July 15, 2004 Stating that her well-deserved employees needed a cost-of-living salary adjustment, presiding Territorial Court Judge Maria Cabret requested a 10.5 percent increase in the payroll of the court's employees for fiscal year 2005.
Her request comes on the heels of an override of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's veto of legislation to provide for negotiated pay increases for unionized government employees and the passage of legislation that would increase wages for the Senate's central staff employees.
"Unlike teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers and other government employees, the court's employees are not unionized and must depend on the presiding judge to advocate on their behalf," Cabret said. "I am here to do just that."
Cabret requested a total of $25.5 million for the court's 2005 budget allotment; $13.1 million is expected to go toward salaries.
"This sum is necessary to adequately perform our legally mandated duties, to effectively serve the public, to continue the course of the court's automation project and to provide well-deserved salary adjustments for our employees," Cabret said.
She said while the cost of living in the territory has increased, the court employees' salaries have remained fixed at 2002 levels. The increase of 3.5 percent per year for the next three years will help employees meet the rising cost of living, Cabret said.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said he supports the territorial court's budget request and the cost of living adjustment.
"I have long been saying we have to support the people doing the work."
Several other senators also pledged their support although they wouldn't comment on whether such an increase could be sustained.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste asked Cabret when she would establish the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra on St. Croix. Cabret said she was hoping to implement the program this fiscal year but could not due to reduced allotments. Cabret requested $500,000 in the 2005 budget to start the program.
Cabret also presented the budget request for the Judicial Council on behalf of its chairman Judge Raymond Finch. The council's request of $436,876 reflects a 2.62 percent increase over last year's request of $11,170.
"The increase is necessary to reflect cost-of-living adjustments, salary increments pursuant to current policy and the required associated payroll contribution," Cabret read from Finch's statement.
Also testifying before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday was the Public Services Commission. The commission requested $869,000 and a special appropriation of an additional $131,000 to meet its legislative budget cap of $1 million.
The PSC is self-funded and does not receive monies from the General Fund.
All its funds are derived from the utilities that the commission regulates.
These regulated utilities include the V.I. Water and Power Authority and Innovative Telephone formerly known as Vitelco.
Valencio Jackson, PSC chairman, said the monies were requested due to the commission's increased duties, responsibilities and expenses. The commission is now charged with regulating the newly established Waste Management Authority,
"The initial period of creating a rate and regulatory structure to fund and operate the Waste Management Authority is likely to create a substantial amount of work over the next few years," Jackson said.
Jackson also asked senators to look into legislation that would provide for five full-time commissioners because of the increased workload. Jackson, Alecia Wells and Alric Simmonds all expressed interest in being full-time commissioners. Currently, the commissioners are part time and the non-governmental commissioners receive a $50 per diem for each meeting.
Commissioners who are also government employees do not receive any money for being on the commission.
"I think you are woefully under compensated for the work you do," Malone said, adding that the Legislature recently passed a measure that would provide for a $75 per diem for members of the Magens Bay Authority board.
Malone said he would look into increasing the PSC board's per diem as well.
Committee members present at the Wednesday hearing were: Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn Baptiste, Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell.
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