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Fire Services, Nursing Officials Unhappy With Budget Cuts

July 25, 2005 — Incensed by statements made Monday by Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik, representatives from Fire Services made it clear that they do not support the DLCA’s policy of renewing business licenses without additional fire inspections.
"I believe that the DLCA blatantly disregards the law in this case," Merwin C. Potter, director of V.I. Fire Services, said. "In most cases, this decision comes back to haunt our organization."
Potter also refuted Rutnik’s claims that this situation is due to the presence of three fire inspectors for every 10,000 businesses in the V.I. "We are understaffed, but there are nine inspectors to meet these needs, and we’re trying to juggle various other problems as well," Potter said.
According to Potter, this includes continual reductions in the Fire Services budget by the Office of Management and Budget for equipment purchases and overtime funding for firefighters working night shifts. These cuts came in spite of claims made by OMB director Ira Mills that all departments would receive their initial budget requests for fiscal year 2006. Out of the $18.3 million requested by Fire Services, OMB recommended $14.8 million.
Potter said these cuts will affect his organization's ability to carry out its duties as a first responder agency—a concern made all the more important by the current U.S. security alert status.
"We are now at orange—that designates a high-security level for the U.S, and for us," Potter said. "In light of increasing responsibilities relating to homeland security procedures, we should be able to be given what we requested."
Sens. Norman Jn. Baptiste and Terrence "Positive" Nelson were in full agreement with Potter’s statements, and chastised OMB for not considering this fact.
"We [the Virgin Islands] are just as much exposed to dangers as any place else," Jn Baptiste said. "Just as other U.S. allies are getting attacked—London, Egypt—there might come a time when we’ll be attacked, too, and we won’t have the structure put in place to respond."
Such a structure involves the establishment of the new Hazardous Material/Weapons of Mass Destruction Response Team (HazMat), responsible for emergency response operation in the event of substantial threats "of hazardous substance and cleanup operations."
"With this added responsibility … proper planning, specialized equipment, training, and technical skills are needed to run this unit effectively and efficiently," Potter said.
Potter further told senators that Mills had not even participated in discussion with Fire Services regarding their technical needs. "This is important because we are also trying to comply with certain federal mandates such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS) — to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents," Potter said.
He added that without proper funding, such requirements could not be met.
Responding to concerns posed by Sen. Louis P. Hill, Potter added that additional money should be allotted by OMB for the rebuilding of the fire station in Bordeaux, St. Thomas, so that the growing community could receive the emergency services they need.
At the request of Nelson, Potter and staff will resubmit a new budget figure to the Legislature to account for OMB cuts.
Testimony was also given on Monday by Winifred L. Garfield, executive secretary of the V.I. Board of Nurse Licensure, in support of a $266,954 budget request for fiscal year 2006.
Garfield, also unhappy with OMB budget cuts, urged senators to consider increasing this amount in order to better compensate registered nurses in the territory. Garfield added that lack of proper compensation has currently fueled a shortage of registered nurses in the territory.
"There are many nurses licensed to practice in the V.I. that are doing other jobs because it pays them better," Garfield said. "This is a problem because it means that we have to deal with understaffing."
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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