Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s proposed FY 2018 budget proposes approximately $668,000, or seven percent, in spending cuts within his own office, although senators argued Tuesday over whether that amounts to enough.
Rochelle Benjamin, director of business and administration for the Office of the Governor, appeared before the 32nd Legislature’s Committee on Finance Tuesday to testify about the office’s recommended FY 2018 budget. That budget includes $9,203,565 from the General Fund, $150,000 from the Tourism Revolving Fund and a projected $57,782 in federal grants.
The Office of the Governor’s FY 2017 Budget included $9,871,245 from the General Fund.
Personnel costs account for over half of the expenditures of the Office of the Governor. The FY 2018 budget recommends $4,928,500 in funding for 89 positions. 84 of those positions fall directly under the Office of the Governor, while five fall under the office’s Bureau of Economic Research.
Positions under the Office of the Governor include a deputy director of new media at a salary of $72,500, two executive photographers at a combined salary of $95,000, a lead executive chauffeur at $40,000, and a web-based media specialist at $40,000 per year.
Sen. Janette Millin Young questioned whether the governor having 84 employees under his office, in addition to 30 inventoried vehicles including six for his own use, sends a positive message to the public during times of government austerity.
“I worked for two governors, and I don’t ever remember seeing the amount of employees at Government House like I see today,” she said. “And when I look at the [salaries], the numbers are staggering.”
Millin Young questioned the need for positions with duplicates listed in the budget, including four financial control officers, seven administrative coordinators, 3 special assistants to the governor, and two communications operators.
Sen. Nellie Rivera-O’Reilly said Millin Young’s argument that Mapp’s office is unusually bloated were inaccurate. She said the office of Gov. John De Jongh showed similar staffing levels in 2014. That year, she said, there were 88 funded positions under the Office of the Governor and 28 vehicles. The average salary of Mapp’s staff is higher than his predecessor, however, at $52,000 compared to $46,000.
In 2014, there were also nine independent contractors providing services for the Office of the Governor. In 2017, there are four, at a total cost of $235,000. These contractors include two consultants and two special project coordinators.
The Office of the Governor’s proposed spending is down in the FY 2018 Budget in all categories with the exception of a one percent increase for supplies. Benjamin said increased activity by the three island administrator’s accounts for the change, including the opening of a second administrator’s office on St. John, in Coral Bay. The budget requests $308,700 for supplies.
The Office of the Governor plans to spend less on utilities in FY 2018, $514,000 down from $550,000. Proposed spending for capital outlays is down for FY 2018, from $475,000 to $185,000. Proposed spending on fringe benefits is down to $1,774,365 from $1,843,785, while other services and charges are down to $1,493,000 from $1,531,685.
The only rent being expended by the Office of the Governor is a storage unit being rented at $5,736 annually, although temporary lodging for the governor when he stays on St. Thomas has cost between $25,000 and $30,000 so far in FY 2017, according to Benjamin.
In the miscellaneous section of the proposed budget, V.I.-Puerto Rico Day is the local holiday with the highest requested funding from the Office of the Governor in 2018. $45,000 is requested for that celebration, while funding for BVI-USVI Friendship Day is listed at $18,000, and Emancipation Day at $10,000. The miscellaneous section of the budget also includes $54,000 for annual activities and $117,000 for the government access channel.
Also presenting at Tuesday’s budget hearing were representatives of the V.I. Fire Service and the Division of Personnel, the government’s human resources arm.
The Fire Service’s requested budget for FY 2018 is $18,816,221, an eight percent cut from FY 2017. Approximately 96 percent of that budget is for personnel costs while the rest is for rent, utilities, travel, and communications. The department also receives additional funds from the Emergency Services Special Fund, which consists of fees from surcharges on telephone lines, and The Fire Service Emergency Fund , which consists of fees from inspections and other services.
The Division of Personnel’s requested appropriation from the General Fund, $3,863,018, “practically replicates” a budget from five years earlier according to Director of Personnel Milton Potter. That amounts to an approximately 6.8 percent cut compared to FY 2017.
Present at Tuesday’s hearing were Sens. Rivera-O’Reilly, Millin Young, Neville James, Marvin Blyden, Kurt Vialet, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach, Dwayne DeGraff, Janelle Sarauw, Novelle Francis Jr., Jean Forde, and Myron Jackson.