Although most of the criticism in a recent Inspector General's Office audit of excessive overtime in the Department of Public Works was directed at the previous administration, current Commissioner Harold Thompson didnt escape scrutiny in Senate budget hearings Friday.
The audit, said Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Anne Golden, found that three Public Works employees racked up 30 percent of the departments overtime costs. She wanted to know what Thompson was doing to stop such "abuse."
"We look at (overtime) with a very strict eye," Thompson said, noting that the IG recommended that certain past cases be investigated by the V.I. Department of Justice.
"When we have to put out a fire at Anguilla thats a real need" for overtime, he said. "Fixing (sewage) pump stations, thats a real need. The fluff, no."
The commissioner said that because of the constant problems with St. Croixs antiquated wastewater system — especially at the LBJ and Figtree pump stations — some Public Works employees are working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Theyre getting exhausted," he said.
Thompson was criticized by Finance Chairwoman Lorraine Berry for not submitting requested budget information in June. Instead, she received information the night before the hearing.
"I cannot accept a little more than two months and not having the information we requested," she said.
Thompson said two of his key budget officers were either sick or on leave, causing him to submit the information late.
Overall, Thompson said meeting Gov. Charles Turnbulls edict to cut 15 percent from all government budgets will be a "challenge" for Public Works. While the departments salary levels are among the lowest in government, personnel costs still eat up 55 percent of Public Works proposed general fund budget for fiscal year 2000.
The budget reflects a cut of 43 positions — 26 are vacant slots and the remainder are unclassified or temporary positions that are no longer needed, Thompson said.
"At the same time, we recognize the need for additional support in critical areas such as solid waste, utilities and transportation and have budgeted for 22 vacant or new positions in the divisions," he said. "Once filled, these positions will go a long way towards addressing overtime expenses."
The departments FY 2000 general fund budget is just more than $23 million. Thompson said a cut of more than $4 million from an earlier proposal meets Turnbulls 15 percent mandate.
Adding in the Road Fund, Sewage System Fund and the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund, DPWs total budget is $26,048,644.
Meanwhile, Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said the broad strokes being used to paint Public Works employees as government cheats by some of her colleagues was wrong. Her husband is a longtime Public Works manager who is on call to deal with constant sewage problems.
"This broad description makes a bad image," Hansen said. "Most people work with things most of us dont want to deal with — sewage for instance."
Hansen noted that her husband was slated for a $1,000 pay cut. But Thompson said he was going to recommend that he be assigned to lead the departments new solid and liquid waste division.
Thompson said the aim of the program, which will be under a Solid and Liquid Waste Authority, is to better manage the territorys aging sewage system and problem-plagued landfills. It will be funded by existing sewer fund fees and a proposed tipping fee at the landfills.
The department is proposing a $45 per cubic yard fee starting Oct. 1 for commercial solid waste haulers and others who use the Bovoni and Anguilla dumps. Thompson said the the fees assessed to government haulers will be waived during FY 2000 so the department isnt hit with the increased cost in solid waste transportation contracts.