Aug. 23, 2005 — At a Finance Committee hearing Monday morning, Zandra E. Petersen, executive director of the V.I. Public Employee Relations Board asked for a $25,000 increase in PERB's budget and John Abramson, supervisor of elections, asked for a $600,000 increase in the Election System's budget.
Abramson said the $1,043,464 budget projection does not provide enough funding for two elections and the operation of the system. He said, "It will not work." He added, "It is my strong opinion, no money, no elections, period."
The elections he refers to are a special election in February for a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and then a primary seven months later.
A general election will also be held in November 2006, but it falls in the 2007 fiscal year.
Abramson estimated his needs at $200,000 per election and $200,000 for matching funds for a federal grant. On further questioning, he said that the primary election would probably be less expensive costing about $168,000.
And that was not all the committee would hear from the Election System. Rupert Ross, a St. Croix board member, advocated that the senate appropriate funds for deputy assistants in both districts. Although, he gave no figures, senators threw out the figure of a total appropriation of $60,000 to $80,000 and he did not disagree,
The Election System has two districts the St. Croix district and the St. Thomas/St. John. Each district and each has its own seven-member board. Together they employee 10 full-time people at a cost of about $600,000 per year.
The cost of poll workers each election is about $30,000.
Abramson said that as of July there were 26,334 registered voters in the St. Thomas/St. Croix District and 26,693 in the St. Croix district.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, chairman of the committee, asked why, if there were more voters registered on St. Croix, less of them actually voted. Abramson said he thought maybe St. Croix voters were more disillusioned with the system and did not really think their votes mattered.
Abramson said one of the Election System's duties was to make sure that money was not tainting elections.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said, since he was able to win at age 27, a virtual political unknown with little cash, it showed the system still worked.
The PERB is the place government employees, and also employees of Water and Power Authority, the hospitals, and Port Authority, go to resolve labor issues.
Aubrey Lee, chairman of the board, said PERB's goal is "providing for an orderly and constructive relationship between government management, government employees and union representatives in a neutral environment."
Besides hearing cases and trying to resolve disputes, PERB also provides training in labor-management relations and mediation.
PERB has a staff of eight people, six of whom are located on St. Croix.
Petersen said the cost for funding personnel was $380, 365 or 70 percent of the total budget request of $625,000
Petersen said the additional $25,000 this year was needed to purchase a data networking system, lease or purchase an optical scanner and purchase an updated transcribing machine.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson expressed support for PERB's request. The former union activist said, "I want to see PERB become more efficient in its mediation with the government." He added he believed PERB staff ought to be receiving higher salaries than they presently were.
Attending the hearing were Sens. Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, and Jn Baptiste .
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