Outstanding vacancies and negative balances concerned lawmakers during Thursday’s Committee on Budget, Appropriation, and Finance hearing as the V.I. Bureau of Internal Revenue gave testimony.
Director Joel Lee said the agency’s FY 2024 budget of $13,818,313 is a six percent decrease from the FY 2023 budget of $14,333,921. Lee said the upcoming budget request is mainly for personnel costs.
The BIR director testified that the breakdown of the 2024 budget was $6,628,998 for personnel, $3,618,685 for related fringe benefits, $321,200 in supplies, $2,679,430 for other services and charges, $380,000 for utilities, and $190,000 in capital expenditures.
There are 105 positions on St. Thomas, 50 on St. Croix, and two on St. John. There have been two new hires, two promotions, eight resignations, and two retirements. Overall there are 33 funded vacancies in the budget, with two GVI Fellows, one on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix, according to the testimony.
Senators were concerned with the number of vacancies, especially the need for more staff in the Excise Tax Division. “We have to figure out how serious we are about collecting our revenues,” said Chairwoman Donna Frett-Gregory.
Lee said the department needs help with keeping employees because BIR is more of a training ground for accountants and they eventually move on to other positions in other departments.
V.I. Bureau of Economic Development
“The Fiscal Year 2024 for V.I. Economic Development Authority proposed budget is the same as last year’s $6,613,000. With $3,210,696 for personnel services, it funds 47 full-time positions. The 47 full-time positions are also inclusive of filled positions, existing vacancies, and two new positions,” said VIEDA Chief Executive Officer Wayne Biggs.
There are 29 positions between the St. Thomas-St. John District, and 18 on St. Croix, with 33 classified and 14 unclassified positions. Two new positions have been added to the department. First, a director of the State Business Credit Initiative, who would be responsible for overseeing the territory’s 90 SSBCI Program and ensuring strict compliance with all federal guidelines and 91 regulations. Second, an EDC compliance officer who would assist the EDC 92 Compliance Unit with managing its growing EDC beneficiary portfolio, according to the testimony.
Biggs explained that the budget includes $512,500 for marketing, and $218,814 of the advertising and promotion budget will be repurposed to professional services to support the recently executed contract with an international marketing firm to launch a global marketing campaign.
Frett-Gregory was concerned about the low salary costs of the current and vacant positions and said, “That’s why you’re having a hard time getting the positions filled.” Frett Gregory urged the department to review the budget to assess their needs better.
Department of Labor
Much like BIR and EDA, the Department of Labor also has a number of vacancies that concerned lawmakers. With a total of 116 employees throughout the territory, there are currently 21 vacant/new positions. Commissioner Gary Molloy said the agency’s proposed 2024 FY Budget is $22,267,708.
Molloy explained that the total request comes from multiple funding sources, with $12,729,388 of the overall budget requested from the General Fund. Also making up the budget is $7,842,135 from federal grants, $1,904,464 from the Government Insurance Fund, and Penalty and Interest contributes $191,720.
Of the requested $12,729,388 from the General Fund, $4,066,249 is dedicated for personnel services, $4,194,268 for fringe benefits, $446,902 for supplies, $2,791,370 for other services, $222,418 for utility services, and $1,008,000 for capital projects.
The total budget for the Government Insurance Fund for FY 2024 is $1,405,043, budgeted for salaries and fringe benefits for 21 positions, with a remaining $499,421 for mandatory operating costs, according to the testimony.
“Labor Relations is requesting $338,926 from the general fund. Workers’ Compensation is expected to receive $1,445,097 from the Government Insurance Fund for personnel, fringe benefits, and other services. The Division of Occupational Safety is scheduled to receive $294,205 in federal grants, $459,376 from the Government Insurance Fund, and requests $151,837 from the General Fund,” said Molloy.
Legal Services of the Virgin Islands
Legal Services of the Virgin Islands’ proposed FY 2024 budget of $2,007,700 was the same as FY 2023, said Executive Director Shelby King-Gaddy.
There are seven attorneys at LSVI, with four on St. Croix and three on St. Thomas. Two positions were filled, and one outstanding offer has been extended. Legal Services is in need of support staff to fill two positions to assist the attorneys, said King-Gaddy.
As testifiers gave out the numbers, Frett-Gregory took notes and pointed out the agencies “had fund balances that were millions of dollars in the negative” and “in order to receive the proper assistance from this institution,” the departments need to “provide proper documentation and properly budget.”
Sens. Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Diane T. Capehart, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Javan E. James, Sr., Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter were present at Thursday’s hearing.