The Finance Committee advanced legislation on Monday that could assist the University of the Virgin Islands with payroll taxes accrued on the restored salaries of 212 employees and 260 former employees, annual funding for the Caribbean Green Technology Center, and increased financial flexibility to support the buildout of the St. Croix medical school.
University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall said the measure restores salaries they lost between 2011-2013, which includes a $280,660 appropriation for employment taxes which were reduced commensurate with the salary reduction but was unaccounted for. The 472 persons eligible to receive compensation will have a check issued to them by December.
Sen. Kurt Vialet told Hall the university needs to “get the money out as quickly as possible.” Non-committee member Sen. Novelle Francis Jr. advised the university to achieve the distribution before Dec. 25 of which Hall said the school was feverishly trying to achieve.
Passed unanimously, the “no brainer” bill also restores funding for the $200,000 annual appropriation for the Caribbean Green Technology Center that was unfunded during the last fiscal year’s budget cuts.
“There are numerous essential projects that the center has done or is still engaged in that provide enormous benefits,” Hall said. He cited two most recent examples, the development of the territory’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and an extensive analysis of water supplies and irrigation for farming and other sources.
The final aspect the bill speaks to is a debt service line which provides the university with financial flexibility when constructing the new School of Nursing facility on the Albert A. Sheen St. Croix campus.
Hall said addressing the existing debt service obligations would offer support to high-priority projects like the university’s state-of-the-art medical school, which is on pace to open to students in 2023.
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The university submitted its application to the accrediting agency Liaison Committee on Medical Education last week, Hall said. The entity will meet in February to “decide if we obtain a site visit or not. We are hoping they will do that. Our anticipation is the site visit would occur in late spring, early summer.”
Should the site visit go well, “as we are certainly working hard to make sure that occurs, then in October of 2022, LCME would make a decision as to whether we can open. That positive decision, which we are banking on, which will entitle us to open the medical school in the fall of 2023.”
The school requires three main structures, but not all of them are finished.
“The building is proceeding. Though I must admit, the supply chain challenge that is happening nationally has slowed down completion. The simulation center on St. Croix is now slated to be ready in March of 2022, and we are looking for the classroom building to be completed approximately around that same time, if not a little later. The third building, which is still in the design phase, which is the biomedical laboratory, will be completed a year from now.”
Though the simulation center was expected to be completed earlier, Hall said the contractor for the project is having problems obtaining supplies and equipment.
“It has been a major one [simulation center] that has been delayed. We were looking for it to be operational by the end of this year,” Hall said. “The contractor is having enormous difficulty getting a lot of the equipment it needs to complete the facility. So, they have requested an extension till March. We are working with them, holding them accountable, asking them to explore whatever option is available to obtain the materials and equipment even if it means them flying to the states and bringing it back. That is the timeline they have now given us.”
Once construction on the simulation building is completed, Hall said the university expects it operational within a month’s time. If all goes according to plan, “all of it will be completed by the time the medical school opens” in 2023, Hall said.
Separately, the committee advanced two lease agreements. Both agreements were with the Government of the Virgin Islands, one with the Department of Property and Procurement and Antilles Gas Corporation, and the other with the Department of Property and Procurement and the Hearts in Service Association Inc.
Sens. Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne DeGraff, and Janelle Sarauw were present for the hearing. Sen. Javan James Sr. was absent. Additional non-committee members were also present.