ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, chaired by Senator Donna A. Frett Gregory began budget hearings at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers received testimony on the Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Virgin Islands Department of Education (DOE), the Board of Education (BOE), and the Virgin Islands Career & Technical Board defended their budgets.
Senator Frett-Gregory reminded the Senate to be cautious about expanding the budget in the absence of unidentified revenues. Frett-Gregory stated that the government would have been in financial jeopardy if funds had not been received following the passage of the 2017 hurricanes.
Jenifer O’Neal, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, shared testimony. The FY 2024 totals $10,903,609. The General Fund contributes $8,797,109, while the Indirect Cost Fund contributes $2,106,500. The breakdown of the General Fund is as follows: Personnel Costs $4,807,280, fringe benefits $2,122,410, other services and charges $1,619,000, utilities $75,000, supplies $173,419 for a total of $8,797,109. There are no funds for capital outlay. Senator Frett-Gregory inquired about the specification of the supplies. In response, O’Neal stated that funding for supplies is utilized for operational purposes. Moreover, the Indirect Cost Fund is divided into the following: Supplies $1,153,558, other services and charges $842,403, utilities $95,539, and capital outlay $15,000 for a total of $2,106,500. The proposed budget funds 59 full-time posts, including 22 new and empty positions, of which 19 are unclassified/exempt and three are classified, non-union. There are 28 unclassified and 9 classified non-union positions available. There are five new roles available. The GVI Fellows Program is budgeted for $2,602,512 in Fiscal Year 2024.
Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, EdD, Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Education provided their proposed FY 2024 budget request. The governor’s recommended appropriation for VIDE from the General Fund totals $174,300,650. Compared to the FY 2023 appropriations of $174,191,840, there is an increase for FY 2024 totaling $93,810. The FY 2024 General Fund budget breakdown is as follows: Personnel services $108,392,059, fringe benefits $53,662,420, supplies $1,648,000, other services $3,368,171, utilities $5,000,000, and Miscellaneous $2,230,000. Additionally, the Tourism Fund has a miscellaneous appropriation of $500,000. This brings the overall FY 2024 budget to $174,800,650. VIDE, according to Wells-Hendrington, submitted a supplemental budget packet outlining the breakdown of other mandatory costs needed whenever additional funding is identified. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory drilled down on the funding source for the Summer Lunch Program, reimbursable funding, and summer student hires. In response, Belinda Sanderson, State Director of Special Nutrition stated that the Federal Government provides funding for the Summer Nutrition Program, the reimbursable program is based on the number of meals served per student, and summer student employees are funded by both the Federal Government along with a small local allotment.
Dr. Kyza A. Callwood, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Board of Education shared testimony. The Governor has recommended $2,387,697 for FY 2024, a Line-Item appropriation in the miscellaneous section. The breakdown is as follows: Personnel Services $797,953, fringe benefits $784,637, supplies $87,500, other services $585,407, utilities $42,200, and capital outlays $90,000. One of the major challenges of VIBE is the lack of staff and filling vacancies. However, accomplishments are inclusive of launching the online certification application, certification records are in the process of being reviewed by Education Certification professionals and continuing to update the Internal Operations Policy Manual. Senator Frett-Gregory stated that VIBE did not defend the FY 2024 budget in its testimony; only a narrative was provided. Based on the information, VIBE will have to submit an FY 2024 budget that justifies the recommendation of over $2.3 million. Separately, Joann Murphy, Chairperson of the VI Career & Technical Education Board provided shared the budget update. The FY 2024 budget Governor’s recommendation lump sum appropriation totals $734,681. According to the Post Audit Report, CTEB originally requested $752,182.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marice C. James, Javan E. James, Samuel Carriόn, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Alma Francis Heyliger, and Carla J. Joseph.