Domestic violence is reaching crisis levels in the territory, Attorney General Vincent Frazer told the Legislature while presenting the Department of Justice’s $13.6 million General Fund budget to the Finance Committee Monday.
The department prosecuted 245 cases on St. Thomas/St. John and 230 on St. Croix in 2014, the attorney general told senators. Of those, a full 25 percent – one in four of the cases prosecuted – were domestic violence, Frazer said. There is some federal funding, but the department is overstretched, and the volume of cases is "far to many for one person."
So Justice has decided to cross-train staff so many are trained for domestic violence cases. "We … can get a greater and more efficient use of the funding that is made available by the federal government for support staff, witness travel, training and other resource needs,” Frazer said. “The department may move back to a dedicated prosecutor model in the future; however, we believe that all of the prosecutors should be trained and equally prepared to handle such cases appropriately."
The governor has proposed a Department of Justice Fiscal Year 2015 budget $19.96 million, with $13.62 million from the General Fund and $6.3 million from federal grants. Wages and salaries comprise $8.3 million from the General Fund, while fringe benefits, Social Security and Medicare taxes take another $2.86 million. Utilities are budgeted at $277,000 and “other services and charges” consume $1.18 million.
Later in the session, Bureau of Internal Revenue Director Claudette Watson-Anderson testified for an appropriation transfer within IRB of $1.14 million. The transfer would reclassify money dedicated for payroll and utilities to other pressing expenses, said Watson-Anderson.
The legislation transfers from the director’s office personnel services of $325,000 and utilities of $815,000. Those amounts will be transferred to professional services, Watson-Anderson said.
The committee sent that request on with a favorable recommendation, along with legislation to authorize the government to issue a quitclaim deed for an easement on a 435 square-foot piece of property adjacent to Parcel No. 40CB Estate Taarneberg. The quitclaim enables a new owner of the adjacent property to have clear and “unambiguous” road access to their property.
Both measures were approved without objections. Voting yea were Sens. Clarence Payne, Donald Cole, Myron Jackson and Clifford Graham. Absent were Sens. Judi Buckley, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly.