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HomeNewsArchivesFed Budget Cuts Cast Doubt On Help With Casper Holstein Repairs

Fed Budget Cuts Cast Doubt On Help With Casper Holstein Repairs

With its Joint Forces Headquarters building in St. Croix’s V.I. National Guard compound nearing completion, the V.I. National Guard will help ensure adjacent Casper Holstein Drive gets repaired, V.I. National Guard Adjutant Gen. Renaldo Rivera said during budget hearings Monday. But how much or even if federal money is coming is yet to be determined, he told the Senate Finance Committee.

The road, impassable for smaller cars, cannot be traveled at more than one or two miles per hour, and was paved at least twice in the last decade but quickly deteriorated each time, due in part to problems with the underlying roadbed. (See related links.)

During budget hearings last year, Rivera and National Guard officials said the road was improperly constructed from the beginning, leading to its quick deterioration, but the Guard would make sure the section by the armory was repaired. But no federal funds were set aside last year, and none have been assigned to the task yet this year, according to Rivera’s testimony.

"It will be repaired," Rivera said last year, in response to questioning from Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly.

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When the senator followed up with Rivera about the road Monday, Rivera said he had met with Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls and with management of Tip Top Construction.

"It is going to be fixed," Rivera said Monday. But when asked about federal funding, "the federal contribution; I don’t know," Rivera said. Federal funding would depend on federal budget issues, including whether draconian budget cuts instituted by Congress through sequestration remain in place, he said.

The road needed repair previously, but "is a lot worse that it was before the work," O’Reilly said. "Any contribution the federal government can give for that road would be welcome," she said.

The Office of the Adjutant General, which oversees the V.I. National Guard, was before the Senate in Frederiksted Wednesday to defend its 2014 General Fund budget request of $1.4 million, a roughly $65,000 or four percent decrease from last year’s appropriation of $1.5 million, and more than $265,000 less than its 2011 appropriation.

Most of that funding pays the salaries of civilian employees and renovations and upkeep of OTAG buildings and vehicles, while the overwhelming bulk of VING funding comes from federal sources, said Sylma Sablon, director of administration and business management for the Adjutant General’s Office. There are 906 National Guard members in the territory.

At $423,000, utilities are the largest single budget item for OTAG. Wages and salaries comprise $335,000; employer Social Security, Medicare and benefit contributions add another $127,000. The "other services and charges" category consumes $307,000, mostly for repair and maintenance costs.

Another $125,000 is slated for capital outlays for the next year, which include replacing the generator, putting in new floors and steel doors at the St. Croix armory; and windows and doors at the St. Thomas armory.

Some $60,000 is for supplies.

In addition to the General Fund budget, OTAG’s is expecting $61,000 from the miscellaneous section of the budget for pension contributions. Sablon said the funds were for a $100 a month stipend for every qualified retired National Guard member age 55-65. For FY 2014, 49 soldiers are eligible for the stipend, Sablon said.

Federal funding for Fiscal Year 2014 is very much a "guesstimate," due to the fiscal uncertainty from sequestration, said Col. Michael McDonald, U.S. Property and Fiscal Officer for the Virgin Islands.

The sequester cut defense spending by 10 percent, so his presentation assumes a 10 percent reduction in all programs except payroll.

"The bottom line up front is that there is still a lot of uncertainty," he said.

Given those constraints, McDonald projected about $44.1 million in federal funding, with $26.4 million for payroll, $6.8 million for installation support, $6 million for operations and training, and $4.9 million for services and supplies, according to figures provided by the OTAG. It is a roughly $1 million reduction from FY 2013.

No votes were taken at the budget oversight hearing.

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