BILL TO INCREASE MANDATORY RETIREMENT FOR ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS AND FIREFIGHTERS FROM 55 TO 63 ADVANCES

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, convened in a meeting in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Chambers to receive testimony on several measures regarding extending the mandatory retirement age for law enforcement officers and firefighters from 55 to 63,establishing a Cruz Bay Fish Market, and collecting Hotel Room Tax from travel organizations.

Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for Bill No. 34-0099- An Act amending Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 25, sections 530 (g) and chapter 27, section 705(c), relating to the mandatory retirement age of police officers, firefighters, and prison guards to change the mandatory retirement age from 55 to 63. The bill was sponsored by Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff. The Virgin Islands Police Department Commissioner Nominee Ray Martinez indicated that although the measure aids in resolving the lack of manpower by extending the tour of duty for law enforcement professionals, the Government of the Virgin Islands assumes a total of $3,663,407.39 in salaries for those officers aged 55-63. Furthermore, Martinez stated that once the law is enacted a total of 47 officers will be mandated to retire by 2022. Similarly, in a written testimony submitted to the Legislature, the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark noted that an additional $10.1 million for the next ten years is required to compensate correctional officers with over 20 years of service. Despite an increase in the budget, Testamark stated that retaining seasoned corrections officers would assist in the mitigation of staff shortages. The Virgin Islands Fire Service Assistant Director Antonio Stevens mentioned that increasing the retirement age from 55-63 does not affect the minimum requirement for retirement for firefighters. However, employees will have an option to continue working once physically capable.

Senators voted favorably for Bill No. 34-0089- An Act appropriating $920,000 to the Virgin Islands Port Authority for the construction of an aesthetically pleasing Cruz Bay fish market and to modify the existing concrete boat ramp and bulkhead at the Little Cruz Bay Dock, Cruz Bay Quarter; and appropriating $580,000 to the Department of Public Works for the construction of a boat dock and slipway at Enighed Pond on the island of St. John. Senators Steven D. Payne, Sr. and Janelle K. Sarauw are sponsors of the bill. In support of the measure, the Virgin Islands Port Authority Senior Staff Attorney Vincent Frazer noted that the fish market will support amenities for the fishing community on St. John, stimulate the economy, and provide fresh food for residents. Collectively, lawmakers applauded the measure citing that the Cruz Bay fish market is long overdue.

Lastly, policymakers voted and approved Bill No. 34-0070- An Act amending Title 33 Virgin Islands Code, subtitle 1, part I, chapter 3, section 54(b) relating to the remittance of the hotel room tax to the Government from travel organizations; and requiring the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the assistance of the Commissioner of Tourism, to enter into an agreement with all travel organizations that offer sleeping accommodations in the Virgin Islands to collect the Hotel Room Tax required under 33 V.I.C. §54. In support of the bill, the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism’s Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman Todman stated that some of the challenges include costs that appear expensive to book in the Virgin Islands, potential for lower bookings from travelers, and lower booking prices in the travel market. Senators attending the meeting: Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Samuel Carrión, Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Janelle K. Sarauw, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna A. Frett Gregory, Javan E. James, Sr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Franklin D. Johnson.