There is no funding for witness protection and, without more money for overtime, police will have no choice but to "curtail" some activities, Police Commissioner Delroy Richards told the Senate Finance Committee during budget hearings Wednesday.
Richards said last year the government did not appropriate funding for this year’s overtime, and now the problem is being compounded in the proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
"However, the VIPD continues to incur overtime costs," he said. The Police Department projects $11.9 million in overtime by the end of the current fiscal year and expects a similar amount in the upcoming year, he said. "A request of $10 million for overtime in the FY16 budget was submitted; however, only $2,169,850 was received" in the proposed budget, Richards said.
"The decrease in the budget request for the VIPD will essentially force the department to reduce or curtail many of our community-based activities," Richards said.
Also the special fund for witness protection has been completely empty "for several years now," Richards said. It needs at least $100,000, he said.
Several senators expressed frustration over the VIPD’s persistently high levels of overtime, with Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson saying the average officer’s salary was "almost doubled" by the overtime payments.
Richards said the department is having trouble recruiting officers for several reasons, including low entry-level pay. "We have officers who start on the job and, after their first paycheck, they start looking for another job. They simply can’t make it," he said.
Many officers are eligible to retire, potentially worsening the problem, Richards said. "Overtime is necessary to cover the 24-hour calls for service to the community," he said.
"I think we can all agree the overtime figure is a major problem," Sen. Myron Jackson said toward the end of the hearing. "There is something wrong and we have got to fix it, and let’s make a commitment to do so," Jackson said.
The VIPD’s proposed General Fund budget of $59.2 million is up 3 percent from last year.
The budget includes another $2.2 million in the miscellaneous budget, with $2 million for consent decree work and the remainder for youth programs. The budget also has $850,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund, for a total of $62.2 million from the General Fund.
Murders and some other violent crimes are down a tiny bit this year, while there has been a small increase in property crimes, compared to last year, according to Richards.
Burglaries and grand larcenies have increased by 9 percent and 11 percent respectively, while car thefts decreased by 13 percent compared to last year. So far they have recovered 60 firearms over the fiscal year, versus 110 last year in the same timeframe.
According to Richards, police have recorded 20 homicides this year, with 12 on St. Thomas, one on St. John and seven on St. Croix. For the same period last year there were 18, with 10 on St. Thomas, one on St. John and seven on St. Croix, he said. This is one more than the Source list, which unlike the police count, does not include vehicular homicide or suicide. (See Homicides 2015 in Related Links below)
The Internal Revenue Bureau also presented its proposed General Fund budget of $9.5 million. It is a roughly 1 percent reduction from last year and 5.4 percent less than two years ago, IRB Director Marvin Pickering said.
It includes $5.1 million for wages and salaries; $2.3 million for Social Security, Medicare and fringe benefit costs. Another $1.9 million is for operational costs and $307,000 for utilities.
"Ninety percent of calls to my office about IRB are about income tax returns," Finance Committee Chairman Clifford Graham said, asking Pickering to give those details.
Pickering said, "As of today’s date, the bureau has paid 11,397 units of income tax refunds for a total of $29 million. This represents refunds for tax year 2013 and prior. Our inventories of unpaid refunds as of June 1 2015 total $41.7 million payable to 12,526 taxpayers. Of this amount, $21.1 million is payable to 7,612 taxpayers for the current tax year 2014 and $20.6 million is payable to 4,914 taxpayers for prior tax years," he said.
No votes were taken at the information-gathering budget hearing.