ST. CROIX Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Members of the 35th Legislature of the Virgin IslandsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, led by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room 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 Human Services, the Virgin Islands Office of the Territorial Public Defender, and the V.I. Labor Management Committee and the V.I. Public Employees Relations Board.
In block one, Kimberly Causey-Gomez, the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Health delivered testimony. The total recommended funding for Fiscal Year 2024 is $257,824,393. A general fund appropriation of $72,331,610 has been recommended for FY 2024. The Department is expected to receive $182,844,930 in federal funds, making up 71% of the total funds. Additionally, $2,647,853 in non-appropriated funds is expected, comprising 1% of the total funds. In the miscellaneous portion of the budget, there are allocations for centenarians, amounting to $75,000 and $500,000 in energy crisis funds.
Personnel services costs are recommended at $20,047,018, or about 27.72% of the budget. Fringe benefit costs are $10,051,491, or 13.9% of the total budget. The department has 638 positions. 361 are on St. Croix. 272 are on St. Thomas and five are on St. John. Of these employees, 290 of them are funded 100% by the Government of the Virgin Islands. 233 of them are federally funded employees, (including 42 SCSEP positions) and eighty-two are Government of the Virgin Islands/Federal Match positions. There are currently 148 vacancies. There are seventy-eight exempt positions. 496 positions are unionized. Forty-seven positions are nonexempt. There are 142 nonunion positions. There are fifty-six other volunteers or part-time employees. There were forty-four new hires. There were eight rehires. Six were transfers from other GVI departments. There were nine internal promotions. Fifteen employees retired. Three employees passed away. Five employees resigned. Four are pending dismissal.
The department began FY 2023 with 197 vacancies. Of the 197 vacancies, eighty-two are supported by the general fund. Eighty-five are federally funded positions. Thirty positions are supported by general fund and federal allocations. $1,060,319 has been allocated for supplies. Other services costs are $38,498,792, an increase of about 10% from Fiscal Year 2023. These increases are attributed to rate increase for court ordered residential placements and include increases for the first time in seven to ten years. Utilities have decreased from FY2023, estimated at $2.3 Million. Capital outlays is $374,000.
The department anticipates receiving federal grant funding in the amount of $182,844,930. These grands originate from federal partners, including the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, the US Department of Justice, and the Corporation for National and Community Services. The department also anticipates receiving $60 Million in SNAP benefits. The Department has collaborated with the Office of Disaster Recovery to enhance disaster recovery efforts. $83,688,471.14 for FEMA PA projects and $3,651,784.94 for HMGP projects. An additional $258,336,104.75 is to be obligated for FEMA PA. Replacements are pending for facilities the department utilizes. These include $128 Million for the St. Thomas Knud Hansen Complex, Herbert Grigg Home for the aged at $129 Million, and the Queen Louise Home for the Aged at $66,782,944.53. Repairs for the Cruz Bay Multipurpose Center are in the amount of $2,325,153.61. The Head Start Program received $41,154,092 in federal disaster recovery grants.
Chair Donna A Frett Gregory voiced concern with the department stating that Ã¢â‚¬Å“we have to come to a point where we have to get serious about our collaboration.Ã¢â‚¬Â Frett-Gregory stated that there was no synergy or collaboration within the Department. Additionally, Frett-Gregory voiced further concern over the prevalent poverty level in the US Virgin Islands, which was estimated to be 40%. Furthermore, Frett-Gregory voiced additional issues with the high number of vacancies in the department despite the large number of job applicants.
In block two, Julie Smith-Todman, Esq., the Interim Chief Public Defender from the Office of the Territorial Public Defender delivered testimony. The proposed budget for the Office for Fiscal Year 2024 is $5,372,220, the same allotment that was provided for Fiscal Year 2023. The office has two divisions, one in the St. Croix District, and the other in the St. Thomas/St. John district. Each division is currently staffed with attorneys who are licensed to practice law in the US Virgin Islands or specifically admitted to practice law in the Virgin Islands on behalf of the OTPD. The St. Croix district currently has five trial attorneys. Another trial attorney is scheduled to join the St. Croix district on July 31, 2023. Other staff include the administrator, one investigator, one fiscal accountant, one paralegal, (one who is bilingual) two legal secretaries, (one who is bilingual), the Director of Information Technology, one receptionist, and one custodian.
The St. Thomas/St. John district is comprised of four trial attorneys, and one appellate attorney. An additional trial attorney is scheduled to join the St. Thomas/St. John district on August 14, 2023. Additional staff in the district include the Assistant Administrator, one investigator, one paralegal, four legal secretaries (including the appellate secretary) and one secretary who is bilingual, one receptionist, one messenger, and one custodian. Several OTPD personnel serve both districts. Those include the Chief Territorial Public Defender, Fiscal Account, Director of Information Technology, and the Appellate Attorney. All employees are unclassified and are members of the Government Employees Retirement System. The office has a total of twenty-nine employees.
Territory wide, the OTPD has 938 open cases as of June 30, 2023. There are 555 cases in St. Croix as of June 30, 2023. These include 367 felonies, twenty-two murders, eighty-three misdemeanors, eight juvenile matters, and 75 DUI cases. 151 new cases have been appointed this year through June 30, 2023, in the St. Croix district. These include seventy-five felonies, forty-nine misdemeanors, ten juvenile matters, and seventeen DUI cases. There are 383 total cases in the St. Thomas/St. John district as of June 30, 2023. These included 238 felonies, nine murders, eighty-one misdemeanors, sixteen juvenile matters, 31 DUI cases, and eight appeals. 165 new cases were appointed in the St. Thomas/St. John district as of June 30, 2023. These included 102 felonies, forty-two misdemeanors, ten juvenile matters, and eleven DUI cases. The average case load for trial attorneys ranges from 69 to 100 cases per month. There are five judges and two magistrate judges in the St. Thomas/St. John district and 5 Judges and two magistrate judges in the St. Croix District.
In block three, Nichole Samuel-Miller, Executive Director of the Public Employees Relations Board delivered testimony. The PERB is comprised of four board members. PERB employs a total of eleven employees, nine on St. Croix and two on St. Thomas. The Fiscal Year 2024 recommended budget totals $1,796,909. Of this amount, personnel services account for a total of $805,020, fringe benefits at $339,241, supplies at $28,226, other charges and services at $307,822, and utilities at $16,600. An additional $300,000 is requested to restructure the agency to bring it up to par with sister agencies nationwide.
Additionally, Joseph Gumbs, a member of the Labor Management Committee delivered testimony on behalf of Yirah Tutein, its Executive Director. The total Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for the Committee totals $200,000. $138,000 covers personnel, which includes three full-time employees and one part-time employee. $14,000 covers fringe benefits. $5,000 covers the cost of office supplies. $48,000 covers other services and charges. This includes professional services for workshops, network and communications, rental costs for office space, cost of utilities, and cost of interisland travel. An executive committee heads the Virgin Islands Labor Management Committee. It is comprised of ten members, five from Labor, and five from management.
Senators present at todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Diane T. Capehart, Samuel CarriÃƒÂ³n, Dwayne M. Degraff, Ray Fonseca, Kenneth L. Gittens, Marise C. James, Javan E. James, Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, and Carla J. Joseph.