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UVI Decries Governor's Recommended Budget, Stating it is Not Enough

July 24, 2006–Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's $30.15 million budget recommendation is not enough to take the University of the Virgin Islands through the next fiscal year, UVI officials said during the first round of budget hearings Monday. UVI's president, Dr. LaVerne Ragster, explained that another $2.6 million is needed to provide a 3 percent increase in salaries for faculty and staff; to cover rising utility costs; to fund a classification study; and to maintain the university's equipment and facilities.
Senators said they had no qualms about granting the additional funding–in fact, they questioned why Turnbull did not provide for an increase in the FY 2007 executive budget. "UVI should be budgeted in accordance with its needs," said Sen. Louis P. Hill, chairman of the Finance Committee. "Therefore, I'm in support of your request."
Hill pointed out that Turnbull's recommendation for FY 2007 is identical to the level of funding allocated to UVI for FY 2006.
During Monday's meeting, Ragster and other university staff clearly outlined what UVI's needs are for the next fiscal year–which includes increased maintenance, facility and utility costs, along with an increase in salaries (valued at approximately $800,000). She added that UVI is currently in the process of developing a position-classification study to make faculty and staff salaries "more attractive," and has already implemented a preliminary across-the-board increase.
Vincent Samuel, vice president of administration and finance at UVI, expounded upon Ragster's statements by explaining that the university was allocated $2.5 million (through an amendment added to last year's Omnibus bill) for salary increases. "We used this to make an across the board increase of 1.5 percent, plus $2,000, for each fiscal year an employee has worked between 2001 and 2005," he said. "So the most an employee can receive right now is a 6 percent increase."
After the meeting, Samuel added that UVI had to expend the $2.5 million before it could embark on the position-classification study, which includes determining whether UVI's salaries are on par with those offered at other universities; developing an incentive award program for employees; and recruiting qualified and educated individuals to fill faculty and staff positions.
During the meeting, Dr. Al Hassan I. Musah, the university's provost, said UVI would also be ranking its faculty based on a classification scale, and would "shift basic salaries accordingly."
Despite instituting various energy saving measures, the university also needs to budget for a 15 percent increase in utility costs, Ragster said. She explained that UVI has looked into solar powered heaters and insulating buildings to save on the cost of air conditioning. "Through these methods, we have been able to see a cost avoidance of thousands of dollars," she said. "However, we do have the responsibility of keeping our lights on. And if our costs go up, we're going to have to take the money we need from other parts of our operating budget, so we wouldn't be able to give an increase to our faculty and staff."
Ragster added that $14 million in federal funds expected for 2007, coupled with various fundraising efforts, do help the organization, but are generally earmarked for specific projects. She said that UVI also has experienced problems in getting the local community to contribute to the university. "The challenge is getting everybody to see the value of our institution, and why it's so important to contribute," she said.
In response to questions from senators about ongoing fundraising initiatives, Joseph Boschulte, vice president of institutional advancement at the university, said UVI has progressed over the past four years–increasing the level of donations received from $500,000 to nearly $2 million. "This has also been the first year UVI has brought in $1 million in cash gifts," he said after the meeting. "So, from this point, what has to happen is that we increase our links to the community, such as focusing on partnerships with local companies. We have to also show them that they can expect a return on their investments."
Increasing the university's technological capacity is also a priority listed within this year's budget request, along with an approximately $2.6 million increase for maintenance, repairs and capital outlays.
Samuel explained that the increase in maintenance costs would go toward general upkeep for the university's 140 buildings, and would "cover expenses that we can't afford to put off anymore."
While UVI has approximately $19 million from a 2004 bond issue to spend on capital projects, Ragster said additional money is needed to develop a new administrative building on the St. Thomas campus and an academic facility on the St. Croix campus, among other things.
Another $3.2 million is also included in UVI's budget request to pay off debt service reserves. After the meeting, Samuel said that the university has approximately $92 million left to pay off on the 2004 bond issue and a set private activity bonds floated in 1999.
Present during Monday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste and Usie R. Richards.

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