Sept. 5, 2008 — A slew of appropriation transfers requested over the past two days from various government departments and agencies were all approved Friday by the Senate's Finance Committee.
The transfers, which generally come down toward the end of each fiscal year, allow each department to shift funds from one area of their budget — usually from the personnel services category, where money appropriated for vacant positions sits unused — to cover various year-end expenses, such as utility or supply costs.
This year, about 15 requests hit the Senate floor and were considered by the Finance Committee during two days of hearings on St. Croix. While senators had a few concerns about how the departments and agencies are actually managing their money during the fiscal year — which wraps up at the end of the month — most described the requests as "pretty straightforward."
One of the largest requests came from the Justice Department, whose representatives said Friday that they would need to put about $1.1 million from their fiscal year 2008 personnel services budget toward off-island housing for mentally ill inmates ($250,000), an outstanding water bill ($400,000) and rent ($20,000).
Another $100,000 would be put toward a consultant hired by the department to "coordinate" how the government disposes of certain types of waste, such as electronics and light bulbs that are not currently accepted at the territory's landfills, according to Attorney General Vincent Frazer. When senators expressed concern over the high-price of the contract — initially set at $200,000 — Frazer explained that hiring of the consultant came as part of a consent decree between the government and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It would be better for the government to pay out the $200,000 than risk a $1 million fine for not complying with the order, Frazer told senators.
The Education Department has either spent or dedicated the majority of its $181.4 million FY 2008 budget appropriation — all except $1.9 million that is now needed to "sustain some depleted mandatory costs," DOE representatives said later in the meeting.
To get the department through the rest of the month, $1.2 million would be used to cover utility costs, $200,000 for food for the school lunch program and another $516, 918 would go toward employee fringe benefits, said Donna Frett-Gregory, Education's assistant commissioner of operations. Fielding questions from senators about DOE's spending habits, Frett-Gregory assured senators that the department is "financially sound."
Other appropriation requests re-program:
— $501,779 from three sections of the Bureau of Information Technology's FY 2008 budget — personnel services, utilities and fringe benefits — to cover various professional services contracts;
— $10,353 from the Board of Education's "other services and charges" budget to cover utility costs;
— $186,716 from the V.I. Police Department's personnel services and fringe benefits budget categories to cover utilities and past due rent, along with the purchase of computers for a training lab;
— $300,000 from the Motor Vehicle Bureau's personnel services budget to capital outlays, allowing for the purchase of equipment needed to begin the implementation of the first phase of the federal Real ID Act;
— $142,917 from VIPD's professional services budget to personnel services to hire employees and buy equipment for the Cold Case Squad;
— $456,116 from Property and Procurement's personnel and fringe benefits budgets for rising utility bills and new equipment;
— $305,000 from the Office of Management and Budget's personnel and other services and charges budgets for the replacement of outdated office equipment;
— $450,000 from the Bureau of Internal Revenue's personnel services and fringe benefits budgets to pay Environmental Concepts Inc and Central Air for handling the bureau's air quality and air conditioning problems, to cover repairs to the St. Croix office and to fix various health violations;
— $30,000 from the Office of Collective Bargaining's personnel services budget to cover utilities and supplies;
— $50,000 from the Office of the Inspector General's personnel services budget to buy supplies, computers for new employees and to fund minor office repairs;
— $90,000 from the Tourism Department's personnel budget to pay for capital outlays and utilities; and
— $225,278 from the Planning and Natural Resources personnel services budget to cover rent, equipment, supplies and inter-island travel.
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Ronald E. Russell.
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