Motor Vehicles Bureau Looking for Four-Percent Increase — Plus

June 25, 2008 — The Bureau of Motor Vehicles can get by with a four-percent increase from the General Fund for fiscal year 2009, but the BMV will need more money to cover federal mandates and facility upgrades, officials said Wednesday.
A four-percent increase in its recommended General Fund appropriation would get the bureau through the woods on personnel, operating and utility costs, but it will eventually need more federal or local funds, BMV officials told senators during the first round of budget hearings.
Most of the bureau's $2.57 million FY 2009 General Fund budget — or approximately 81 percent — is earmarked for personnel costs and associated fringe benefits. The four-percent increase over this year's $2.47 million budget appropriation (which translates to about $104,544) will go toward additional utility expenses the bureau expects as a result of its move from the main building at St. Croix's Patrick Sweeney Headquarters. About 19 percent of the General Fund budget — or $482,500 — has been earmarked for operating expenses.
The bureau's overall budget also includes $1 million from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles Fund and $696,214 from the Personalized License Plate Fund, for a total of $4.27 million. Ninety-eight percent of the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Funds goes toward personnel services, while money from the license-plate fund covers the agency's supplies, rent, utilities and contracting services.
"There's not much left in our General Fund or Bureau of Motor Vehicles Fund appropriation after personnel and other costs, so we have to rely on the license-plate fund to cover the bulk of our projects," BMV Director Jerris Browne said after Wednesday's meeting. Not included in the agency's budget for FY 2009 is an appropriation from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund, which was used this year to finance a number of capital-outlay costs for government departments and agencies.
Of the $399,000 in internal revenue matching funds approved for BMV during FY 2008, only $290,000 has been released, Browne said. That money, he said, would be put toward the purchase of a new office trailer for BMV's St. Croix headquarters, which was recently evacuated because of mold infestation. The government hasn't proposed another matching fund appropriation for FY 2009, but if any money does come down, it will go toward meeting the mandates of the Federal Real ID Act, Browne said.
Passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush about three years ago, the Real ID Act sets up standards for the issuance of drivers' licenses and identification cards to safeguard against fraud and identity theft.
"Although the president signed the law on May 11, 2005, the final rules were only approved on Jan. 11, 2008," Browne told senators. With an extension from the Department of Homeland Security, the territory has until Dec. 31, 2009, to comply, he said.
Meanwhile, the bureau is going to need about $2 million extra in local funds to meet the mandates of the Real ID Act by the final 2011 deadline, Browne added. While BMV has already received about $300,000 from the federal government — and is waiting to hear back on an application for $6.4 million in DHS grant funds — the extra local funds will help bring the Real ID budget up to $8.4 million, Browne said.
Ongoing upgrades to BMV's drivers' license and vehicle registration databases will complement the Real ID system, and might eventually cut down on the costs, according to Gregory Christian, the bureau's MIS administrator. Upgrades will allow law-enforcement agencies to look at the data immediately, he said.
Plans for new BMV compounds are in the works, but money will be needed for construction, Browne said later. Senators urged BMV to do what it can to "start budgeting for the future," but cautioned the agency against throwing more money at existing facilities in both districts.
"It doesn't really make sense if the space you have is already inadequate," said Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Finance Committee chairman.
Other senators also suggested that BMV change its license-plate vendor to cut costs, or at least search for other qualified bidders.
Browne also asked senators to approve legislation giving the BMV director the authority to administer certification of titles; allowing people who buy used cars from local dealerships to use temporary license plates; cleaning up language in the V.I. Code dealing with the registration of commercial trailers; changing the expiration date of drivers' licenses from three to five years; and allowing the BMV to administer the moving-violation points system, currently regulated by the V.I. Police Department.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Nelson, Ronald E. Russell and James A. Weber III.
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