Aug. 15, 2006 – For yet another consecutive year, V.I. Inspector General Steven vanBeverhoudt said, budget cuts and a lack of qualified personnel has kept his office from finishing "several" pending audit and investigation reports.
"Today we are maintaining the same status quo as last year and the years before," he said during the second round of budget hearings Tuesday.
VanBeverhoudt explained that his office requested an operating budget of approximately $1.3 million for Fiscal Year 2007. This amount includes $75,000 for computer upgrades, $42,000 for a supervising auditor position and $15,000 to repair headquarters on Krondprindsens Gade.
While vanBeverhoudt said the request for computer upgrades was included in the recommendation made this year by the Office of Management and Budget, funds for the repairs and new position were cut, leaving the office's total operating budget at approximately $1.2 million – a $58,581 increase over last year's appropriation.
"This amount will once again allow us to keep things the way they are – where we get things to do all the time, but just can't fund them," vanBeverhoudt said Tuesday evening.
While vanBeverhoudt speculated during the meeting that OMB cut the request in order to keep the office "closer" to its "budget ceiling," he also said that more funds would allow the Office of the Inspector General to hire more qualified employees and begin construction on a new office on St. Croix.
"We used to have an office over there," he explained after the meeting. "However, it was closed in 2000 because staff positions were eliminated after employees retired or resigned. It came down to the point where we had only one employee, and when that person left, we closed it down."
During the meeting, vanBeverhoudt described the reestablishment of the St. Croix office as a "critical necessity that has to be addressed."
"We have a lot of work to do on St. Croix, especially in the investigations area," he said. "Currently we have to send people over there to stay or find some way to bring records over from St. Croix."
VanBeverhoudt estimated that it would cost $500,000 to $700,000 to rebuild the St. Croix facility – including money for repairs, personnel costs for a staff of six, and equipment.
More money would also help the office bring on more qualified employees, vanBeverhoudt added. "For Fiscal Year 2007, one of our primary wishes is to fill our vacancies with qualified individuals," he said. "In this regard, however, we continue to experience difficulties with the current low pay scale and the long bureaucratic process in hiring candidates."
In response to questions from senators about the need to increase government salaries across-the-board, vanBeverhoudt explained that the Division of Personnel would have to reclassify all the positions within the Office of the Inspector General in order for increases to be implemented.
"The pay scale runs from $40,000 to $80,000, and there are about 12 or 15 steps within the scale," he said. "Even if I wanted to bring someone in on the eighth step, that salary is only about $50,000. So, since the entire scale is low, Personnel would have to completely reclassify all our positions."
VanBeverhoudt also recommended that he be given the authority to implement salary increases.
During the meeting, senators seemed surprised to hear that the office had not been given a significant budget increase, and is still suffering from a lack of funding discussed over the years at past budget hearings.
"You seem to have thrown your hands up in the air and given up," Sen. Louis P. Hill, chairman of the Finance Committee, said after vanBeverhoudt gave his budget presentation.
In response, vanBeverhoudt said he had been making the same requests "for years" with no results.
"Maybe if I don't ask for it this year, we'll actually get something we need," he joked.
Present during Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Neville James and Terrence Nelson.
Sen. Usie R. Richards was absent.
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