ST. THOMAS– Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Kurt A. Vialet, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building and received testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2023 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands. Invited testifiers are officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA), and the Office of the Adjutant General.
The governor’s recommended FY 2023 budget for the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources totals $8,500,413. DPNR Commissioner Jean Pierre Oriol stated that compared to the FY 2022 appropriation of $9,245,848, this is a reduction of $745,435. Moreover, the General Fund recommendation covers the mandated local match for federal awards, the Historic Preservation Commissions, the Tutu Wells Mitigation Site, and the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts. The breakdown of the FY 2023 budget is as follows: $2,104,593 for $171,500 for supplies; $419,268 for utilities; $1,656,147 for other services and charges, and $4,148,905 for personnel. In response to a line of questioning by lawmakers, Oriol stated that the DPNR has 87 vacancies that are all critical positions, and the goal is to hire new employees instead of hiring people currently employed by the government of the Virgin Islands. Senator Vialet queried the spike in vacancies from 40 to 87. According to Celia Jackson-Williams, DPNR Personnel Relations Coordinator, the additional 47 positions are not yet listed but will be soon. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory stated that recruitment may be challenging due to DPNR offering uncompetitive salaries. It is important that the salaries are attractive.
In addition to the General Fund appropriations, Oriol noted that the overall budget also includes federal grant funds totaling $12,196,999 and non-appropriated funds totaling $5,294,046. The federal fund allocations are distributed to Coastal Zone Management, Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Enforcement, Libraries, Archives, and Museums; the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office; Environmental Protection; and the V.I. Council of the Arts. Meanwhile, Oriol indicated that DPNR has collected $4,699,889 to date for FY 2022 in non-appropriated local funds. The money from the non-appropriated local funds is derived from fines, fees, and submerged and filled submerged lands. Nonetheless, the FY 2023 budget for the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office totals $463,723 from the General Fund and $427,676 from Federal Funds. Regarding the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, the FY 2023 budget from the General Fund totals $392,166, and $313,135 for Federal Funds. Oriol mentioned that some of the accomplishments of DPNR are the provision of emergency kits to registered commercial fishers, solidifying the contract for the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan, and updating the standards for the Building Codes.
Patrick D. Farrell, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Veterans Affairs, stated that the overall FY 2023 budget totals $1,180,390. The budget breakdown is as follows: $222,799 for operating expenses, $450,000 to cover medical travel and death benefits, and $507,591 for personnel services. Additionally, OVA anticipates receiving non-appropriated funds totaling $117,000 for daily operating expenditures. Farrell indicated that the Taxi-Cab Commission and the Virgin Islands Lottery contribute to the non-appropriated funds allocated to OVA. Senator Dwayne DeGraff noted that there is no need to slice and dice this budget because nothing is wrong with it.
Separately, Nikita D. Ward, Director of Administration and Business Management for the Office of the Adjutant General, mentioned that the FY 2023 budget totals $3,008,793. The General Fund FY 2023 breakdown is as follows: $759,231 for personnel services; $282,376 for fringe benefits; $394,851 for supplies; $230,303 for capital projects; and $1,342,032 for other services. Furthermore, Ward noted that $60,000 for the miscellaneous budget for the Virgin Islands National Guard Pension Fund and $300,500 for the Youth About Face and Forward March Program are also included in the General Fund budget. This is in addition to the $4,433,711 projected federal Master Cooperative Agreement budget allocated to the Virgin Islands National Guard.
The following senators were present at the meeting: Kurt A. Vialet, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, Samuel Carrion, Javan E. James, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Carla J. Joseph, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Marvin A. Blyden.