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DLCA Requests $2.5M Budget Increase

July 25, 2005 — During a Senate Finance Committee hearing Monday, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik asked for a $2.5-million budget increase to supplement cuts made in employee salaries over past years. Rutnik justified his budget request partially on the Office of Management and Budget's recent projections regarding growth in the territory.
For Rutnik, these raises begin with additional funding for legal council positions, which are under U.S. standards. "I am sad to say that our General Counsel ($60,000) and our District Counsel ($55,000) are some of the lowest paid in all of government," Rutnik said.
Rutnik added that budget cuts, as well as the elimination of vacant positions by the government, has previously hampered DLCA operations. "In my almost seven years as commissioner, every budget was lowered by a cut; there was no money for needed positions, much more for raises," Rutnik said.
He added that these positions, on various DLCA boards and commissions, help to generate revenue so that the DLCA may sustain itself financially—independent of the V.I. government.
Additionally, DLCA will later be providing a supplementary budget, which asks for funding for more employees. Rutnik said that these requests were not included in the present budget because of a 10-percent decrease in funds last quarter from OMB. "We had to make cuts because of that … but now, since OMB said that all requests should be filled, we’re requesting the extra employees that we need."
Rutnik justified his request by showing senators that the DLCA has accomplished much in spite of budget cuts—including a complete Licensing Division conversion to e-government in January.
"This accomplishment is completely homegrown, and very cost effective…we did not go outside the territory and solicit bids from expensive vendors…we used local talent, our own employees and visionary leadership from our senior staff to make it happen," Rutnik said.
The e-government system allows all other government agencies to interact electronically with DLCA for exchange of data and is currently tied to the Internal Revenue Bureau. "Our agency had led the charge into the future … our goal is to provide a legally entitled license in seven days from the time of application," Rutnik said.
This incentive raised concern from senators — particularly regarding the fact that the DLCA is issuing licenses to businesses that have not passed fire inspection standards.
"There are three fire inspectors for 10,000 businesses," Rutnik said. "There’s no way they can get through them all." As a result, DLCA renews licenses for those businesses that have previously passed their fire inspections, and sends fire officers to new businesses preparing for their first inspection.
Discussing the status of the Taxi Division, Rutnik said that measures are being taken to eliminate abuses in taxi operations.
"Public safety and highway etiquette will become the rule of the day…those few taxi drivers that are abusive and dangerous with their passengers will be removed from the road," Rutnik said.
Addressing concerns on rising fuel, tire, and insurance costs, Rutnik said that new tariffs will be instituted in September that will adjust luggage fares and passenger rates—including a 50-cent increase in "dollar taxi" fares around the territory. While senators expressed concern that senior citizens were not exempt from those increases, Rutnik said that this group will be looked after, but will have to absorb costs like everyone else.
Rutnik further stated that the on-again-off-again Vitran bus service has increased the need for taxis in the territory, and as such, consumers needing service must pay for the costs. While senators suggested the possibility of a water taxi as a solution to offset these costs, Rutnik said that St. Thomas taxi drivers are concerned that the establishment of such a service will result in a loss of customers.
Rutnik also mentioned that repairs to Vendor’s Plaza on St. Thomas will be happening in the near future due to injuries being sustained by residents and tourists.
"We have to retile the surface, level the surface, open and clean out drains that are being currently covered by pieces of wood…we want to do some landscaping, too," Rutnik said, adding that staff and offices will have to be relocated for the period of time in which repairs will occur.
Senators present for Monday’s hearing were Roosevelt C. David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Norman Jn. Baptiste, Louis P. Hill, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie Richards, and Juan Figueroa-Serville. Sen. Neville James was absent.
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