St. Thomas

St. John



Published: Aug 13, 2022

ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt Vialet continued budget hearings today, in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. The agenda consisted of the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget proposals for the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission, The Virgin Islands Port Authority, and the Bureau of Corrections.

Vernice Gumbs, the Acting Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission delivered testimony. The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 for the Commission totaled $1,027,414. There are 12 total positions. Two positions were unclassified filled. Two positions were unclassified-vacant. There were six classified-filled positions. There were two classified-vacant positions.  

The Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission is a semi-autonomous agency of the Government of the Virgin Islands, comprised of a nine-member board. The members are appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. The board currently has seven members. According to Gumbs, there was a major reduction in business activity because of the office being closed due to COVID-19, and its inability to function remotely. Enforcement officers who would usually perform dedicated work to the Commission, were redirected to provide full hours to the COVID Task Force, under the direction of the Virgin Islands Police Department. During this time, the issuance of taxi citations were at a bare minimum. 

Gumbs spoke of the challenges that exist at the Commission, including the inability to process applications and offer payments through their website, the lack of an automated system, outdated computer hardware and software, unreliable internet and printing capabilities, and a shortage of enforcement officers to generate revenues throughout the territory. The Taxicab Commission board voted in June 2022 to increase the official tariff by 50%. The official tariff had not been increased since 2005.  

However, Senator Vialet voiced concern with the proposed budget stating that the Taxicab Commission was ill prepared for the budget hearing, citing the inability to provide exact data. A new budget hearing for the Taxicab Commission will be held at a future date. 

Carlton Dowe, the Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority delivered testimony. The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is $65.9 Million. The Virgin Islands Port Authority manages 14 seaports, as well as the Cyril E King Airport on St. Thomas, and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. The Authority is governed by a 9-member board. The Authority employs 328 permanent employees, and 18 temporary employees, a total of 346 territory wide. There are 108 employees in the St. Croix district and 238 in the St. Thomas-St. John district. There are currently 97 vacancies. 64 of those vacancies have been funded in the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget. 33 positions are on hold and are temporarily unfunded.  

Dowe stated that the last two years were particularly difficult because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The territory received no cruise ship visits for an 18-month period. There were no cruise ships in the territory from March 2020. The first cruise ship returned to St. Thomas on July 20, 2021, and August 8, 2021, on St. Croix. Cargo imports decreased by 30%. There was a loss of maritime revenue of $9.6 million in marine revenues for Fiscal Year 2020, and $18 Million in Fiscal Year 2021. It is expected that the cruise industry will return fully by January 2023. 

Wynnie Testamark, the Director of the Bureau of Corrections delivered testimony. The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is $37,171,087, an 8.9% reduction from the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget of $41,719,068. The Bureau has 287 budgeted positions. 180 of these positions are filled, 93 of the positions are vacant, and 14 are new. Of the budgeted positions, 221 are classified and 66 are unclassified. According to Testamark, salaries of correctional officers and other staff have been increased based on collective bargaining agreements. Correction officers’ pay rose by an average of 45.4% and some by as much as 72%. There has been an increased emphasis on recruitment. Seventeen correctional recruits have joined the Bureau of Corrections since January 2021. Six correctional recruits are currently in POST training, and three recruits were hired in March, May, and June 2022. Twenty-six persons submitted job applications to become police officers. The Bureau is also preparing for salary adjustments.  

Testamark mentioned that as of August 1, 2022, the Bureau houses 246 inmates locally. 106 are housed at CJC and 140 at John Bell. 236 of these inmates are male, and 8 are female. 163 inmates are housed at off island facilities in the United States Mainland in Florida, Virginia, and Mississippi. The Bureau is responsible for all inmates in its custody, including those housed off island. The Bureau was one of the first correctional agencies nationwide to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to all inmates. It is now a CDC authorized provider of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. No inmate or detainee required hospitalization since the beginning of the pandemic. The Bureau is also a party to two separate consent decrees, one covering conditions of confinement at the John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility on St. Croix, and one covering the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas. 

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James, Sr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Angel Bolques, Jr, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Franklin D. Johnson. 


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