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Thursday, September 29, 2022


Government pay cuts, a hiring freeze and slashes in overtime costs were made public this week as Clinton administration officials meeting with Gov. Charles Turnbull in Washington, D.C., began setting deadlines for the administration to present its financial recovery package.
Along with convincing the federal government sacrifices are being made locally, however, some in the territory say Turnbull now faces the more difficult job of pulling the community together and convincing Virgin Islanders these cutbacks are in everyone's best interests.
"I think what the governor's got to do now is convince the community these cuts are one part of trying to get the financial house back in order, that they're short-term pain for long-term gain," John de Jongh, St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce president, said Friday. "He's got to get all the interests together and convince them that he's going to stick to his guns."
Turnbull ordered the long-promised cost-reduction measures in a June 15 memorandum to government department and agency heads.
"The government's fiscal position is precarious and requires immediate action by all department and agency heads to reduce spending now in order to allow the government to continue to meet its essential obligations," Turnbull wrote in the memo.
"Accordingly, I have committed to a plan of action, based on stringent cost reduction and containment measures, as well as significant revenue enhancements to be announced later, which will eliminate the government's structural deficit by FY 2001 and begin to reduce our cumulative debt thereafter," Turnbull wrote.
The hiring freeze will begin June 30 and applies to all government departments except emergency and "critical-needs" agencies, according to the memo.
All future requests for full-time employment must be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget with a critical need statement. They will be reviewed by the government reorganization team and ultimately approved or disapproved by Turnbull.
The hiring freeze will coincide with the Turnbull administration's government reorganization plan, which is still being developed, Turnbull said in the memo.
"It is expected that each department and agency head will implement this directive . . . in coordination with the government's reorganization effort now under way, by eliminating unnecessary or duplicative functions and by consolidating functions where appropriate," Turnbull wrote.
Turnbull also ordered an "acceleration" in planning for the government-wide 5 percent payroll reduction that will take effect Oct. 1. The order applies to all departments and agencies unless exempted by Turnbull. He expected all plans to be submitted to him by last Thursday.
Reiterated in the memo was the May 6 order to reduce overtime costs by 50 percent. Department heads must approve all overtime pay to ensure there are sufficient funds to cover the costs. The Finance Department may reject paying overtime for any employee's time sheets that are not accompanied by an overtime request from the department head.
"While the above directives reflect the tough choices confronting this administration, I would like to remind our department and agency heads that these choices also provide an opportunity to 'rethink' and 'reinvent' government to better serve and more efficiently deliver essential services to the people," Turnbull concluded in the memo.
Noel Loftus, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce president, said Friday these measures are nothing new and Turnbull should be moving on to more substantial fiscal policies.
"It's the same thing that the governor said in January. It's nothing other than reiterating what he said five months ago," Loftus said. "We still have a budget that has a $30-40 million deficit. He's had five months to see if these measures, including attrition, would work. If this is what it is, it hasn't worked."
De Jongh said while government reduction is critical, Turnbull must now tackle the more important task of the stimulating the economy.
"I think he's on the right road to addressing the government's fiscal problems. When you have over 90 percent of your costs accounted for by payroll, it's clear that's where you have to start," de Jongh said. "It's fine to look at payroll, but he's got to come up with some initiatives for growing the private sector."

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