ST. CROIX- The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet continued budget hearings Thursday, in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. The agenda consisted of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Budget proposals for the Judiciary of the Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
The Committee received testimony from the Honorable Rhys S. Hodge, the Chief Justice of the Virgin Islands. Chief Justice Hodge stated that the Judiciary had encountered several obstacles, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. The Judicial Branch’s Budget request totaled $43,104,318. Chief Justice Hodge
stated that due to voluntary turnover, it loses employees quicker than it can replace them. In Fiscal Year 2021, the Judicial Branch hired 35 new employees. However, 42 employees separated from the Judicial Branch, causing a net loss of seven employees. As of May 31, 2022, the Judicial Branch employed 299
persons, which was 18 fewer employees than in 2019. The losses have been concentrated among its skilled workers and its most critical operational areas. From 2018 to date, 63% of talent at the Judicial Branch was lost, with the highest turnover coming from the Superior Court Clerk’s Office, which experienced 27 voluntary resignations in the last two years alone. The Judicial Branch has a total of 425 positions; however, the budget request only considers funding for 346 of the positions in FY 2023. Chief Justice Hodge reminded the body that the budget request was the minimum level of funding needed to operate, and that it did not include all the funds needed to operate at full capacity. There were 40 funded vacancies.
In addition, the Committee received testimony from Daryl A. George Sr., the Director of the newly combined Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services (VIFEMS). The requested budget for the agency totals $30,176,960 which accounts for a 7% increase from the FY 2022 appropriation. The
passage of Bill No. 34-0101 transitioned the former Virgin Islands Fire Services to an all hazards, first responder agency that is responsible for the delivery of EMS, fire protection and other life safety and emergency services. The name of the agency has now been changed to the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services to reflect its expanded mandate. 10 fire station locations will continue to be operated by the agency and each will have the ability to provide fire and EMS response. The newly combined VIFEMS will have 308 employees organized into four units, the Suppression Unit, the Arson Investigation and Prevention Unit, the Administrative Unit, and the Emergency Medical Services Unit. The Fiscal Year 2023 Budget covers 277 positions. There are 22 new positions and 10 vacant positions.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Javan E. James, Sr, Carla J. Joseph, Kenneth L. Gittens and Janelle K. Sarauw.