July 15, 2002 According to Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull, the government is owed about $80 million in delinquent property taxes, and she lacks the Collection Division personnel to do much about it.
She told that to the Senate Finance Committee on Friday. She also said the division had collected some $19.5 million in property taxes as of June 30. Of that amount, she said, $15.8 million was in delinquent taxes.
In its Thursday afternoon and Friday Fiscal Year 2003 budget hearings on St. Croix last week, the Senate Finance Committee heard from the Finance Department, Public Defender's office and Office of Management and Budget.
Turnbull told the committee that most of what has been collected in property taxes came in during the amnesty period from October 1999 to January 2002, according to published reports in The Avis. She said two of her collection officers were pulled to help the Police Department.
The budget submitted by the governor for the Finance Department is $10.7 million, $700,000 less than for the current fiscal year. Turnbull said that will be adequate, adding, "I have to support the governor's budget," according to The Avis.
Ira Mills, Management and Budget director, said his office needs $1.4 million from the General Fund and nearly $1.1 million from the Indirect Cost Fund for a total of about $2.5 million, the amount recommended by the governor.
Mills outlined three major initiatives of OMB for FY 2003:
– Implementation of a performance measurement budget, which will require additional staff training government-wide. He said this will result in closer scrutiny of the government's use of its financial resources, and would no doubt be a "major factor" in decision making for the Legislature.
-Working with the Planning and Natural Resources Department to acquire a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency to allow the V.I. rum industry to increase production.
– Working with the various agencies affected to set up a Waste Management Authority.
On Thursday, the Office of Public Defender requested $2.5 million more than the budget submitted by the governor, according to published reports. Chief Territorial Public Defender Harold Willocks said that is because his office needs to purchase or construct its own buildings, instead of renting space, as it now does. He said his office pays $210,000 a year in rent.
Senate post auditor Terry Drake suggested funding the construction project through a recently approved move to refinance several million in bonds. Drake said that would allow the debt to be paid off over several years, as well as help garner Public Finance Authority approval in securing additional bonds.
The budget hearings continue this week On St. Croix, the committee was scheduled to take testimony Monday on the Public Works Department; Anti-Litter and Beautification Commissions of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix; Special Road Fund; Sewer Waste Water Fund; Government Development Bank; Economic Development Authority – Overview; Small Business Development Agency; Nurse Licensure Board and Government Employees Retirement System. For the full remaining budget schedule, see the Legislative Calendar in the Local Government section.
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