Departments pitch budgets to senators


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ST. THOMAS - A number of government departments and agencies defended their Fiscal Year 2013 budgets before the Senate Finance Committee this week.

Budget hearings will continue through the end of August.

After hearing all the budget presentations, the Senate will go into "mark-up." Budget mark-up is the process - typically done behind closed doors by the Senate majority caucus - during which senators change the governor's proposal. When the final budget is approved by the full V.I. Legislature by a simple majority vote, it goes to the governor for his signature.

Fiscal Year 2013 begins Oct. 1.

V.I. Fire Service

Monday, the V.I. Fire Service presented a $16.1 million General Fund budget request. About 94 percent of the budget covers personnel costs, and the rest is for utilities, rent, training, communications and other operating expenses.

Fire Service Director Steve Brow said while the department has implemented some cost saving measures, such as low energy lighting and buying fuel for fire trucks in bulk, he still had to dip into the department's emergency fund for general operations.

Despite the cash shortages, the department had eight firefighters certified as Emergency Medical Technicians and completed some critical upgrades to its facilities, according to Brow.

Casino Control Commission

Gizette Thomas, chairwoman of the V.I. Casino Control Commission, defended the agency's $706,881 FY 2013 budget recommendation Monday. The commission's budget is a lump sum line item in the miscellaneous section of the executive budget.

She said the $706,881 recommended by the governor is $110,000 short for covering the commission's salaries and fringe benefits.

While the commission is requesting General Fund money for personnel costs, all of its other operating costs for FY 2013 will be funded by the Casino Revenue Fund and Casino Revolving Fund. Those costs are expected to total $467,500, she said.

The Casino Revenue Fund and Casino Revolving Fund collects the fees and taxes levied on the casino industry. Eventually - once there is more than one casino in the territory - the commission's personnel costs will be paid for out of those two funds as well, Thomas said.

WTJX

Officials from the territory's public television system, WTJX, defended a $3.8 million operation budget Friday.

WTJX Executive Director Osbert Potter also asked for a $1.5 million capital projects budget, although that is not included in Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s FY 2013 budget recommendation.

The FY 2013 recommendation marks a 6 percent decrease from the central government's FY 2012 request and about 9 percent less than the system expects to received for FY 2012, Potter said.

While he understands the territory's financial situation, Potter said, the public television system needs a capital budget to upgrade and replace critical equipment. It also would fund the start-up costs for a newly authorized radio station, Potter said.

WTJX Channel 12 is a nonprofit, autonomous government agency that is legally separate from the V.I. government.

WTJX is a member of the American Public Television System and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Property and Procurement

Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin Maduro presented her department's $4.1 million General Fund budget to the committee Friday.

Property and Procurement is the government's main contracting agency. It also is the department that is responsible for managing rental property, maintaining vehicles and running the government printing office.

The department's total operating budget includes $2 million from the Business and Commercial Fund, and $387,213 from the Indirect Cost Fund.

Maduro said the total FY 2013 budget recommendation is about 2.7 percent less than the department received in FY 2012 and will not impact services.

In the second quarter of the 2012 fiscal year, the budget cuts led to the dismissals of 13 staff members, Maduro said.

While the General Fund budget recommendation for 2013 is 11 percent less than the 2012 appropriation, two positions paid for from the General Fund will be covered by the Indirect Cost Fund in the coming year. The change will help the department absorb the proposed budget reduction, Maduro said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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