ST. CROIX – 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 Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Executive Budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands. Lawmakers received testimony concerning the budgets of the Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System, the Virgin Islands Lottery Commission, and the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission.
In block one, Tanya-Marie Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System delivered testimony. The Fiscal Year 2024 budget request totals $4,431,902. Personnel services is projected at $2,640,037. That number represents about 60% of the overall budget. Fringe benefits is projected at $1,175,204. Supplies is projected at $60,000. Other Services and Charges are projected at $554,561. Utilities are projected at $2,100. The system receives oversight by an 11-member board. Currently the board has ten members, with one vacancy. The Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System began broadcasting in 1972. Major projects being undertaken by the Public Broadcast System have been obligated. The demolition and rebuild of the main office and studio at Haypiece Hill have been awarded a fixed cost amount of $20,313,646. The system was awarded $1,866,897 to address damages at the transmitter site at Mountain Top. Power output of its Television translator on St. Croix increased from 300 watts to 3,000 watts. This increased reception of WTJX-TV on St. Croix from 70% to 90%. The Public Broadcasting System has been responsible for numerous programming, including coverage of primary elections, lieutenant governor and gubernatorial forums, and election night coverage, live broadcasts of the Governor Bryan’s second inauguration, the swearing in of the 35th Legislature, as well as broadcasting of the Crucian Christmas Festival Parade, the St. Thomas Carnival Parade, and the St. John Celebration parade. There are currently four vacancies.
In block two, Raymond Williams, the Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Lottery delivered testimony. The Virgin Islands Lottery Commission met on June 8, 2023, and approved its budget. The approved budget for Fiscal Year 2024 totals $28,766,046. $13,338,504 comes from traditional games. $15,406,042 comes from compensation from contractors. Of this, $13,526,042 comes from Southland Gaming, and $1,880,000 from the Caribbean Lottery. $21,500 comes from other income, inclusive of fees and licenses. The Virgin Islands Lottery is expected to surpass budgeted amounts for Fiscal Year 2023. A 47.83% increase in revenues is budgeted for the traditional games in FY 2024. Regular traditional drawing game sales average approximately 60% per drawing, while the extra ordinary drawings sales average approximately 75% to 85% per drawing. A 15.94% increase in compensation is anticipated from contractors as the demand for retailers increase and other gaming centers coming online.
As of June 30, 2023, $9,442,104 was generated from Traditional Lottery Game sales. A total of $10,547,372 was received from Southland gaming, and $1,193,496 was received from Caribbean Lottery Services. Based on actuals as of June 30, 2023, a 33% increase in revenues is projected for traditional lottery games, which is 4% more than fiscal year 2022. A 15% increase in revenues from southland game is anticipated, which is 6% more than Fiscal Year 2022. Total Direct costs are projected at $11,893,006. This includes prize expenses, printing, drawing operations, Powerball/Megamillion drawing costs, dealers’ bonuses and expenses and bonus prizes for extra ordinary drawings. $4,269,421 is budgeted for salaries and benefits inclusive of negotiated employee increases. Advertising and promotion, professional services, and other general and administrative capital outlays total $4,664,715. Total operating expenses is projected at $20,827,142, with an operating income of $7,938,904. The Lottery currently employes 40 people with six vacancies.
Finally, in block three, Marvin Pickering, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission delivered testimony. The General Fund Request for Fiscal Year 2024 for the Commission totals $1,477,300. There are 15 employees, including two vacancies. The vacant positions are for an in-house legal counsel and an executive director. The Commission has four funding sources. These include the General Fund, for Salaries for the commissioners and staff only, the Casino Control Revolving Fund, the Casino Revenue Fund, and the Horse Racetrack Casino Revenue Fund.
The Casino Control Revolving Fund is a special checking account that serves as a depository of monies collected from all licenses, registrations and permit fees, fines, penalties, and other fees, all sums appropriated by the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, and all donations, gifts, and requests. In Fiscal Year 2023, from October 1, 2022, through April 30, 2023, the commission collected $100,390, of which 80% or $80,312 was allocated to the commission and 20%, or 20,078 was allocated to the Department of Justice, Division of Gaming Enforcement. The Casino Revenue Fund is allocated 25% of the Gross Casino Revenue taxes levied on casinos at the rate of 12%.
In Fiscal Year 2022, the amount appropriated to the commission from the Department of Finance was $265,680, as compared to $164,732 for Fiscal Year 2021, there was an increase of $100,948 or 61%. This was attributed to a change in the allocation rate from 10% to 25%, pursuant to act 8577. For the current fiscal year through April, the amount allocated to the Commission was $238,817 versus $137,413, when compared to the same period last fiscal year, increasing by 74%. These funds were distributed to the Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Internal Revenue, University of the Virgin Islands, VI Alliance for Responsible Gaming, Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, Casino Control Commission, and the Virgin Islands Police Department. The Horse Racetrack Casino Revenue Fund has not provided any funding since racino operations ended in May 2016. To date, the Commission has not received any federal funds in the current fiscal year. The commission has received approval for a project worksheet in the total amount of $133,326,72 for damages related to Hurricane Maria. Of that, the Commission has received a total of $87,412 Approval is pending from VITEMA for a mold remediation project in the amount of $50,000.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Diane T. Capehart, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. Degraff, Ray Fonseca, and Javan E. James, Sr.