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July 23, 2003 – In its third day of Fiscal Year 2004 budget hearings stretching through the third week of August, the Senate Finance Committee heard on Tuesday from the V.I. Justice Department, Legal Services of the V.I. and the Frederiksted Health Center. And all of them wanted more money.
The committee is trying to keep budgets to bare bones in light of the government's projected $152 million deficit for Fiscal Year 2003, which ends Sept. 30. The Senate is still awaiting Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposed FY 2004 budget, but is proceeding with hearings in the meantime.
Justice Department
Attorney General Iver Stridiron is asking for $27.1 million for the Justice Department, an increase of $494,108 over its FY2003 appropriation.
Stridiron also submitted a $3.3 million supplemental FY 2003 budget request to the Office of Management and Budget last March. He told Ira Mills, OMB director, that he needed this money to fund the pay raises granted by the governor to classified and exempt employees last year, increases which exceed $2 million a year in his department, he said.
Responding to questioning by Sen. Lorraine Berry, Stridiron said the department's major challenge remains the lack of community cooperation. Even with a cadre of lawyers and support staff and a Bureau of Corrections capable of housing inmates, he said, he needs the public's cooperation. "The community just doesn't want to get involved," he said.
Stridiron said Corrections overtime has been cut by utilizing "creative measures" and will continue to be cut, but it cannot be completely eliminated. "Unfortunately, we don't think it will go below $20,000," he said, "but we don't think it will go back up the levels of $50,000 to $100,000 bi-weekly."
Under questioning by the committee chair, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Stridiron said he was not aware of any morale problems with the bureau. He said the only problem with the Corrections officers could be overtime. "We owe some officers overtime, and also we have cut down on overtime," he said.
Legal Services
Richard Austin, Legal Services of the V. I. executive director, asked the committee for a $600,000 general operations budget and an additional $250,000 for improvements to the St. Thomas Community Law Center Complex.
Austin called his staff attorneys' salaries "shameful." He said their pay is $20,000 to $30,000 less than those of other lawyers in government agencies such as the Attorney General's Office. Legal Services, a not-for-profit agency, provides free representation to those who cannot afford a lawyer.
"Justice for all" has no meaning, Austin said, "if a portion of our community believes it has been shut out of the justice system."
Frederiksted Health Center
Vivian I. Ebbesen-Fludd, Frediksted Health Care Inc. executive director, asked for a budget of $1.8 million for FY 2004 for the Frederiksted Health Center, up slightly from her FY 2003 appropriation of $1.7 million. The increase includes about $46,000 which she said is needed for "other services," utilities and other costs which are now inadequately funded.
She noted that the requested FY2004 budget remains the same for personnel, fringe benefits and supplies. The "other services" include fixed communication maintenance and a $30,000 increase for building and equipment maintenance, she said.
Committee members present were Sens. Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was absent. Non-member Berry also attended.

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