Elections, Energy Office Defend 2023 Budget Requests

Kyle Fleming was one of the agency heads who answered questions posed by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. (Source file photo)

The 34th Legislature Committee on Finance, chaired by Kurt A. Vialet, met Wednesday to continue their consideration of the Fiscal Year 2023 executive budget. The committee heard testimony from officials from the executive branch and semi-autonomous agencies.

Representatives from the Election System of the Virgin Islands and the Board of Elections were first to defend their budget requests. The Virgin Islands Energy Office and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture justified their budget requests in the afternoon session.

The governor’s proposed budget for the election system asks for $2.5 million. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes proposed an alternative figure of $2.7 million. The Board of Elections asked for roughly one-tenth of the system’s request. Again, the system asked for more money than the Government House request.

“The office of the Elections Supervisor of elections is charged with the day-to-day administration of the Election System of the Virgin Islands … Our mission is to conduct reliable, accessible, secure, and transparent elections and accurately maintain voter registration records for Virgin Islands citizens,” Fawkes said.

Replacing two community outreach vans was also on this year’s priority list. Fawkes said system officials are reaching out to a stateside election system in Georgia for help in getting an estimated replacement cost.

Additionally, $350,000 will be requested to conduct the runoff election if one is needed in the 2022 election cycle.

Vialet said the finance committee usually works with the elections system to fund the gap between the two spending requests. “Overall, we want to see that we have fair elections in the Virgin Islands,” the chairman said.

The director of the Virgin Islands Energy Office, Kyle Fleming, told the committee what he hoped to accomplish with his 2023 budget allocation. The executive budget calls for $1,562,306 to be drawn from the General Fund. Fleming said it represented a modest increase of $12,452 over the 2022 budget request. Another $1,549,854 in federal funds are anticipated in the coming year, Fleming said.

Committee member Marvin Blyden asked if the Energy Office had any federal grants that were set to expire. Fleming said there was one given to the agency to explore a distributed generation market structure plan. A report released by the Office of the Senate Post Auditor also informed the committee that the Energy Office has $291,936.94 in outstanding vendor payments representing contractor services received in 2014 and 2017.

Fleming was also questioned about the recent acquisition of Tesla electric vehicles for agency use. The director said he was the decision maker on buying the Teslas for the energy office and the Water and Power Authority, and while there are more economical options on the market, Tesla was the one company that was willing to deliver to the Virgin Islands.

Vialet asked if the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act would make funding available to the territory for climate change mitigation. Fleming said there were some features of the act that held possibilities.