July 28, 2006 – For the first time in four years, the Office of Veterans Affairs may be able to acquire everything it needs in order to operate, at least according to Justin Harrigan Sr., the organization's executive director. These operating needs include an additional staff position, new office equipment and computers, and a vehicle for St. Thomas.
During a short second round of budget hearings Friday, Harrigan said he is "happy" with the $323,176 budget recommended by the executive branch – even though the office originally requested an operating budget of $325,199 for Fiscal Year 2007.
Harrigan said the difference would be made up by an $84,400 contribution from the V.I. Lottery – which pulls the office's total operating budget up to $407,576.
Included in the Veterans Affairs s budget is $225,072 for personnel costs (five filled positions, one vacancy, and $7,500 for a per diem employee); $69,400 for benefits; $3,000 for supplies; $3,700 for utilities; and $22,000 for other expenses, including rent, travel and communications.
Harrigan told senators that funding for an additional custodial worker, two new office machines, seven computers, and a new vehicle for St. Thomas were not included in the recommended budget appropriation. After the meeting, however, he said that he would be using the money contributed by the V.I. Lottery to cover those costs.
Should the Senate decided to fund the additional requests, however, Harrigan said he would be using the contribution from the Lottery for other purposes, including developing the office's Web site. "Nothing is obligated as yet," he said. "So we'll see what happens."
While senators had few financial questions for Harrigan during the meeting, they did discuss a variety of topics, including how much is needed to cover burial expenses for veterans. Harrigan said $200,000 is line-itemed in the miscellaneous section of the executive budget for that purpose.
In response to a question from Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville about possible debt incurred by Veterans Affairs, Harrigan said the government still has to pay off $185,000 worth of pre-retirement benefits owed to veterans from the V.I. National Guard.
He explained that National Guard members with 20 or more years of service, who are 55 years old, are entitled to receive $100 a month from the local government until their 60th birthday. After that, the federal government subsidizes their pensions, he said.
While Veterans Affairs is not responsible for the debt, it is something the government has to take care of, Harrigan added.
Present during Friday afternoon's meeting were Figueroa-Serville and Sen. Louis P. Hill. Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste and Usie R. Richards were absent.
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