July 25, 2006 — Straightforward presentations from the both the V.I. Council on the Arts and the Family Resource Center received full support from senators during the first round of budget hearings Tuesday, allowing the morning's meeting–for the first time in three weeks–to be adjourned half an hour ahead of schedule.
During the meeting, both organizations presented a minimal budget for fiscal year 2007, with the arts council requesting $564,713 to cover operational and program costs, and the center asking for $240,000 to cover basic personnel expenses.
Family Resource Center Executive Director Sandra Hodge-Benjamin said the money would be disbursed to the organization through the local Department of Human Services and would primarily go toward paying salaries for 17 employees–11 of whom are fully compensated by the local government. The remaining six employees, she said, are paid through a mixture of local and federal funds.
The center's operating budget also includes: $3,600 for contract services, $10,000 for utilities, $8,000 for telephone services, $2,131 for supplies and $3,000 to pay for a security system.
She said that the center would also be receiving approximately $293,429 in federal grants that would pay for continued programs and services. Hodge-Benjamin said 80 percent of the center's funding is rooted in federal and local grants, while the remaining 20 percent comes from community contributions and fund-raising efforts.
However, the level of federal funding available for "victim-related" programs and outreach initiatives has been dwindling over the past few years, due to the need to fund various U.S. war efforts, Hodge-Benjamin said. "As a result, we have been trying to reduce our dependence on these grant funds and have hired a resource coordinator to look for other sources of income," she added.
A small fee is also charged for two of the center's programs: counseling for males and anger management for females. Hodge-Benjamin said those revenues pay for the workshops' facilitators.
The purpose of the center is to develop and maintain programs for victims of crime and individuals involved in family violence or crisis. It also serves as a safe haven for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault and provides counseling services and educational outreach for students.
Betty Mahoney, executive director of the V.I. Council on the Arts, also appeared before the Senate Tuesday in support of a $564,713 budget request–which includes $256,100 in matching funds awarded to the organization through federal grants.
However, Mahoney explained that she did not submit the matching fund request to the executive branch while the government's overall budget was being compiled. Therefore, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's FY 2007 budget recommendation of $327,058 does not include the $256,100 needed for various programs sponsored through the council.
Despite this fact, Mahoney urged senators to approve the additional money, since the amount of federal funds awarded "could be in jeopardy" if a match is not provided by the local government. She said that the council has not, in the past, sought the full amount of matching funds needed but would be "going for the big request" this year.
"We're kind of living by the seat of our pants every year," Mahoney added.
Several projects hinge upon the receipt of both federal and matching funds, including:
–the implementation of a cultural conference designed to develop models for cultural and heritage tourism;
–providing technical and financial assistance to maintain various pieces of artwork and artifacts;
–creating a cultural exchange between the territory and Ghana, which would incorporate the production and staging of "Queen Breffu," a play about the 1733 slave revolt on St. John; and
–offering limited financial assistance to local artists, schools and other organizations.
Mahoney said the council's operating budget also includes: $168,000 for personnel services; $52,509 for fringe benefits; $4,000 to purchase new computers for both districts; $5,000 for supplies; $10,500 for utilities; and $1,000 for repairs and maintenance, among other things.
Present during Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James and Usie R. Richards.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David and Norman Jn Baptiste were absent.
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