With three months left in this fiscal year, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs has already issued more business licenses than it did in the whole previous fiscal year, according to testimony by Commissioner Richard Evangelista at the Committee on Finance hearing Thursday.
Evangelista presented a budget request of $4.7 million for the fiscal year 2023. The request reflects over a half million dollar decrease from the 2022 budget of $5.3 million.
He testified “The budget is comprised of $4,240,288 in General Fund appropriations and $500,000 in Consumer Protection Fund appropriations. The General Fund allotment amount of $3,651,916 covers personnel services and fringe benefits. The remaining $588,372 covers the department’s operating expenses. The operating expenses include $29,600 for supplies and $322,557 for other services.”
Evangelista also reported on the Office of Cannabis Regulations.
He said his office “has been ensuring the Cannabis Advisory Board is properly staffed and finalizing the Rules and Regulations.” He was confirmed to the Board earlier this month.
Hannah Carty, who was appointed executive director by the Cannabis Board Thursday morning, also attended the Senate hearing. She told the senators that a final draft of proposed rules and regulations had been submitted to her board that morning. She added that she expected a timeline for implementing those rules and regulations would be established at the next Cannabis Board meeting.
Evangelista said he wanted residents, who had been prescribed medicinal marijuana in the states but could only use it illegally in the territory, to know, “We are almost there.”
Sen. Javan James complimented Evangelista on having almost all his department vacancies filled. He said he wished all government agencies did as well.
According to Evangelista, the Department’s current staffing level is fifty-five persons all paid for by the General Fund and all the budgeted positions are currently filled or in the process of being filled. Twenty-three are in the St. Croix district and 24 are in St. Thomas/St. John district. The eight vacant positions include a hearing officer, a paralegal officer, a weights and measures inspector, two administrative assistant supervisors, one alcohol coordinator, and two alcohol inspectors.
Evangelista reported that from October 2021 through this May the Consumer Affairs Division conducted 204 inspections at retail establishments and issued citations for consumer laws violations valued at over $16,500. The Consumer Protection Services Unit, according to Evangelista, received 219 consumer complaints in that period, resolved 56, and referred some to DLCA’s Legal Division and/or other agencies with jurisdiction.