The Virgin Islands Legislature approved the fiscal year 2010 General Fund budget for the government Thursday, along with bills approving compensation for Department of Education contractors and projects to be funded under a federal Community Development Block Grant.
The budget grand total for all three branches of government, plus monies for UVI and WTJX channel 12 and the miscellaneous section, is $854.8 million from the general fund. That figure includes $752 million for central government departments and agencies, $34.5 million for the University, $20 million for the Legislature, $43.7 million to fund the court system, $4.8 million for public television and $116.5 million for the miscellaneous section of the budget, according to the legislature’s post auditor Jose George.
In appropriating $20 million for the Legislature’s operating expenses, senators were clearly sensitive to the public’s close attention to its spending. The monies include funds for staff salaries and building maintenance.
The institution had curbed spending by some $500,000, but cited the burden of maintaining aging buildings, Sen. Craig Barshinger said.
Adding that the Senate had closely reviewed its expenses, Sen. Louis P. Hill noted that they had brought water bills back down to just $1,500 a month after discovering and addressing a significant number of leaks from the aging pipe systems under the 135-year-old building on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront
.Funds approved for the court system include:
- $7 million for the V.I. Supreme Court;
- $31.5 million for the V.I. Superior Court, plus a $1 million line item for retroactive wages for current and former employees;
- $340,044 for operating expenses for the Judicial Council of the Virgin Islands;
- $3.9 million for operating expenses in the Office of the Public Defender.
Senators approved $12.5 million from the Education Initiative Fund for the Dept. of Education to compensate E-Rate contractors ($4.2 million), implement a $7 million textbook adoption program and $1.3 million to repair public schools throughout the territory.
The Senate also approved nearly $1.8 million for community projects to be funded under the FY2009 Community Development Block Grant administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Funded community projects ranged from $10,000 for the V.I. Resources Center for the Disabled for an after-school program on St. John, to $200,000 for the V.I. Partners in Recovery, Inc. — complete renovations which will provide for up to 10 beds for persons recovering from substance abuse — to $351,000 for administration of the CDBG Program Administration by the V.I. Housing Authority.
The afternoon session approved the V.I. government’s operating budget and a bill reprogramming funds from FY2009.
Included is $2.5 million for a build-out of offices for the Internal Revenue Bureau, whose workers have been affected by mold found at the Bureau’s Mandela Circle build. "We have appropriated in the budget $2.5 million for the IRB," Hill said. "…to enable them to find a new facility …to make them whole and give them a healthy environment."
In addition, legislators approved a measure to amend Act 7072, providing for relaxed lending terms for Tramcom, Inc. (doing business as Paradise Point) in the development of Flagberry Hill. The amendment would clear the way for the Public Finance Authority to guarantee a loan for the development, over the objections of its administrator.
"This issue deserves to continue to be studied," Sen. Craig Barshinger said, expressing concern that "this is not a deal that is going to turn out well for us."
The Senate also voted to override the governor’s July 3 veto of provisioning the Worker Preparation Educational Program for high school seniors. The governor’s veto was based on the measure’s requiring "the Department of Education to engage in workforce development, which is within the purview of the V.I. Department of Labor, "and would "reallocate funding that the VIDOE from the Casino Revenue Fund, decreasing the flexibility of the VIDOE to apply these funds to areas of need," according to a letter Hill. Only Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly was absent from Thursday’s proceedings.