ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt A. Vialet convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday to receive testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Invited testifiers are officials from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), and the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission.
The governor’s recommended FY 2021 budget for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources totals $64,408,411. Overall, the budget is inclusive of $3,077,437 for the Non-Appropriated Local Fund, $54,038,788 for Federal Funds, and $7,292,186 for the General Fund; according to DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol. In comparison to the FY 2020 General Fund appropriation of $9,168,043, this is a decrease of $1,875,857 or 20.46%. Amid the adverse effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the economy of the Virgin Islands, Oriol noted that the reduction is the result of a decline in revenue collections. Furthermore, DPNR is anticipating a decrease in federal awards that are derived based on revenue collections. The FY 2021 budget is as follows: $1,692,963 for fringe benefits, $145,541 for supplies, $2,032,106 for other services, and $3,421,576 for personnel. In response to Sen. Marvin Blyden’s inquiry regarding vacancies, Oriol indicated that filling job openings is a challenge. A full complement of staff totals 200 positions. Presently, DPNR has 162 employees and 38 vacancies. “DPNR is not at fault for the vacancies. The Government of the Virgin Islands has to develop a plan to fill vacancies across the board,” Sen. Vialet said.
Thus far, DPNR Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning made significant progress. Oriol mentioned that to date DPNR issued 423 earth change permits, 2,234 business licenses, eight major CZM permits for zoning compliance, and 31 zoning applications. Moreover, DPNR processed 1430 boat registrations, 298 mooring registrations, and 350 for anchoring. Sen. Athneil Thomas stated that the Territory has seen an increase of boaters since the occurrence of the pandemic and inquired about the collection of anchoring fees. Oriol noted that since April 30th, DPNR collected over $30,000 in anchoring fees. Although boaters can renew anchoring fees monthly, there has been a steady decline since USVI re-opened in June.
BMV Director Barbara Jackson-McIntosh mentioned that the proposed FY 2021 budget totals $4,805,322. Although the budget ceiling is $3,186,216. The FY 2021 budget breakdown is as follows: $2,186,216 is from the General Fund and $1,000,000 from the BMV Fund. Both funds will be used for personnel services. Additionally, $1,619,106 is from the Personalized License Plate Fund which covers supplies, fringe benefits, operating expenses, maintenance, and utilities. McIntosh noted that one of the goals for FY 2021 is to build a state-of-art BMV facility. The funding sources for the facility is realized from FEMA and the Legislature of the Virgin Islands upon approval of the FY 2021 budget. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the Territory and severely damaged the current building.
Lastly, the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission Executive Director Shane Benjamin noted that the primary funding source for the Commission is the Taxi License Fund as mandated by Act No. 5172. Revenues are collected from citations, sale of medallions, issuance of business licenses, and other paid services. Moreover, the FY 2021 budget request totals $830,840. The budget breakdown is as follows: $491,674 for personnel services, $262,966 for fringe benefits, $15,966 for supplies, and $60,234 for other services. Accomplishments are the launch of the Commission’s website, acquiring five new vehicles, and training applicants for the Taxi Certification Program, according to Benjamin. ###