The V.I. Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation defended a Fiscal Year 2014 budget request of $4,836,012 before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.
The governor’s recommendation for the department’s FY14 budget is almost $6 million from the General Fund and another $1.9 million from the miscellaneous section of the executive budget – almost $9 million – according to a July 30 Post Audit Analysis.
Commissioner St. Clair Williams began his testimony by listing the newly named department’s divisions. Previously the department was known as Housing, Parks and Recreation. The divisions now include Parks, Open Spaces and Beautification, Sports and Recreation, and the Office of the Commissioner.
Williams talked about the department’s financial needs. Almost 81 percent, or $4.8 million, is for personnel expenses and fringe benefits. Williams requested $1.1 million for operations that includes $707,000 for utilities, $278,051 for services and charges, and $153,000 for supplies. Almost $2 million of miscellaneous appropriations were requested of which $795,000 would be used for programs and operations.
Income for the department includes a $50,000 federal grant for park upgrades and fees for rentals and facility use. Sports, Parks and Recreation also receives quarterly allotments from the Casino Revenue Fund for youth programs.
Williams talked about various facilities that have been maintained and renovated despite the loss of 40 employees over the last three years. Most of the departments facilities have had some repair or improvement during this administration, he said.
“We acknowledge that we must continue to make sacrifices,” Williams said, adding that no new positions are included in the budget, to enable the department to maintain its appropriation level of expenses.
Williams said the sports and enrichment summer camps were successful this year. More than 20 different camps included 800 students participating in various sports activities. More students could have participated with more staff, he added.
The commissioner also talked about specific projects undertaken by the department. On St. Croix, the D.C. Canegata Stadium, Ft. Frederik Park and Cramer Park have had recent repairs and work at the Rudy Krieger Recreation Complex is ongoing, he said.
Repairs have been made at several ball parks, Williams said, as well as Buddhoe Park, Veterans Park and the McBean clock tower in Frederiksted, which will require another $3 million for electrical repairs and lighting.
While repairs are being planned for a number of facilities on St. Thomas, cost estimates have been prepared for work at the Lionel Richards ballpark, the basketball court in Smith Bay and the Winston Raymo Center.
Williams also said funding is needed for the Cruz Bay Office and Recreation Center on St. John. He recommended demolishing the structure and reconstructing two buildings. Funds for the basketball court could be re-appropriated to start the project, he said.
After Williams testified, senators asked questions and requested updates on the construction of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted. Two proposals were received in April to build the sports complex and festival village, he said. Williams told Sen. Clifford Graham, committee chairman, that since the process is under the Department of Property and Procurement, he doesn’t know the timetable.
“We’re at the beginning,” he said, but the vetting process “has to be completed before the year’s out.”
Legislators also asked several questions about horse racing in the territory. Sen. Myron Jackson asked about repairs to the fence, landscaping, stable and sign at the St. Thomas Clinton E. Phipps racetrack. Williams explained “it all boils down to funding and we’ve been stretching.”
Although the racetracks on St. Thomas and St. Croix are managed by Sports, Parks and Recreation or a promoter, Williams said the money earned at the gate goes to the racing associations. He told Jackson, no one has stepped up to offer to improve the track and the money earned from vendors is not enough.
Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson asked a series of questions about the budget and why it wasn’t reduced when the Housing division was removed from the department. The funds were needed because all but three employees were retained by Sports, Parks and Recreation, Williams said.
Like Commissioner Christopher Finch who presented the budget for Human Services earlier in the day, Williams credited his employees with the success of the department’s programs.
“It’s great working for the department. It’s great seeing where we came from and where we’re going,” Williams said.
Attending the hearing were Graham, Jackson, Nelson as well as Sens. Donald Cole, Clarence Payne and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera O’Reilly – all members of the committee.