July 2, 2004 – The Internal Revenue Bureau hopes to pay the last of the 2003 income-tax refunds that it owes by Aug. 15, its director, Louis A. Willis, said Friday as the Senate Finance Committee took fiscal year 2005 budget testimony from the IRB, the Finance Department, the Office of Management and Budget and the Public Employees Relations Board.
According to Willis, this will be the earliest his agency has ever gotten the refunds out. "If everything goes well," he added.
Willis said he anticipates that the IRB will pay out about $56 million in 2003 tax refunds. Interest for overdue refunds could run $37,000, he said. The government has to pay interest on refunds issued after May 31.
Internal Revenue Bureau
Willis asked for $9.4 million to run the bureau in FY 2005, and then he asked for $1.3 million more. He explained that he got an extra $1.3 million this fiscal year via the supplemental budget approved by the Senate last month and said he hopes the senators will see fit to add that amount onto his budget request for FY 2005, too.
"In order to make IRB better, we have to have money," Willis said. It will take money to implement the new taxes Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has proposed to balance the administration's proposed budget, he said.
He said the IRB is responsible for generating 80 percent of the government's budget. Other funds come from the federal government.
So far this fiscal year, Willis said, the IRB has collected $417 million in taxes. In all of FY 2003, the figure stood at $403 million, he said, and in all of FY 2002, $478 million.
Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull asked the committee for $7.6 million for fiscal year 2005, an increase of $41,799 over her FY 2004 budget.
She said the department needs to pay for a new financial management system, and the first step in getting it will be a $300,000 needs assessment. A request for proposals to carry out the study has gone out, she said.
Turnbull estimated the financial management system will cost about $6 million. She is asking for $1 million in her FY 2005 budget to begin implementing the system. The government set aside $2 million from a $270 million bond issue in 2003 for the project.
Meantime, the Finance Department is working to upgrade its St. Thomas offices, she said.
She said there is $775,000 allotted for the first phase of rehabilitating the building complex at what is commonly called 75 Corner. The money was appropriated in 2003, but it took until recently to clear hurdles that came up because the structures are located within the St. Thomas Historic District, she said.
Questioning by Sen. Usie Richards brought to light the fact that the Legislature's Post Audit Division computers can't talk to the ones at the Finance Department. This situation prevents post audit staff from accessing information it needs to prepare budget analyses.
Turnbull said the problem is solvable. She said she has authorized Alvin E. Williams, the department's management information systems director, to allow post audit personnel to access the territory's computerized general ledger.
However, she said, the post audit staff must go to the Finance Department to do so, since the Legislature doesn't have the telephone lines that would be needed to hook up interfacing computers at its facilities.
Staff from the Post Audit Division and the Finance Department had tried to resolve the problem earlier, Williams said, but Turnbull initially had authorized him only to let the post audit personnel access their own records, not the general ledger.
Turnbull said if the post audit staff needs more detailed information, her staff will provide it.
Office of Management and Budget
The OMB director, Ira Mills, asked for a budget appropriation of $3 million for FY 2005 — $1.3 million from the General Fund and $1.7 from the Indirect Cost Fund.
Mills said his office also budgets $1 million for OMB's Public Assistance Unit, but 90 percent of that funding comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The 10 percent local match is listed in the miscellaneous section of the budget, he said.
Public Employees Relations Board
The PERB board chair, Aubrey Lee, asked for an FY 2005 budget appropriation of $663,584.
Little Things Mean a Lot
As is often the case during budget hearings, some interesting tidbits about government operations surfaced at Friday's session.
Willis said the IRB spends $40,000 a year for postage to mail tax bills.
And Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who chairs the Finance Committee, said that in one month the Legislature's staff ran up $1,000 in costs for telephone directory information calls at 25 cents a pop.
"We disregard the phone book even if it's on the desk," he said.
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