Monies collected from permit fees and leases on submerged and filled land usage help fund DPNR’s Coastal Zone Management Program.
DPNR Commissioner Dawn Henry told senators in the 31st Legislature’s Committee on Finance Thursday that her department will be increasing its efforts to collect monies from delinquent permittees in Fiscal Year 2017.
Among the tenants and permittees with the largest outstanding bills to DPNR are the V.I Water and Power Authority, with a prior year balance of $200,000; Thatch Cay LLC, with a balance of $238,000; and Red Hook Marina, with a balance of $138,000.
“It’s for sure that we fell behind, but we are definitely aggressively catching up,” Henry said.
The department anticipates having all its accounts brought into compliance by the first quarter of FY 2017. Seventy-five percent of the permittees who have prior year outstanding balances have already been contacted about the issue, she said.
“To assist with its submerged and filled land leases, CZM Director Jean-Pierre Oriol initiated the purchase of property management software and currently has about 40 percent of all land rentals entered into a database,” Henry told senators.
She said the new software will allow for improved tracking of accounts and an increase in timely billing and payments.
“You’re sure you are going to be able to accomplish this by the first quarter of the fiscal year?” Sen. Tregenza Roach asked during the hearing, noting some of the large amounts owed to the department.
Henry responded, “It’s a hope.”
Also discussed at Thursday’s budget hearing was the matter of funded job vacancies within DPNR, among them the vacant assistant commissioner position, budgeted at an annual salary of $91,000.
The assistant commissioner position has often gone unfilled in past years, but Henry said the department is trying to find a new candidate after the most recent assistant commissioner resigned for personal reasons after a brief tenure.
Henry testified that DPNR currently has 30 funded job vacancies, 19 of which are in the process of being filled. There is no one currently under consideration for the remaining 11, she said, due to the fact that the department sometimes has difficulty finding candidates to fill “very scientific and technical” positions.
Sen. Marvin Blyden questioned whether DPNR communicates with the Department of Education when it finds certain positions difficult to staff.
“Most of the time in this territory the cry is that we cannot find the skill set to help us carry out our duties,” Blyden said, adding, “this is our community so we must prepare our youngsters to fill those positions.”
Henry said the department has collaborated on training programs with the University of the Virgin Islands, to which Blyden replied that “we need to start with high school and junior high school.”
According to Henry, DPNR’s Human Resources Division plans to soon initiate a minimum entry-level full-time salary of $25,000 per year for all of the department’s positions. Currently DPNR has ten employees whose salaries are below that amount.
For Fiscal Year 17, Governor Kenneth E. Mapp has recommended a $27.9 budget for DPNR. That amount is comprised of 25 percent contributions from the General Fund, 14 percent from non-appropriated local government funds, and 61 percent from federal grants.
The appropriation recommended from the General Fund of 6.9 million is a slightly less than 1 percent increase over the appropriation from FY 2016.
The DPNR division that is anticipated to receive the largest percentage of federal funding is the Division of Environmental Protection, which will be granted slightly less than half of the department’s federal awards. The Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums is scheduled to receive the largest percentage, 36 percent, of the department’s General Fund appropriation from the local government.
$10.24 million of DPNR’s recommended funding is budgeted to pay salaries for 220 positions, 86 of which are federally-funded.
Testifying after Henry Thursday was Tasida Kelch, Acting Director of the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts. VICA receives its General Fund appropriations through DPNR for budgetary purposes.
The Governor has recommended $325,000 for VICA, but the council is requesting an additional $15,000 which most of the senators on the Committee on Finance said they were inclined to support. VICA is also projected to receive a federal grant in the amount of $310,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sen. Myron Jackson said he wanted to place on the record his feeling that arts and culture in the territory are minimized and under-served.
“This is good money being put to good use in supporting our arts and our culture,” he said.
Senators also heard budget presentations Thursday from representatives of the Economic Development Authority and the V.I. Taxicab Commission. Acting Chief Executive Officer Wayne Biggs Jr. delivered testimony on behalf of the EDA. Executive Director Levron Sarauw Sr. and Board Chairman Sweeney Toussaint testified for the taxi commission.
Salary increases, new staff and the purchase and maintenance costs of networking equipment are the reason for the taxi commission’s almost 60 percent increase in recommended funding from FY 16 to FY 17, Sarauw said. The governor has recommended a FY 17 taxi commission budget of $856,000.
The governor has recommended a General Fund appropriation of $5 million for the EDA for FY 17, up slightly from the $4.8 million the agency received in FY 16.
No votes were taken during Thursday’s information-gathering hearing.
Present were Sens. Roach, Blyden, Jackson, Clifford Graham, Kurt Vialet, Positive Nelson and Tregenza Roach.