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PERB, Casino Control Commission Testify on 2007 Budget Request

July 21, 2006 – Representatives from the V.I. Casino Control Commission and the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) said budget recommendations submitted by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull are enough to keep both organizations running throughout the next fiscal year.
During the second round of budget hearings Friday, Zandra E. Petersen, PERB's executive director, said a $725,000 General Fund appropriation would allow the board to tackle its legendary case load; provide training for both employers and employees; and would fund, among other things, one new position on St. Croix, the last phase of a network information technology project, new equipment, salary increases, and adjustment costs for rent and utilities.
Petersen said approximately 85 percent of the board's budget – or $612, 290 – is fixed, and primarily covers personnel costs for the organization's eight employees.
The capital outlays portion of the budget accounts for $12,000 of the proposed budget request, and would also allow PERB to scan the "large mountains" of case files currently packed into the organization's storage and office facilities. The completion of PERB's computer network, Petersen said, would also allow PERB to have enhanced e-mail and Web access, which would provide up-to-date labor law information and increased online research capabilities.
Stipends for PERB's five-member board – along with custodial service, mediator, arbitrator and hearing officer – costs 32 percent of the budget, or $234,812, she said.
This year's request, which represents a $125,000 increase over last year's appropriation, would also allow PERB to hook up to the government's new Enterprise Resource Planning System (a territorywide network scheduled to replace the old Financial Management System); provide new employee workshops; and reduce its backlog of cases.
According to PERB legal counsel Richard T. Evangelista, PERB currently has 224 open cases. The majority of these files represent unfair labor charges, he said, with the oldest case dating back about six years.
Evangelista attributed delays in processing cases to a number of factors, including "unforeseen interruptions" and a lack of attorneys within the Office of Collective Bargaining – responsible for representing government departments and agencies in various mediation matters that come before the PERB.
At a recent budget hearing, Collective Bargaining's Chief Negotiator Karen M. Andrews said it is difficult for the office to retain the two assistant attorney generals kept on staff. "As soon as we are able to get two of them, one of them leaves," she said. "It's always been like that."
During Friday's meeting, PERB Chairman Aubrey A. Lee said more attorneys would therefore have to be hired for both the PERB and Collective Bargaining in order for cases to be processed more efficiently.
"In the meantime, however, the board has agreed to establish a task force, comprised of certified hearing officers and four mediators, which will be meeting to address whatever unfair labor practices cases we currently have pending," he said. "Right now, these cases are handled on an individual basis. But by handling them as group, we may be able to address three to four
Sen. Louis P. Hill suggested that additional training designed specifically for managers and supervisors of various government departments and agencies would also reduce PERB's caseload. "Managers are not trained to handle a lot of situations that happen in the workplace – sometimes because they're not well versed enough in the labor laws," Hill said. "So PERB's ability to provide training for these individuals is something that should be pursued. Maybe it could contribute to a reduction in the board's workload."
Hill said training for supervisors could also help PERB in addressing another issue – grievances filed by the Law Enforcement Supervisors' Union of St. Thomas-St. John (LESU) against the top brass of the local Police Department.
During the meeting, Hill read into the record a letter written by union representative Joseph A. Gumbs that stated LESU members have decided to "file concurrently more than 100 notices of unfair labor practices" against Police Commissioner Elton Lewis.
Evangelista said PERB would handle the caseload as "quickly as it can" if the grievances were filed.
In other news, senators also heard testimony from Eileen R. Petersen, chairwoman of the V.I. Casino Control Commission, who came in defense of the organization's $1.3 million Fiscal Year 2007 budget request.
Petersen said the Commission also receives annual appropriations from the Casino Revolving Fund for operational costs (revenues generated from casino license fees charged by the commission are deposited into this fund), along with $10,000 from the Casino Revenue Fund administered by the Finance Department.
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Norman Jn Baptiste, Hill and Terrence Nelson.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Neville James and Usie R. Richards were absent.

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