Aug. 12, 2003 – Police Commissioner Elton Lewis told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the beefed-up Fiscal Year 2004 budget of $46.9 million he is requesting is needed to fund operational costs and allow the Police Department to continue its work on a number of pro-active public safety initiatives.
For the current fiscal year, he said, the department's appropriation was $37.7 million. He said $35 million of that was for personnel costs and that he is projecting such costs at $37.8 million for FY 2004.
If he gets the requested increase in funding, Lewis said, he will be able to address operational needs instead of just meeting payroll expenses with little to spare.
Lewis, who took over as commissioner in March, said his goals and expectations for the department "are high — and this community expects and deserves no less." He told the lawmakers: "As a police commissioner I have a duty and a responsibility to be fiscally responsible; however I have a greater obligation to the people of the Virgin Islands. I will not sacrifice the well-being of a single person for the preservation of a dollar. It is not only about the dollars and cents, it is about the safety of our residents and visitors."
Austerity measures over the last several years, he said, have resulted in the department closing substations, consolidating divisions and seeing personnel depart for other U.S. jurisdictions that could offer them better salaries.
At present, he said, the average staffing on a shift at any V.I. police station is below the level recommended by the Office of Management and Budget. This has placed far too great a burden on available personnel, he said, and "has had an unfavorable effect not only on police services, but also on our cash flow for maintenance, supplies and other services — and more importantly, on the employees' morale."
In addition to the $38.7 million for personnel costs, the budget Lewis presented includes $2.2 million for contracted services, rent and communications; $1.7 million for capital improvements; $1.2 million for supplies, repairs and maintenance; $74,918 for logistical and supply needs; and $560,000 for utilities at the Alexander A. Farrelly Justice Complex on St. Thomas. He said the V.I. Justice Department has been bearing the entire cost of utilities, although the Police Department is headquartered in the complex.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who chairs the Finance Committee, said public concern is growing about the level of violence in the territory. "People are now being killed in the daylight," he said, just a day after two men were fatally wounded early Monday afternoon in what was described as a shooting spree near the Housing Parks and Recreation Department's Winston Raymo Center on St. Thomas.
Sen. Louis Hill told Lewis that "the territory is under siege, and your need is great." He expressed the opinion that a portion of the $235 million bond issue that the Senate recently approved "should be utilized for fighting crime, especially on St. Croix."
Sen. Lorraine Berry made the point that appropriating money in itself is not enough. "It is impossible for us to fight crime if the money appropriated to the VIPD is not allotted," she said.
Presiding Judge Maria Cabret told the senators that Territorial Court is seeking a Fiscal Year 2004 budget appropriation of $24.8 million, which would be $2.2 million less than was appropriated for the current fiscal year. She said the "conservative" submission "shows that the judicial branch is committed to fiscal prudence," according to a release from the Legislature.
She said the executive branch does not have the authority to reduce the court's budget, as "we are a separate branch of government." However, she said, the court "in cooperation and collaboration" with the Turnbull administration agreed earlier this year to reduce its FY 2003 allotments by 10 percent. The governor ordered 10 percent across-the-board spending cuts as a fiscal austerity measure in the face of a looming deficit.
Cost-cutting measures within the court, Cabret said, included postponing salary increases, reducing training and travel, reducing the summer jobs program to five weeks from eight, reducing overtime and suspending capital projects.
Among capital projects carried out, she said, was the installation of bulletproof glass and security cameras in the Farrelly Justice Complex, along with locking systems to restrict access to judges' chambers.
Cabret also told the committee that the court has yet to receive its FY 2003 allotment for the fourth quarter, which began July 1.
District Judge Raymond Finch, who chairs the Judicial Council, appeared on behalf of that entity to ask the committee for an appropriation of $425,706 for the coming fiscal year.
He said the council is "mindful of the government's fiscal plight and has fashioned its request with this in mind, considering the work that is required if we are to fulfill the responsibilities outlined in the Virgin Islands Code," according to the release.
St. Thomas/St. John Horse Racing Commission
Gilbert Comissiong, chair of the St. Thomas/St. John Horse Racing Commission, told the committee that "based on contractual agreements," the commission expects to derive its funding from fees for the simulcasting of live horse racing, the release stated.
Revenue from the simulcasting is deposited into the Horse Racing Improvement Fund, he said, and draw-downs from the fund to finance the commission are made through the Housing Parks and Recreation Department.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.