The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Clifford Graham, hosted a meeting to receive testimony from the Department of Justice, the Public Services Commission and the Office of Veterans Affairs relative to the FY2017 budget, last week at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.
The Department of Justice presented a proposed budget consisting of $15,531,583 with monies from both the General Fund and Miscellaneous Appropriations, as well as $4,954,306 from non- appropriated federal finds.
Attorney General Claude Walker spoke about departmental challenges and asked legislators for support as they executed duties to include initiating lawsuits on behalf of the Government and its agencies.
Walker testified that of the 405 adult cases filed in FY 2015 in the St. Thomas/St. John district, 290 are closed, while 115 remain open. In FY 2016: 59 are closed and 237 remain open. In the St. Croix district during FY 2015 492 cases were opened. In FY 2016, 181 cases were opened. Currently, there are a total of 489 open cases on St. Croix.
Walker emphasized the need for additional criminal prosecutors in the territory to aid in the backlog of open cases. Hiring six or seven additional prosecutors would allow the DOJ to be able “to function at maximum capacity,” Walker said.
Walker spoke to progress made as a result of the initiative, “Operation Support Our Children.”
“There have been 23 license suspensions, and an additional 25 more are pending revocation for those non-custodial parents who have balances of $2,500 or more and that have not either paid or entered into a payment plan,” said Walker. “But, more importantly, the amount of outstanding uncollected child support money has significantly decreased.”
“You have to bear in mind that, this is not something we want to do but these persons—we have written to them, we’ve called them, we have begged them, pleaded with them to take responsibility for the financial well being of their biological children and they have refused or failed to do so,” he said.
Public Services Commission Executive Director Donald Cole proposed the agency’s budget request of $1,782,085 which is $28,409 more than Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation.
Director of the Office of Veterans Affairs Patrick Farrell also testified.
“For Fiscal Year 2017 our requested general fund appropriations are in the amount of $884,000,” he said. “An estimated $350,000 is to cover personnel salaries and fringe benefits; $117,000 for operating expenses; $300,000.00 to cover medical travel and death benefits.
Committee members, Senators Marvin Blyden, Clifford Graham, Tregenza Roach and Sammuel Sanes, were present. Non-committee member Sen. Justin Harrigan was also present.