ST THOMAS, USVI -- On Tuesday morning, US Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh convened the first meeting of his Cabinet for 2013 and used the forum to discuss a wide range of issues, from the difficult financial challenges facing the government to the effect of health care reform on the territory.
Assembled at Government House, St Thomas, de Jongh briefed his department and agency heads on the continued negotiations between the administration and the owners of HOVENSA.
“I continue to maintain that the best use of the facility is as a functioning refinery while the owners of HOVENSA have maintained their position that they would occupy the site as an oil storage terminal,” de Jongh said.
The governor also reported on the work of a task force assembled to develop recommendations by which the $1.8 billion unfunded liability of the Government Employees Retirement System can be addressed.
“By March 31st, I will have received the recommendations of the task force and will prepare a proposal for the Senate’s consideration,” de Jongh said.
Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson, director of the Bureau of Economic Research Wharton Berger, Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb, and Division of Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon made presentations before the Cabinet as regards the economic outlook and current financial health of the US Virgin Islands.
The presentations centered on the Government House announcement of Monday that a 5% cut will be imposed on the operating budgets of the government’s departments and agencies on March 1 and the continuance of a strict hiring freeze across the executive branch.
Gottlieb said a number of short and long term measures are up for discussion as efforts are made to address the anticipated shortfall in the current fiscal year General Fund budget. The deficit is pegged at approximately $50 million.
Hermon encouraged agency heads to update and revise their critical hiring plans as every proposed hiring will be closely scrutinized.
The meeting also featured an overview of the ongoing efforts to implement health care reform as well as the need for the government to become fully compliant with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Over the next 120 days, departments and agencies will be conducting a three-year self evaluation and transition plan inclusive of all facilities, programs, services and employment policies.
“Tuesday’s meeting allowed us to lay the foundation for the direction we would like to see the government go over the next year. Clearly, our toughest challenge is the dire financial straits the territory is presently in. I remain hopeful that with the austerity measures we are putting in place coupled with enhanced revenue collection efforts we will see our way to a more robust economy as our recovery from the effects of the Great Recession continues,” de Jongh said.