ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, led by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened a meeting regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands at the Capitol Building. Officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DCLA) and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) defended their FY 2024 budget.
Richard Tomas Evangelista, Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, stated that the FY 2024 budget totals $5,627,200. Compared to the FY 2023 budget of $4,709,779.00, this is an increase totaling $294,631. The breakdown of the General Fund allotment is as follows: $4,570,452 for the General Fund, $433,958 for operating funds, $1,511,996 for fringe benefits, and $3,058,456 for personnel services. Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff inquired about wage increases for DCLA’s employees. In response, Evangelista noted that all unionized employees received a raise upon concluding negotiations with their union. However, the executive team did not receive an increase. Negotiations with the Governor are ongoing to increase the salaries of the executive team. Lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of enforcement officers working night shifts to monitor businesses that operate during the evening hours. Senator Frett-Gregory stated that it is important that DCLA implement flex time with the existing officers to accommodate the night shift.
The breakdown of the FY 2024 operating budget is as follows: $323,358 for other services, $81,000 for utilities, and $29,600 for supplies. Overall, the budget consists of $5,004,410.00 from the General Fund and $500,000 in Consumer Protection Fund appropriations. Regarding the Office of Cannabis Regulation (OCR), senators questioned the availability of the document. In response, Evangelista indicated that DLCA received an updated draft of the proposed Rules and Regulations last week and forwarded it to the Department of Justice to review for legal sufficiency. Senator Frett-Gregory stated that the OCR cannot be unregulated.
Separately, VITEMA’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget request totals $9,944,83, according to Daryl D. Jaschen, Director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, who shared testimony. Out of that, $6,359,725 came from the General Fund, $2,605,618, from Federal Funds, and $979,494 from the Emergency Services Fund. Senator Frett-Gregory inquired about the total General Fund positions. In response, Winston Simon, Deputy Director of Finance, mentioned that there are a total of 70 positions funded by the General Fund. Jaschen added that there are 24 positions in the non-Emergency Call Center (ECC), and the remaining 46 positions in the ECC consist of two managers in each district and emergency call operators. There are 156 funded vacancies at VITEMA. One of the major challenges at VITEMA is attracting and retaining qualified personnel. Retaining is difficult due to uncompetitive salaries. Senator Kenneth Gittens asked if all the employees received premium pay. Jaschen stated that all the employees were paid.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Ray Fonseca, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Samuel Carriόn, and Javan E. James, Sr. ###