Elections and Energy Bureau defend 2023 budget demands

Kyle Fleming was one of the agency chiefs who responded to questions from the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. (picture from source file)

The 34th Legislature’s Finance Committee, chaired by Kurt A. Vialet, met Wednesday to continue consideration of the executive budget for fiscal year 2023. The committee heard testimony from executive branch officials and semi-autonomous agencies.

Representatives of the Virgin Islands Electoral System and Board of Elections were the first to defend their budget demands. The Virgin Islands Energy Board and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture justified their budget requests during the afternoon session.

The governor’s proposed budget for the electoral system calls for $2.5 million. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes offered an alternate figure of $2.7 million. The Board of Elections requested about a tenth of the system’s demand. Again, the system requested more money than Government House requested.

“The Office of the Election Supervisor of Elections is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Virgin Islands electoral system…Our mission is to conduct reliable, accessible, secure and transparent elections and to maintain accurate voter registration records for Virgin Islanders,” Fawkes said.

The replacement of two community outreach vans was also on this year’s priority list. Fawkes said system officials were reaching out to a U.S. electoral system in Georgia for help in getting a replacement cost estimate.

In addition, $350,000 will be requested to organize the second round of elections if necessary in the 2022 electoral cycle.

Vialet said the finance committee typically works with the electoral 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 president said.

Virgin Islands Energy Board Director Kyle Fleming told the committee what he hopes to accomplish with his 2023 budget allocation. The executive’s budget calls for $1,562,306 to be drawn from the fund general. Fleming said that was a modest increase of $12,452 from the 2022 budget request. Additional federal funds of $1,549,854 are planned over the coming year, Fleming said.

Committee member Marvin Blyden asked if the Energy Board 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 Senate Postal Auditor’s Office also informed the committee that the Energy Bureau has $291,936.94 in unpaid payments to vendors representing contractor services received in 2014 and 2017.

Fleming was also asked about the recent acquisition of Tesla electric vehicles for agency use. The manager said he was the decision maker when buying Teslas for the Office of Energy and the Water and Power Authority, and while there are more economical options on the market, Tesla was the only company who was willing to deliver to the Virgin Islands.

Vialet asked if the recently passed federal law on reducing inflation would make funds available to the territory for climate change mitigation. Fleming said certain features of the law provide opportunities.

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