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Senators Find VITEMA Budget Lacking

VITEMA testifiers from left: Bruce Kelly, deputy director of operations; Winston Simon, deputy director of administration and finance; Daryl Jaschen, director of the agency; Florecita Brunn, deputy director of grants management; and Asim Frett, deputy director of logistics. (Photo courtesy V.I. Senate)
VITEMA testifiers from left: Bruce Kelly, deputy director of operations; Winston Simon, deputy director of administration and finance; Daryl Jaschen, director of the agency; Florecita Brunn, deputy director of grants management; and Asim Frett, deputy director of logistics. (Photo courtesy V.I. Senate)

Daryl Jaschen, director of the territorial emergency management agency, defended a proposed fiscal year budget of $11,860,981 to the Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance on Friday.

The budget requested an appropriation of $5,945,456 from the general fund. The proposal also includes $4,948,282 in Federal funds and $967,243 from the emergency service fund.

The agency employs 146 people. Sixty-three and a half are paid from general funds, and the other 82.5 positions are funded with federal funds.

Jaschen testified that the “budget represents a 4.39 percent decrease from what the 35th Legislature approved in FY2024.”

Senators, including Committee Chair Donna Frett-Gregory, expressed concern about the budget’s lack of details. Sen. Franklin Johnson became so frustrated when he could not get the details he wanted that he broke off his questioning efforts.

Frett-Gregory said, “I don’t know how we can effectively make decisions without information.”

The meeting ended with Frett-Gregory listing areas where the committee needed more information. They included details about how much grant money had been spent on each grant and its expiration; the breakdown of what was purchased with the indirect cost’s funds in grants; utility costs projections, and an explanation of how personnel costs could be declining when employees were getting raises, and additional positions were being filled.

An area of concern for Sen. Ray Fonseca was the 911 operators. He said staffing the 911 offices had been a problem for years.

Bruce Kelly, deputy director of operations, testified that VITEMA employed 16 operators on St. Croix and 16 on St. Thomas. He said that to be fully staffed, each district should have 23 operators. He added that the $35,000 starting salary was not very attractive.

911 operators’ jobs are deemed stressful. Sometimes, the operators are called upon to make decisions in life-and-death situations. They are usually the lowest paid first responders.

VITEMA officials also fielded questions about the tsunami warning siren system. Forty-four sirens were installed in 2022. Recently, half a dozen of them were found not to be working. Jaschen said money was now available to fix them, and the work would be completed by the end of the year.

Sens. Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Fonseca, Novelle Francis, Jr., Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James, Johnson, and Carla Joseph attended the meeting.

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