ST. THOMAS– The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet continued budget hearings on Thursday in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall St. Thomas on the Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget. In the morning portion of the hearing, the Committee took testimony regarding the Office of the Governor (OOG) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In his testimony, Kevin Rodriquez, Deputy Chief of Staff for OOG stated that for Fiscal Year 2021, the overall proposed budget OOG is $10,966,511, which reflects an increase of approximately 7.07% over the Fiscal Year 2020 budget appropriation of $10,242,660.
He said for FY 2021, personnel costs are estimated to be $4,656,290 which represents 42.5% of the proposed budget. Those personnel costs are for seventy-nine (79) full-time positions, funded one hundred percent by the General Fund. He added that Employee Fringe Benefits account for $1,879,671. According to Rodriquez, fringe benefits cover employerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s retirement contributions, workers’ compensation premiums, social security contributions, or the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), Medicare, and health insurance premiums.
He told the Committee that the increase of the OOGÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s FY2021 budget by $723,85 is above their FY2020 request and is attributed to the inclusion of the $1,277,050 appropriation for Legal Services of the Virgin Islands. He said before the Fiscal Year 2021 budget recommendation, this appropriation was part of the general miscellaneous section of the Executive Budget. Absent the inclusion of this line item, the actual budget request for the Office of the Governor has decreased by $553,199 when compared to Fiscal Year 2020.
The rehabilitation of Government House on St. Thomas, Rodriquez said is currently in progress. The work is being performed by J. Benton Construction for $4,116,082.30. This being an Actual Cost project FEMA will pay the entire cost of the renovations less the required 10% match if the project stays within FEMAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Scope of Work. The Office of the Governor anticipates utilizing funds from the Community Development Block Grant Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Disaster Recovery Program to satisfy the required matching funds for this project. Based on changes and unforeseen conditions encountered, the expected completion date will likely be extended beyond the original contract completion date of February 12, 2021.
He pointed out that the Battery, restorations have commenced. Custom Builders, LLC, won the contract with a bid of $1,131,538.94. However, the discovery of asbestos in the removal of the old floor tiles along with some other structural issues not covered by the A/E scope will necessitate a contract modification. This project will be funded by insurance proceeds. The Public Assistance grants for repairs to Government House Christiansted and the Arthur Abel Complex in Frederiksted is near to being obligated. It is a generous grant that will allow for the repair of longstanding items at both facilities.
According to the Deputy Chief of Staff Rodriquez, the strategic priorities of the Bryan-Roach Administration remain unchanged these include, continued efforts towards the fiscal and operational stabilization of our government; rebuild the public trust in government through greater transparency; ensure proper stewardship of federal disaster recovery funds and timely execution of projects; and pursue private sector driven economic development.
In her testimony, Denise George, Attorney General, said this year, the Governor, in consultation with staff and herself, is requesting the amounts from the General FundÃ¢â‚¬â€ Personnel Services-$8,354,004.00; Fringe Benefits-$3,013,298.00; Supplies (including office supplies, operating supplies, vehicle supplies, and small tools and minor equipment)-$442,443.00; Other Services (including such things as rent, training, professional services, automotive repair, airfare, and advertising)-$5,728,577.00; and Capital ProjectsÃ¢â‚¬â€Machine Equipment & Misc.-$120,000.00. The total General Fund, she added came to $17,658,322.00.
According to the Attorney General, $9,121,286.00 of the DepartmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s budget is funded by federal grants. Thus, the total of the DepartmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposed budget, including local and federal funds, is $26,779,608.00. She pointed out that this represents a decrease or cut from the 2020 Fiscal Year in the amount of $1,311,420.13.
She said that one of the chronic challenges facing the Department is attorney retention. Meeting its obligations under the various collective bargaining agreements will go a long way towards the Department achieving this objective. Unfortunately, she added, delays in funding step increases for attorneys who are on board has, to some extent, prevented the Department from achieving its retention goals.
According to her, once an attorney joins the Department, it takes years for the attorney to move to the appropriate step on the pay scale. Newly hired attorneys, however, are paid on the current pay scale when he or she joins the Department. This creates an inequitable situation where two attorneys may be barred for the same number of years, but the newly hired attorney receives a higher salary than the attorney who has been working with the Department for several years.
This disparity, she said does little to help morale or enable the DOJ to retain experienced attorneys. She added, to place attorneys on the appropriate step, DOJ needs an additional $125,455.00 for Fiscal Year 2021.
ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s FY 2021 Budget Hearing will continue with presentations from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), and the Virgin Islands Labor Management (LMC).
Senators present during todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hearing were Chairman Senator Kurt Vialet, Myron Jackson, Novelle E. Francis, Marvin Blyden, Athneil Ã¢â‚¬Å“BobbyÃ¢â‚¬Â Thomas, Kenneth Gittens, Donna Frett-Gregory, Janelle Sarauw, Dwayne DeGraff, and Oakland Benta.