Although the U.S. Virgin Islands has a substantial Spanish-speaking population and a significant minority who speak Spanish only, those who call 911 for emergency assistance may have difficulty communicating, because there is still a shortage of bilingual operators.
The issue came up during the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Authority budget hearing last year, when VITEMA Director Mona Barnes was asked about reports that there was a shortage of fluent bilingual operators. Last year, Barnes said not all the operators are completely fluent in Spanish but are able to communicate during the course of any emergencies that may occur.
"They work together to make it happen," Barnes said during last year’s budget hearing.
During budget hearings Thursday, Sen. Sammuel Sanes asked if the agency had managed to hire more over the past year, and Barnes reported they have not been able to do so.
"We have tried with all our might," Barnes said. But all hired go through the Department of Personnel, where they have to take and pass a test to be considered for hiring. "With all of our hirings, none of the persons who have passed the test are bilingual," she said.
She said she can only consider applicants sent to her by Personnel, but she can try to speak to individuals who are bilingual and see if they are interested in taking the test, Barnes said.
Overall, Barnes reported VITEMA is meeting its mandate and is ready for hurricane season and to respond to territorial emergencies. She presented VITEMA’s proposed budget of $12 million, which includes $5.1 million from the General Fund, or half a million dollars more than last year; $1.2 million in a miscellaneous appropriation, or about $400,000 more than last year; $668,000 in non-appropriated funds and $5 million in federal funds.
Barnes presented VITEMA’s projected General Fund operating budget of $4.6 million. VITEMA anticipates another $847,000 from the miscellaneous section of the budget and $5.1 million in federal funds, for roughly $10.5 million in all. After pass-throughs to other organizations, its operating budget is $8.3 million.
No votes were taken during the budget discussion. Present were Sens. Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Sammuel Sanes, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach and Clifford Graham. No members were absent.