Aug. 6, 2003 – The Senate Finance Committee thoroughly questioned the representatives of the Offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Bureau of Economic Research, the Office of Information Technology and the Human Services Department on Wednesday in efforts to ascertain whether the offices are managing their resources efficiently and effectively.
Office of the Governor
"Do you believe in doing more with less?" Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg asked Alric Simmonds, deputy chief of staff to the governor, who submitted a proposed Fiscal Year 2004 budget of $7.6 million. This is an increase of $394,000 from FY 2003.
Reviewing the governor's budget request, Donastorg asked why it cost $203,000 to operate the telephone system. He said the Office of the Governor should "lead by example" and reduce its own budget, as in the case of the Legislature and other agencies.
Office of Information Technology
Angel Turnbull, special assistant to the governor, requested a budget of $1.3 million for FY 2004, saying that amount will be needed to staff the office adequately and carry out its mandates. At present, he said, he and an employee of the Finance Department staff the office.
Sen. Hill said, "I find this disturbing." He said that the OIT is by far one of the most critical elements of the government, with a computer in every office and with technology changing at the speed of light. Hill suggested an info tech office that coordinates and effectively manages what the government has and also plans for the future.
Turnbull reported that one of the responsibilities of his office is to link the financial management system so that computer systems can exchange information and provide all cash collection agencies with direct access to the FMS. He said 23 agencies are connect thus far.
Bureau of Economic Research
After questioning Lauritz Mills, director of the Bureau of Economic Research, Sen. Luther Renee expressed his desire for the agency to do more. Mills said she hopes to move the office beyond simply producing tourism data. She said she would like to conduct a cost-benefit study of Economic Development Commission programs and an assessment of the banking sector on the territory's economy.
Sen. Ronald Russell asked why the bureau doesn't have an office on St. Croix. "We do serve St. Croix," Mills responded, adding that she would like to hire more employees, including personnel to be based on St. Croix, if the Legislature will approve the budget needed to do so.
The bureau's request is for $6.9 million for FY 2004, about same as for FY 2003. Although the bureau's mission statement says that is to provide timely information on the state of the economy in the territory, the agency did not provide financial analysis of plans to address the territory's current fiscal crisis until "the late stages," Mills said.
Human Services Department
"I believe that it is necessary to present what our needs are, although funding may not be available to address them entirely," Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert told the committee. She asked for $35.3 million for FY 2004, which is 2.7 percent more than her FY 2003 budget.
Lack of funding has seriously impacted on her department's services to the elderly and impaired, Halbert said. She said $60,000 was allocated this fiscal year for the Dial-A-Ride program. but she is seeking $450,000 for FY 2004. She also said that low salaries and stressful job duties make it difficult to keep positions in the department filled.
Corene Thomas, deputy commissioner, said Human Services has a $3 million deficit that will negatively affect its ability to pay contracts for professional services. Donastorg urged Halbert to try to convince Gov. Charles W. Turnbull of the importance of filling these essential positions.
Office of the Lieutenant Governor
Iverine Hedrington, director of business and financial management for Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, requested $8.9 million for FY 2004, which is a 35.09 percent increase from FY 2003.
Hill asked about the shortage of U.S. insurance companies in the territory.
Deverita Sturdivant, director of the Banking and Insurance Division, told the senators that since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, American insurance companies have been leery of losing money in the territory. In the aftermath of Hugo, she said, two such companies lost $300 million each.
U.S. insurance companies tend to want to come in and make a profit immediately, Sturdivant said, whereas British companies seem to look at the long term in regard to return on their investment.
Committee members present for Wednesday's hearing were Sens. Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Louis Hill, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste was absent. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone had been excused. Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., who is not a member of the committee, also was present.
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