82.1 F
Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


The Senate Finance Committee's final hearing Friday on the Bureau of Internal Revenue was highlighted by a "show and tell" presentation by Louis Willis, acting IRB director, as he graphically illustrated what he called the "rebirth" of his agency.
Finance also approved fund transfers Friday for the Department of Human Services and the Supervisor of Elections budgets.
Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Berry has asked Willis to bring his reorganization plan for the troubled agency to the St. Thomas meeting, along with the agency's plans to collect the more than $100 million in outstanding taxes currently due IRB, and his projected costs for the agency reforms.
Berry said the hearing would focus on the above concerns only. She said the other phase of the hearing was already in the hands of the attorney general and the Public Corruption Task Force.
Former IRB Director Claudette Farrington was removed as IRB Director in June this year by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, and replaced with Willis, former IRB chief of collections.
Willis made it clear his agency isn't undergoing a reform or a reorganization. "It's a rebirth," he said. He noted the IRB has sent out $5,042,175 in 1999 income tax refunds, and $2.3 million in tax bills. He said by Nov. 15, 90 percent of refunds will be paid.
As for projected plans, he said that by Oct. 14 he would have his assessments ready, and by Nov. 1 he would have a statement of projected fiscal needs to cover agency improvements.
Willis said one important goal is to process refunds expediently to avoid exorbitant interest. In Fiscal Year 1999, he said, the agency had paid $10.7 million in interest.
He said improvements include getting all staff computer-trained, implementing continuing training and hiring collections officers.
Berry asked about 21 IRB positions identified as vacant. She pointed out that Willis now has no deputy director, chief of criminal investigations, supervisors in revenue collections, tax examiners, and—to replace the position he vacated—chief of collections. Willis said he has people in mind for some of those posts but couldn't reveal names.
Willis then proceeded to his visuals. First he showed a slide of a person being trained on a computer. Then he showed the mail room. He said the IRB had never had a mail room before, as he proudly showed where he said 60,000 returns can be stored.
Stating, "My position is cleanliness," Willis showed several before-and-after pictures of physical improvements in the IRB building before moving on to pictures of rooms at Fortress Storage where the agency spends $7,000 a month.
The pictures of the Fortress rooms got the attention of Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who looked up with astonishment and said, "What the hell is that? The dump?"
Returning to fiscal concerns, Willis said he had consultants and was planning to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby for federal funds. Sen. David Jones asked Willis if he was aware of the $11 million unspent federal funds that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt had identified earlier this week.
Willis said he would look into that, but said he still plans to go to Washington.
Upon questioning from Sen. Gregory Bennerson, Willis said he had found two of the four computers the Inspector General's audit had reported missing. Willis still maintained his previously expressed attitude regarding auditors. He said the IRB didn't employ auditors; they have examiners. He also said he saw discrepancies in the IG's audit. Bennerson pointed out that there is an audit response period to take care of discrepancies.
Berry asked Willis how he planned to manage his 2001 budget. She noted Willis had already said he would need $4 million more than last year. The FY 2001 IRB budget is $5 million, which is $730,000 less than last year, Berry said. Willis again said he would seek federal funds.
Under further questioning by Berry, Willis said IRB has a $300,000 contract with IBM which includes training, and a Memorandum of Understanding with Guam for computer training which Willis said he thought the Department of the Interior was paying.
Sen. Violet Anne Golden made a motion to refer and transmit to the attorney general all documents, transcripts and other materials from the IRB hearings for investigation and possible prosecution. It passed 5-1 with 2 absent. Voting for the motion were Sens. Berry, Golden, Jones, Bennerson, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Sen. George Goodwin. Hansen cast the dissenting vote.
In other action, two fund transfers were approved for the Department of Human Services and the Supervisor of Elections budgets.
John Abramson, supervisor of elections, said he needed $30,000 to cover the recent primary election cost. Abramson noted he had not approved of the cost—it was directed by the elections board. Abramson has maintained political parties should pay their own primary costs.
Sedonie Halbert, Human Services commissioner, requested fund transfers of $350,000 for 12 new vehicles for several departments, $245,000 for food service contracts and $250,000 for improvements at the Anna's Hope Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix.
The center has been subject of much criticism for its run-down state. Sen. Gregory Bennerson urged Halbert to bring problems at the center to the Committee on Youth and Human Services.
"You must take the initiative and inform the public," he said in response to Halbert's remark that the department was "making strides" in improving the center.

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