Governor de Jongh speaks during Monday's Cabinet meeting
ST THOMAS, USVI -- US Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh convened a meeting of his Cabinet earlier this week at Government House, St Thomas. The meeting provided the forum for the commissioners and agency heads to be updated on the territory’s fiscal health, a continued hiring freeze in the executive branch and an overhaul of the contracting process between the justice and property and procurement departments.
At the meeting, the cabinet also signed statements of support for the Guard and Reserve, further demonstrating the administrations continued support for service men and women. The governor signed his statement of support last March.
De Jongh reiterated that a hiring freeze across the executive branch will continue given the troubled financial times that will continue through the new fiscal year. “With the exception of positions that are federally funded and critical hires in agencies such as health, police and education, the financial times we are in require us to continue to hold the line on new hires.”
Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb’s presentation on the state of the government’s financial health demonstrated that a “difficult fiscal year lies ahead.” Fiscal Year 2014 opens on October 1, 2013.
She reported that the decision by the Department of the Interior to change the cover-over rate for the calculation of the annual advance payment on the collection of rum excise tax made to the USVI represents a near $71 million dollar reduction in anticipated funding.
Gottlieb also encouraged agency heads to remain current on their obligations to the Water and Power Authority for electrical and water services. And she urged her colleagues to make good on whatever missing employer contributions exist at the retirement system to allow those retirees who have ended their government career to begin capitalizing on their accrued benefits.
“This will allow the retirees to draw down their pensions while the administration works with the GERS board to finalize a proposed agreement to address long-standing employer contributions,” she said.
Director of Personnel Kenneth Hermon provided an update on the numbers of employees on the government payroll. “We continue to shrink the number of employees through attrition and retirement and this is something we have seen since 2007-2008.”
Hermon noted that, since 2007, the executive branch workforce has been reduced by more than 2,100 employees. He reiterated the governor’s position on General Fund hiring and addressed some overall goals and objectives for human resources managers in the government and some of the thresholds required by participants in the group health insurance program.
Bureau of Information Technology Director Reuben Molloy provided an overview of various initiatives being implemented to maximize the technology available in the government workplace.
Raymond Williams and Chris George, both of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, presented an update on the ongoing street naming project. Pilot projects to establish street numbering are underway on all three islands and residents will soon begin to see new road signage relative to this initiative.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer told the cabinet that he and Department of Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin Maduro have been working on revising the contract process. The process and the extended period of time required to move a contractual arrangement through the government has been a source of dissatisfaction over the years. “The process is a bit lengthy but our laws are what they are. We are hoping by our efforts, Commissioner Millin Maduro and I, to get to a point where we can recommend some streamlining of the process without compromising the effort to ensure that the rights of the government are protected in each case.”