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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 24, 2024


The Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ current leadership is proving that a V.I. government agency can operate without a bevy of executive assistants.
At the Senate Finance Committee budget hearings on Friday, DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett told senators that under the department’s previous administration, there were four deputy or assistant commissioners at a cost of more than $554,000. Since taking control of the department some eight months ago, Plaskett has dropped three of those positions, saving the government’s general fund $258,762 a year.
In another move to reach Gov. Charles Turnbull’s mandate that all government agencies cut their budgets by 15 percent, DPNR has — and without eliminating personnel positions — saved the general fund more than a half-million dollars.
"We were able to identify 22 individuals who were being paid from the general fund but who could be carried by federal or other funds," Plaskett said. "This reorganization resulted in a $570,836 savings…"
Overall, Plaskett said DPNR has trimmed 44 positions. By using federal funding, compensating workers according to their qualifications and duties and dropping "unnecessary" positions, he said the department’s personnel cost has saved the general fund just over $1 million.
"We have 291 budgeted positions [155 on St. Thomas and 136 on St. Croix]," Plaskett said, adding that 261 are currently filled. "It should be noted that of the 30 vacant positions, 27 are federally funded positions mandated by the respective federal program, the three remaining vacancies are funded by the general fund…"
For fiscal year 2000, DPNR’s budget request from the general fund is $5.1 million, compared to just over $6 million the year before. The reduction equals a 16 percent cut to the budget. Plaskett said the General Fund accounts for just 26 percent of DPNR’s budget.
The agency’s total proposed budget for FY 2000 is $20.3 million.
When asked by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen whether he planned to lay off any DPNR staff to achieve Turnbull’s budget targets, Plaskett said only if it were for disciplinary reasons.
He was also queried about what would happen if federal funds dried up.
"We have increased our take of federal funding close to $4 million," he said. "If the funds in fact run out, we’ll have to find some other way to pay them."
As for the territory’s faltering sewage system, Plaskett said that’s the responsibility of the Department of Public Works. DPNR’s charge is in regulating the operation of the system.
But Plaskett said his agency will share part of a $1 million fine from HOVENSA as well as other funding with DPW in order to help repair the aging system.
"Public Works will get the lion’s share of this million if they direct funding to repair the sewage system" and landfills, Plaskett said. "We’ve taken action that is above and beyond our call of duty."
While the money won’t be a cure to Public Works’ ailing wastewater system, Plaskett said it will help the agency address some problems.
"Do we have enough funds to fix it, no. But we do have enough funds to but a dent in it," he said.
Another cost-saving measure the department is taking is to move its St. Thomas operations from rental properties to less expensive offices owned by the V.I. Port Authority at the Cyril King Airport. That move will save $344,532 a year, Plaskett said.

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