Senators wrapped up late Tuesday evening after a relatively quiet day of budget hearings, bringing up officials from the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corp., Office of Collective Bargaining and the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
East End Medical has been a sore spot for senators for years, after multiple shakeups in management and financial issues that were brought up Tuesday, but appeared to now be under control. Clinic head Wilbur Smith went through the details of two professional service contracts specifically dealing with revenues and billing, and other than some concerns about one not being initially put out to bid, senators’ concerns were few.
There was a call for more doctors, specifically dentists, and more outreach to patients, along with some healthier food being served in the Tutu Park Mall, where the clinic is located. Other than that, the center’s crew said they would be asking for a fiscal year 2011 General Fund budget of $1.5 million, which they said is expected to cover the associated operational expenses.
Of the requested amount, a little more than $1 million will be put toward personnel services — a category that Smith said will increase this year with a few new employees — while $356,025 is slated for associated fringe benefits. Another $17,000 is estimated for supplies, $116,299 for other services and charges, and $15,000 for utilities.
Office of Collective Bargaining
In previous years, budget hearings for the Office of Collective Bargaining have been somewhat contentious, with senators and testifiers butting heads over the progress of ongoing labor negotiations and how much money’s been set aside for government employees.
This time around, chief labor negotiator Valdemar Hill Jr. kept a cool head as he laid out his simple plans for upcoming year: by November 2011, he said, all bargaining units will be operating under a current agreement.
Hill said new contracts are being negotiated with four- and even five-year terms, which he said should help the government plan and budget for employees’ salary increases. Employees, in turn, will be able to see their wages "keeping pace" with the cost of living and other "fiscal realities," Hill said.
Hill added that since he started negotiations in February, he has not really been worried about money. Funding for negotiations have been consistently budgeted for and put into the Union Arbitration Fund for drawdown, and as long as that remains the funding source, there shouldn’t be any problems, he said.
Collective Bargaining’s recommended FY 2011 General Fund appropriation is $715,968, which includes $471,067 for personnel services, $140,296 in associated fringe benefits, $7,500 for supplies, $79,378 for other services and charges, and $17,727 for utilities.
As usual, senators looked for some sort of assurance that levelized energy adjustment clause (LEAC) rates would be going down, and that WAPA would soon begin to diversify its fuel sources, which, in turn, brought up some latent issues over the proposed deal with Alpine Energy Group.
Other than that, however, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. made it out of Tuesday’s hearing in a few hours after presenting a projected FY 2011 budget that’s in the black on both the electric and water sides. The authority does not receive any of its money from the General Fund, but rather relies on its sales and bond proceeds to cover expenses.
FY 2011 projections show electric system revenues of $258.5 million for $257.3 million in expenses, leaving $1.2 million in net income. Typically, the authority’s largest expense is fuel, which Hodge said is estimated at $171.6 million, followed closely behind by $38.3 million in personnel service costs.
The system’s capital budget is $50.9 million, the majority of which will be funded by bond proceeds, while the remainder will be covered by current year revenues, grants, PSC authorized funding and "hopefully" collections from outstanding government receivables, Hodge said. The capital improvement program will focus on overhauling generation units, along with "undergrounding" parts of the transmission and distribution system.
On the water system side, sales are projected to jump when compared to FY 2010, but drop when compared to FY 2008 and 2007 levels. The budget factors in $35.3 million in operating revenues for $30 million in expenses and deductions, for a net income of $5.3 million. Expenses have dropped for FY 2011, due in large part to a projected drop in fuel expenses for the system.
The capital budget on the water side is estimated at $17.7 million, funded heavily by government grants. Major projects budgeted for FY 2011 include: repairs to the Richmond Water Storage tank, water line repair in Estates Strawberry, Anna’s Hope and La Grande Princesse on St. Croix, along with a waterline expansion in Anna’s Retreat, water station in Coral Bay and rehabbing to the Contant/Midtown area and Blackbeard Hill.
Present during Tuesday’s hearing were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis P. Hill, Wayne James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes and Patrick Simeon Sprauve.