Sept. 15, 2006 – An operating budget of $18.9 million for Fiscal Year 2007 will allow the Legislature to acquire new technology, maintain and repair buildings on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and hire attorneys to deal with various cases pending before the Superior Court, according to Senate President Lorraine L. Berry.
During a Rules Committee meeting Friday, Berry said that the budget – which represents a $224,000 increase over last year's appropriation – would also help to make things "more comfortable" for the new set of senators taking office in January.
According to the Legislature's Executive Director Larry Bryan, the budget also includes a salary increases for central staff members, which total approximately $6.5 million for FY 2007.
Senators said they supported the salary increases, since wages paid to central staff workers are "currently below those paid" to individuals employed by other government departments and agencies.
Salaries for senators and their staff total almost $4.67 million.
Bryan gave a detailed budget presentation during the meeting, starting off with a list of accomplishments for FY 2006 – including the start of the mold remediation project at the Legislature on St. Croix, which is scheduled to be finished in November.
He said that the Legislature has also acquired the equipment necessary to begin broadcasting Senate hearings from St. Croix. "All the equipment is presently on-island and stored in the warehouses of the Department of Property and Procurement, Innovative and the Legislature's own facilities," Bryan said.
Bryan added that he and Berry also have begun looking into acquiring a new fleet of vehicles for the Legislature. "In securing quotations thus far, it is evident that the more cost effective vehicles available are not particularly fuel efficient," he said. "In particular, there are significant fleet discounts available for SUV's, while little discounts are offered for more fuel efficient vehicles."
Bryan said a proposal for a new fleet of vehicles should be "completed shortly."
While Bryan gave a list of accomplishments, Berry said that the Legislature has faced "significant challenges" over the past fiscal year. Among those, she said, is the fact that the Legislature has been taken to court "a number of times" and has had to hire legal representation.
One such court battle includes a suit filed against the Legislature by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull relating to the establishment of a Supreme Court on the island of St. Croix.
Berry said the FY 2007 operating budget would help the Legislature overcome some of these challenges, and push the Senate into the future with new technological equipment and better facilities.
In response to comments from Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville about the "deplorable" condition of the senators' offices, Berry said she would, before leaving office next year, "be able to present plans" to improve the Legislatures on both St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Since senators had few questions or concerns about the budget, Berry also took the time to reminisce about her experience serving in the Legislature. "This is the best Legislature I've been in since I got in 24 years ago," she said. "You all are people who bring value to your positions, who have respect for people. But while we've gotten a lot accomplished, we still have a ways more to go. So let's end this Legislature on a high note."
Voting in favor of the budget was Berry, along with Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, and Ronald E. Russell.
Sen. Terrence Nelson abstained, since senators voted to send the budget onto the full Senate body for further consideration with a closed rule – meaning that senators will not have a chance to offer amendments to the bill during the session.
Present during Friday's meeting were Berry, Encarnacion, Figueroa-Serville, Hill, Nelson and Russell, along with noncommittee members Sens. Craig W. Barshinger and Liston Davis.
Sen. Roosevelt C. David was absent.
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