Published: Aug 3, 2023

ST. THOMAS – Members of the 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands’ Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, led by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened a meeting at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands of the United States. Lawmakers received testimony concerning the budgets of the University of the Virgin Islands, the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, and the Virgin Islands Bureau of Information Technology.

In block one, Dr. David Hall, SJD, the President of the University of the Virgin Islands delivered testimony. The proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget totals $36,751,293. $27,805,458 is for general operations. This includes salaries and benefits for regular and temporary employees, and operating expenditures. It also includes $9 million in funding for initiatives important to the University’s mission. These include SBDC matching funds, Senior Citizen’s tuition assistance, valedictorian and salutatorian scholarships, the Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning, Construction Manager Program, Green Technology, Hospitality & Tourism Management, University Bound, Summer Bridge, John Brewers Beach maintenance and security, Agricultural Science and Aquaculture Program, and the master’s in social work and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing on the St. Croix campus.

The governor also submitted funding for the Free Tuition Program in the amount of $3 Million, and the Medical School debt service of $1 Million. Hall stated that even if all the amounts were appropriated, critical challenges would not be met. An additional $2.79 Million is requested to be added to the budget. The University has a total of 441 positions. There are 107 filled positions in St. Croix with local funding. There are fifty-six filled positions in St. Croix with federal funding. There are 232 filled positions in St. Thomas – St. John with local funding. There are forty-six positions in St. Thomas – St. John with federal funding.

Hall reminded the body that there were significant challenges at the University. One of these challenges included appropriate salaries for employees. Hall told the body that if the university is to attract and retain faculty, and staff, it must have competitive salaries. The university is also dealing with an operational deficit. The 2017 hurricanes, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic have had a major impact on the University, affecting enrollment. This has prevented the university from addressing various unfunded mandates that have had to be absorbed. The GERS Contribution has increased from 20.5% to 23.5%, costing the university an additional $170,000 annually, health insurance premium increases of $120,000 annually, and property insurance increase of $1.2 Million after the 2017 hurricanes. A tuition increase of 7% was approved by the UVI Board of Trustees in March 2023. However, this is not expected to address the deficit.

Additionally, Peter Chapman, the Executive Director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park delivered testimony. The Legislature of the Virgin Islands has been a critical investor in the RT Park since it was founded in 2002. However, the RTPark does not receive an annual appropriation, and does not request funding support. The RTPark is an independent, self-sustaining economic development corporation that was established by the Legislature to help diversity and strengthen the economy of the Virgin Islands. The RTPark currently has thirteen positions, which are augmented with professionals who work on contract. Revenue is overwhelmingly derived from fees charged to companies that receive tax benefits. To date, the RTPark’s Total FY 2023 Expenses total $6,337,777.67. It is projected that the RTPark will have $10,327,548 in revenue for Fiscal Year 2023.

In block two, Rupert Ross, the Director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Information Technology delivered testimony. The recommended budget for the Bureau totals $12,888,138. This includes $1,849,821 for Personnel Services, Fringe Benefits of $806,744. Supplies at $4,045,261, Other Services and Charges at $5,881,312, and utilities at $250,000. There are thirty-one positions at the bureau. Twenty-two positions are filled. Of these positions, there are eight exempt and fourteen classified nonunion positions. There are nine vacant positions. Of these vacant positions, four are exempt, four are classified nonunion, and one temporary position.

Vacancies at the bureau include Chief Information Security Officer, Business Relationship Manager, Network Systems Manager, Service Desk Manager, Security Analyst, Network Administrator, Radio Frequency Technician, and Two Help Desk Specialist Positions. New positions budgeted for FY 2024 include Security Analyst, Network Administrator, and Radio Frequency Technician. Under supplies, $107,000 supports the purchase of new and upgraded IT and communications equipment, furniture upgrades, fuel for vehicles, and other vehicle supplies. $3,938,261 is budgeted under the General Fund Miscellaneous for ongoing services and licenses for Microsoft products. The Enterprise Agreement covers all software licensing and updates for the Government of the Virgin Islands’ personal computers and users. It also grants the government to a wide array of IT support services.

In other services and charges, $537,268 funds janitorial service contracts, A/C and other service maintenance offers, office lease agreements, and storage rental, burglar alarm service agreements and other security related services, various communication bills, such as telephone and internet service, travel/training agreements and the Bureau’s membership participation is various professional organizations. $4,219,732 is budgeted under BIT Maintenance and IT Infrastructure to support ongoing initiative to manage all emergencies and incidents. $252,427 is budgeted under the BIT Microsoft Agreement and Support for ongoing cloud-based solutions. $871,885 is budgeted for BIT Licensee fees, which support initiatives for various software licensing and support services.

In block three, Ms. Vernice Gumbs, the Acting Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission was again scheduled to deliver testimony. However, due to challenges, Acting Executive Director Gumbs was unable to deliver testimony. According to Chairwoman Frett-Gregory, the fund balance that provides the Taxicab Commission with funding is more than $270,000 in the negative. She asked that the Department of Finance provide an updated fund balance to proceed with their budget. Voicing frustration, she stated that a conversation needed to be had with the Taxicab Commission Board Chair, stating that “We are at our wits end with the Taxicab Commission” also asking for a need to reach out to the Governor’s office.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. Degraff, Ray Fonseca, and Javan E. James, Sr., and Carla J. Joseph.

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