Senate Hears Personnel Budget Proposal and Forwards Liberty Lease

Cindy Richardson, director of the Division of Personnel, testifies in support of the 2023 FY budget submitted by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (Photo by Barry Leerdam and Alvin Burke Jr./Legislature of the Virgin Islands.)

The Division of Personnel testified Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee in support of a Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposed by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. The senators also discussed a land lease agreement with Liberty Mobile USVI Inc.

The Division of Personnel is the human resources arm of the executive branch of the U.S. Virgin Islands government. It administers group health, dental, vision and life insurance plans for active and retired personnel for all branches of the V.I. government. The Division is divided into three units: administration, recruitment and classification and training.

The proposed Personnel budget for 2023 is almost $44 million for the department of 45-55 staff members. The budget breaks down to just under $3 million for personnel services and $1.3 million in fringe benefits. Supplies total $138,451, utilities come in at $205,500 and $60,000 is for capital outlay and equipment.

The largest category is “other services and charges” for almost $40 million, of which more than $38 million is for retirees’ health insurance. Other services include employee recognition activities, contribution to the Health Insurance Board, fees to health insurance consultants and the Municipal Council Pension.

Revenue generated by the Personnel Division is around $35,000 a year from hosting training sessions.

During the hearing, Personnel Director Cindy Richardson and Valcina Quashie, deputy director, talked about the need for additional personnel. They said that nine more people were requested last year and approved by the Senate but not funded. This year, they want to fill vacancies and increase the staff to 55 members.

“The main budget challenge is to try to do everything we would like to do in the fiscal year to satisfy everybody’s needs,” Richardson said, adding that her staff needs more training.

Sen. Janelle Sarauw asked why there are so many exempt employees in the Division, to which Richardson responded that the work is sensitive and requires confidentiality. Exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay but may receive compensatory time off for more than 40 hours worked in a week. They often are exposed to personal information.

In order to work for the V.I. government, an applicant must have a notice of personnel action or “NOPA.” These are initiated by the Division of Personnel. In the past, employees have waited for months to begin employment due to a delay in paperwork. Sen. Samuel Carrion asked how long it takes the Personnel Division to process a NOPA internally and Richardson responded an average of five days.

“The errors are in the agencies, even though we give training sessions, guide books and cheat sheets,” she said.

This year, the Personnel Division has been involved in the hiring of 393 new employees, bringing the total of government employees to 6,065, according to data presented at Wednesday’s hearing.

The Division of Personnel also works with several thousand retired employees, paying insurance premiums and settlements. This year, it paid out almost $8 million to 4,600 retirees and survivors in retroactive payments. Another $25 million is scheduled to be paid in 2022.

Training sessions are another function of the Division of Personnel and as of the end of May 2022, 108 general, Microsoft and new employee trainings have been conducted, according to Richardson’s testimony.

In the late afternoon, the committee also discussed two lease agreements between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Liberty Mobile USVI Inc.

Vincent Richards, deputy commissioner of Property and Procurement, which would manage the lease, testified in support of both actions and Bala Balakrishnan, general manager of Liberty Mobile USVI, spoke on behalf of Liberty.

Bala Balakrishnan, general manager of Liberty Mobile USVI, requests two small pieces of land on St. Thomas and St. John for communications equipment. (Photo by Barry Leerdam and Alvin Burke Jr. Legislature of the Virgin Islands.)

The small parcels of land, approximately 2,000 square feet, are located in Estates Fortuna and Carolina and will improve service in those neighborhoods, Balakrishnan said.

Unanimous approval was given to Liberty to develop, construct, operate, maintain, repair, replace and upgrade a wireless communications facilities on the west end of St. Thomas and east end of St. John.

The leases are for 10 years and automatically renew for five years at a time. The rent for each parcel is $18,000 per year, payable monthly. Liberty Mobile will also pay the V.I. government 35 percent of any revenue generated from the collocation of any equipment from other telecommunication providers on the towers.

The bills will be forwarded to the full Senate for approval.

Senators attending the hearing: Sarauw, Carrion, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James and Franklin Johnson.