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Amid Austerity, Government Trying To Cut Back On Vehicle Use

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Bill Kossler

Property and Procurement has reduced government vehicle fuel use by double-digits, is planning to eliminate a government vehicle category and largely eliminate overnight vehicle use, and is working to shrink the government’s fleet by 12 percent, Commissioner Lynn Millin-Maduro said in Senate budget hearings Friday.

Property and Procurement handles the government’s vehicle fleet, fueling the fleet, private rental of government properties, and government rental of private properties, among its duties. The government fleet of vehicles includes police and emergency vehicles as well as private cars for administrative and other uses.

Last year, the government’s total fuel consumption was 1.3 million gallons of gasoline and 288,000 gallons of diesel, at a total taxpayer cost of $4.3 million, Maduro said. To date this fiscal year, the government has consumed 667,000 gallons of gasoline and 144,000 gallons of diesel which represents a 13-percent reduction in fuel consumption, she said.

The department has spent $3.2 million on gas and diesel so far this year.

At the beginning of the year, the government fleet had 1,691 vehicles, and Property and Procurement planned to reduce that by 12 percent, focusing on older, less fuel-efficient vehicles in poor repair, she said. So far, the department has removed 69 of the 203 vehicles it needs to, but it "is anticipated that the department will have to physically retrieve the vehicles to achieve the 12-percent reduction," Maduro said.

Presenting the department’s budget to the Finance Committee, Maduro said Property and Procurement has adjusted to a smaller operating budget, but the department is also generating less revenue.

Property and Procurement’s suggested fiscal year 2013 budget calls for $4.1 million from the General Fund, a roughly 2.8-percent reduction from its 2012 funding. It anticipates $2.1 million in rents from the Business and Commercial Fund, and $387,000 from the Indirect Cost Fund. The budget anticipates $2 million in other local funds, according to data from the Legislatures post auditor.

The combined total budget of $8.5 million is a 3.8 percent reduction from its 2012 funding.

Funding cuts came entirely from the General Fund appropriation, but were partially made up for with increases of more than 50 percent from the Indirect Cost Fund, and 10 percent from the Business and Commercial Fund.

From the General Fund, $2.1 million is for wages and salaries, $791,000 are for government retirement, Social Security and Medicare contributions. Utilities are budgeted at $163,000.

The department was able to move the salaries of six employees off the General Fund and pay them from its increased Business and Commercial Fund and Indirect Cost Fund revenues, which allowed it to limit personnel terminations to 13 employees, she said. Those were the first staffing reduction in five years, she added.

Property and Procurement manages the Virgin Islands government’s Business and Commercial Account, Central Motor Pool Fund, Central Warehouse Revolving Fund, Gasoline Coupon Program, Printing Fund and General Fund, collecting from them collectively $6.4 million this current fiscal year – an 8.6 percent reduction from fiscal year 2011 revenues. Rent collections for the Business and Commercial Account comprise $1.7 million of the total collections so far – a slight increase over last year, Maduro said.

"This year’s increase is a direct result of several Notices to Cure and Evictions that were served," she said.

By the end of the year, Property and Procurement projects collecting $2.2 million, she said.

The department, to date, has taken in about $705,000 in revenues from sales at the government’s Central Stores, a drop of more than 15 percent from last year.
While revenues are down, so are expenses, Maduro said. The department manages 149 leases, for which it currently pays almost $9 million in rent. But that sum is 10-percent less that it paid the previous year.

Maduro also told legislators that Property and Procurement renewed the government’s property insurance at $7 million, and this year added property coverage to government vehicles, which have seen expensive losses in the past two years due to fires and floods.

V.I. Public Television System Executive Director Osbert Potter presented the system’s General Fund budget of $3.8 million to the Legislature Friday too. That sum is roughly 8-percent less than its fiscal 2011 budget appropriation.

Wages and salaries account for $2.1 million of the total budget. Employer contributions for Social Security, Medicare and the V.I. Government Employee Retirement System account for another $435,000.

Potter also presented a $1.5 million capital budget for equipment, saying "even though I clearly understand the difficult financial conditions that we face," the station needs to "upgrade and replace critical transmitting and engineering equipment," and needs "start up funding for our newly authorized FM radio station."

No votes were taken at the information-gathering oversight hearing.

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