July 21, 2003 – The Finance Committee took Fiscal Year 2004 budget testimony Monday afternoon from the University of the Virgin Islands, the Agriculture Department and the Public Services Commission.
University of the Virgin Islands
UVI asked for $35.6 million in what President LaVerne Ragster called a "hold-the-line budget which is the minimum level of financial support required from the V.I. government to support and operate UVI."
The biggest bite would be for personnel — $20.7 million, up from $16.7 million for FY 2003. "Compared to salaries paid at other master's level institutions, even our own Department of Education, UVI professionals are underpaid," Ragster said. "If we don't pay people, we will not be able to talk about quality programs."
She said UVI's dependence on the government for funding has shrunk from 75 percent to 60 percent over the last five years.
UVI faculty and staff received raises in 2000 but only half of what was owed from 1997 and 1998, according to Vincent Samuel, associate vice president for administration and finance. "It has been a long time," he said.
"If we do not invest in human capital, they can not produce," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said in support of the request.
UVI also asked for:
– $6.8 million for fringe benefits, an increase of nearly $1.5 million from FY 2003.
– $1 million for capital improvements, a category that received no funding for FY 2003.
– $2.6 million for general operating expenses.
– $3.2 million for debt service.
– $300,00 for the Small Business Development Center.
– $37,773 for senior citizens and $184,243 for veterans tuition.
– $240,000 valedictorian and salutatorian scholarships.
– $176,723 National Guard tuition.
– $250,000 for academic and cultural awards.
"UVI sees itself as an institution that specialized in futures," Ragster said.
Sen. David Jones supported the budget pledged to ensure its future.
The Agriculture Department requested an FY 2004 appropriation of $2.9 million, which is a drop of 6.42 percent from this year's budget.
That total would include nearly $1.9 million for personnel, $694,144 for fringe benefits, $122,500 for supplies and $173,254 for other services and charges. The department requested only one increase, for utility services — up 5.56 percent to $57,000.
Programs that Agriculture oversees include animal registration and impoundment, St. Croix's fish market and La Reine farmers' market, the department's multi-purpose building, abattoir, lease agreements, food production, the Bordeaux pump station, and Community Gardens water distribution.
Public Services Commission
The PSC is seeking $1 million for FY 2004 although by law it may request no more than $750,000. The need for additional funding was attributed to increased costs as well as additional utilities proposed, such as the Solid Waste Management Authority being sought by the governor and St. John barge services.
The PSC feels "the need to hire a staff attorney, the dire need to continue to expand outreach activities and accomplish our stated goals and objectives," Keithley Joseph, commission executive director, told the Finance Committee.
The breakdown of the PSC request:
– $179,492 for professional services.
– $70,200 for communications.
– $69,045 for travel.
– $15,000 for advertising.
– $2,600 for insurance.
– $10,200 for repairs and maintenance.
– $46,227 for rent, land and building.
– $12,000 for other services.
– $20,500 for training.
The commission underwent the rigorous scrutiny of Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Finance Committee chair. To "validate" the PSC's request for more money, he asked Joseph to list three of its accomplishments in FY 2003 that have benefitted the people of the territory.
Joseph's answer: mandating that the Water and Power Authority install more street lights so as to combat crime, receiving and solving more service complaints, and WAPA floating a bond issue.
"I expect a lot more out of the PSC," Donastorg said.
Innovative Telephone, one of the utilities regulated by the PSC, is "not living up to obligations of the people," Joseph said in response to a query from Donastorg.
The proposed budget listed customer complaints registered with the commission this year: 102 for telephone service, 13 for electric power service, seven for potable water service, 29 for cable television service, and none for ferry service.
Sen. Ronald Russell raised the prospect of making PSC members full time employees. The members "would love to be paid," Joseph said, and "would love to be full time." He said he is quite sure it would be beneficial to the territory.
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