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Senators Consider Cuts to Corrections and Information Technology Bureaus

Rupert Ross, director of the Bureau of Information Technology, testifies at Wednesday’s hearing. (V.I. Legislature photo)

At the Senate Finance Committee’s budget hearing for the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Information Technology Wednesday, senators’ questions covered a wide swath of territory, from what corrections officers are paid to whether government computers are safe from hackers.

Sen. Novelle Francis Jr. asked Wynnie Testamark, director of the Bureau of Corrections, whether any corrections officer is making less than $40,000 per year. He was assured no officer is making less than $40,000.

Testamark said the bureau is aggressively trying to hire more officers to cut down on overtime costs.

During her testimony, Testamark lobbied senators to make it legal for Corrections officers who are retired and collecting from the Government Employees’ Retirement System to return to work without losing benefits.

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Sen. Janelle Sarauw asked if the Bureau of Technology can do more to help the government collect money it is owed. She also questioned whether eight vehicles for an agency with only 17 employees is too many. Rupert Ross, director of the Bureau of Information Technology, said because of the nature of the agency’s work that the number of vehicles is needed.

Information Technology’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 is $7,833,588, which is $1,010,365 less than the total allocated for fiscal year 2020.

Personnel services costs are projected to be $1.2 million and will fund six classified and 11 unclassified employees. Ross said the request includes overtime payments and the cost of salary increases for staff.

Fringe benefits costs are projected to be $454,340. This covers the costs of Social Security, Medicare, employer’s retirement contribution, health insurance and workers’ compensation premiums.

The miscellaneous General Fund request of $5.6 million covers licenses, maintenance of IT infrastructure and an agreement and support contract with Microsoft.

According to Ross, the bureau is leading the effort to transform all IT processes across the government and optimize the delivery of core IT services to departments and agencies.

Sen. Oakland Benta asked Ross if he thinks enough is being done to keep the government technology system secure. Ross said his bureau is in discussions with the federal Department of Homeland Security about security.

Testamark told senators the Corrections Bureau’s requested 2021 budget has been reduced 13.5 percent, from $34.4 million this year to $29.7 million next year.

She said the bureau is “prepared to carry out its mission objectives with significantly fewer resources.”

Personnel costs are Corrections’ biggest expense. The bureau has 188 authorized positions and a projected payroll for the upcoming fiscal year is $10.7 million or 35.9 percent of its overall budget – which is down from 42.6 percent last year. Fringe benefits for its employees amount to $5 million, or 16.9 percent, of the bureau’s projected budget.

Corrections had 215 authorized positions last fiscal year but eliminated 74 vacant positions from this year’s budget request.

To comply with a federal consent decree, Testamark said the bureau is spending approximately $59,583 each month in fees to monitors, experts and consultants to ensure compliance.

Senators at Wednesday’s budget hearing were Sens. Kurt Vialet, Alicia Barnes, Benta, Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, Myron Jackson, Sarauw, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas and Francis.

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