Facing painful budget cuts like all V.I. government agencies, after its core duties, the Personnel Division plans to focus on a comprehensive employee health and wellness program and developing a succession management program, Executive Director Kenneth Hermon said in budget hearings Wednesday.
“As with our personal budgets, so too must the division prioritize our areas of focus so we can obtain the biggest bang for the tax payer's buck,” Hermon said.
The division administers the personnel merit system, human resource information system, group insurance benefits for more than 15,000 active and retired government employees, management of employment records and the government's employee development program.
The health and wellness program will improve the quality and length of life of government employees and retirees, while also helping the government to hold down insurance premium and healthcare costs, he said.
Personnel will kick off the wellness program by hosting a health and wellness expo 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sept. 6 on St. Thomas at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. Another expo will be held Sept. 7 in UVI's Great Hall on St. Croix, Hermon said. There will be free health assessments, blood sugar testing, healthy cooking demonstrations and more.
Budget cuts and personnel reductions make the succession program vital, he said.
“I have seen our budget and our workforce shrivel to record lows due to the territory's economic crisis and various retirement incentive programs,” Hermon said. The succession management program aims to prevent the loss of critical operational knowledge as government employees are shed from the workforce, he said.
During the budget hearings, Financial Management Supervisor Rochelle Benjamin presented the Personnel Department's budget request of $2.9 million. Of this, $2.5 million will come from the General Fund and $391,000 from the Indirect Cost Fund, which consists of federal payments for local government services.
The total budget is $311,000 less than last year, Benjamin said. It marks three consecutive years of similar cuts. The division has lost 23 percent of its employees since 2007, and the current requested budget covers salaries for 37 employees – 29 on St. Thomas and eight on St. Croix, officials testified.
Wages and salaries account for $1.4 million of the General Fund budget request, with benefits eating up another $584,000. A similar portion of the Indirect Cost Fund budget will be allocated to salaries and benefits, according to the figures provided by Benjamin. Utilities are expected to cost $150,000 and "other services and charges" another $150,000.
No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing.