,985,300 and $332,435 for eight classified filled positions. There are five vacant exempt positions budgeted at $288,500 and two vacant classified positions at $74,650. Fringe Benefits is budgeted at $1,205,363. Operating supplies is budgeted at $173,000. Other Services is budgeted at $679,882; and utilities is budgeted at $100,000. The indirect cost fund request for Fiscal Year 2024 is $185,000.
The Department has 84 active full-time employees. 48 employees are in the St. Thomas – St. John District and 36 are in the St. Croix District. 23 employees are classified, and 61 employees are exempt. Two employees were promoted. Eight new employees were hired. Nine employees were lost due to eight resignations and one retirement.
Senator Donna A. Frett Gregory continued to express concern about the negative fund balances that have appeared in certain departments.
In block two, Lydia Pelle, Chief Operating Officer of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority delivered testimony. The Housing Authority’s Fiscal Year differs from that of the Government of the Virgin Islands, starting on January 1, and ending on December 31. Each year, the Department provides a framework for their budgets by sharing the trends in federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. VIHA receives no local appropriations from the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Locally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide $59,507,857 to the Housing Authority to assist about 4,000 families with housing in the territory. This will assist about $2,000 public housing families and up to 2,000 low to moderate income families that utilize Housing Choice Vouchers. During FY 2023, VIHA projects the Public Housing Operating Subsidy funds of $18.9 million, an increase of about $721,000 from Fiscal Year 2022. HUD provided $11.2 million in Capital Fund Grant Program funds used to maintain the Authority’s public housing inventory. This is about $851,000 more than the $10.4 Million that was received last year. VIHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program’s budget is $15,500,557, serving 700 landlords this year. The housing assistance payments to landlords total approximately $1.2 million to assist about 1500 eligible families with vouchers. Within the voucher program, there are six smaller grant allocations, totaling $1,068,902 for various special need families.
VIHA has 214 budgeted full-time positions, down from FY 2022’s 240 positions. There are 185 filled positions and 29 vacant full-time positions. There are 90 total exempt positions and 124 nonexempt positions.
VIHA’s public Housing inventory consists of 2,525 public housing units in 23 communities, which are then grouped into 11 property groupings called Asset Management Programs (AMPs). There are four AMPs in the St. Thomas-St John District and seven in the St. Croix district. VIHA directly operates nine. Two AMPs, the Louis E Brown Villas I and the Louis E Brown Villas II are privately managed. Budgeted expenditures for FY 2022 totaled $25 Million, and FY 2023 projected expenditures are $24.8 Million, with a cash flow of approximately $500,000. Per testimony delivered by Pelle, the authority has been working through the challenge of understaffing with almost 30 vacant positions, most of which are in the maintenance area. Supply chain issues and materials have prevented timely preventative maintenance. The average age of the public housing inventory is 50 years. The most recent physical needs assessment stated that over $200 Million would be needed to revitalize over 3,000 units of public housing.
The Authority has consistently paid its vendors within 30 days. It pays approximately $2 million in invoices monthly and pays 98% of all invoices. The Water and Power Authority has the most significant balance due to unresolved water consumption of approximately $3 Million. Discussions are ongoing with the authority to resolve the balance. Utilities comprise about 25% of the total operating budget of the authority. VIHA pays about $7 Million annually to WAPA for water and electricity.
Finally, in block three, the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission was scheduled to deliver budget testimony. However, Vernice Gumbs, the Executive Director, was unable to deliver testimony. According to Frett-Gregory, budgetary information was requested of all departments on February 27, 2023, with reports due on May 5, 2023. However, information was not received from the Taxicab Commission until July 12, 2023, which did not allow the Post Audit Division to properly analyze their budget. Chair Frett-Gregory voiced displeasure at the Taxicab Commission, stating that they had again disrespected the body. She further inquired that actuals from their Fiscal Year 2023 budget of $1,027,414 be produced.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Angel L. Bolques, Jr, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Kenneth L. Gittens, Javan E. James, Sr., Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter.