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Department of Finance Awarded $4.7M To Refurbish Offices On St. Thomas

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Office of Disaster Recovery announces that FEMA recently awarded the Department of Finance $4,694,496 to refurbish its offices on St. Thomas.

The obligation will cover repairs to all five buildings and the parking area located in the historic district of Charlotte Amalie.

These buildings house the financial hub of governmental operations. After the hurricanes in 2017, operational capacity was severely impacted. Currently operating at less than 40% of its capacity, the facility is in dire need of restoration. Despite the lack of space, the department continues to meet its obligations to the business community and employees of the Virgin Islands government.

“Renovating the existing structures on St. Thomas is critical to the department’s goals of augmenting personnel and streamlining internal operations,” said Commissioner Designee Bosede Bruce. “The Department of Finance is grateful for this obligation and will utilize these funds to ensure that our buildings are structurally sound and able to continue operations when faced with inclement weather.”

Department of Finance Awarded .7M To Refurbish Offices On St. Thomas

Springline Architects is scheduled to begin working on the design of the new facility before the end of the month, and drawings should be finalized by May 2022.  Since the buildings were constructed in the 1800s and lie within the boundaries of the Charlotte Amalie historic district, all refurbishments must follow the applicable guidelines for preserving and restoring historic buildings. Once complete, the project will be put out to bid.

“The Department of Finance is the backbone of the Territory’s fiscal operations,” said Adrienne L. Williams-Octalien, Office of Disaster Recovery Director. “We recognize the importance of this obligation and are excited for the staff as they take one step closer to regaining the full use of their space and restoring the historical look and significance of their buildings.”

On St. Croix, the Department of Finance offices also sustained exterior and interior damages from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. A solicitation for the refurbishment of the Leroy Quinn building was issued in June. However, the solicitation did not receive any bids and was closed. The procurement opportunity will be readvertised, incorporating an additional $86,000 from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to strengthen the building and increase its resilience to future weather events.

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Bryan Says Things Are Looking Up For USVI Financially Despite COVID-19 Pandemic

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Albert Bryan. heard largely positive projections for Fiscal Year 2021 from the revenue-generating agencies and departments of the Government of the Virgin Islands during the Office of Management & Budget’s (OMB) 2021 Revenue Estimating Conference on Tuesday.

In her Revenue Forecast before the presentations by the 18 agencies and departments reporting their revenue projections to Governor Bryan and Lt. Governor Tregenza A. Roach Esq.,  OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal is projecting a 2021 Total Gross Revenue of $909,023,773, which Governor Bryan pointed out is $71 million higher than the legislative appropriation of $838,933,534.

“Today, as a result of our administration’s efforts, the Government of the Virgin islands can make good on longstanding obligations and realize additional revenue without having to add fees or raise taxes,” Governor Bryan said. “After nine years of all kinds of different schemes to pay back the 8 percent owed to government employees, this administration is in a financial position make those employees whole.”

The Governor underscored that the Bryan-Roach Administration continues to stabilize the Government of the Virgin Islands’ financial situation and revenue remains strong despite the setbacks of the pandemic.

“We’ve worked with the Legislature and were able to do another $30 million of capital projects in road paving, in putting in docks, putting in boat ramps, all while dealing with COVID and keeping the numbers strong by our solid Tourism numbers,” Governor Bryan said.

“And even though our expenditures are up, we’re still keeping whole and keeping a tight rein on making sure that we spend the People’s money responsibly; that we pay the vendors that we owe; that we pay people back what we owe them and we’re going to release another $20 million in income tax refunds,” the Governor said. “We sent down a supplemental budget to the Legislature for about $25 million dollars and by October, November we’ll be able to pay out the 8 percent. Going into the new year, every single week I’m getting a notice of new revenue coming to the Territory.”

The Governor said the Bryan-Roach Administration continues to be transparent with its revenues and fiscal management as it continues diligently tracking and forecasting revenue while navigating COVID and continuing to monitor revenues to ensure it meets revenue projections.

Director O’Neal now will use the different projections that were presented Tuesday to derive a comprehensive overview and revenue forecast for the Territory.

Copies of the different agency and department presentations are available to download at the OMB website at omb.vi.gov and video of the livestream of the 2021 Spring Revenue Estimating Conference is available on the OMB Facebook page (click here).

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BIR and Finance Send Out $25 Million in $1,400 Stimulus Checks

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Albert Bryan announced today that the Virgin Islands Bureau of Revenue (BIR) and the Virgin Islands Department of Finance have mailed out almost $25 million in $1,400 Stimulus Checks to 10,000 residents.

This week’s distribution of $24.9 million in federal funds from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is the first of a number of 10,000-check batches of Stimulus funds that are being sent out, Government House said.

Finance and the BIR sent out the $600 checks from the federal “CARES Act II” to 41,524 — or 92 percent — of the approximately 45,000 Virgin Islanders who filed their 2019 tax return.

“The vast majority of the remaining individuals either did not qualify because their income is too high, or they have an issue with their 2019 tax filing,” Governor Bryan said during Monday’s Government House weekly press briefing.

Persons who did not receive a $600 stimulus payment and believe they meet the qualifications for eligibility, should contact the Burau of Internal Revenue at their hotline number: 340-714-9325.

“I know that many in the public have expressed frustration with getting in contact with someone on the hotline. As you can imagine, there is an overwhelming volume of calls received daily,” the Governor said during Monday’s press briefing. “So, I encourage you to visit the Bureau at their offices on St. Croix in Sunny Isle and on St. Thomas in Red Hook.”

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Finance, Bureau of Internal Revenue Send Out $15 Million In Income Tax Refunds

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Department of Finance and the Bureau of Internal Revenue sent out more than 6,000 income tax refunds to residents this week totaling more than $15 million

The latest disbursement is a continuation of refunds from the 2018 tax year and part of Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s pledge to stabilize and restore trust in the Government of the Virgin Islands, Government House said.

To date, the local government has issued approximately $128.6 million of income tax refunds since Governor Albert Bryan took office in January 2019:

  • $29.2 for the Fiscal Year 2019 months the Bryan-Roach Administration was in office
  • $68.7 million for FY 2020
  • $30.7 million so far in FY 2021

“It is critical that the government pay the debts it owes to residents, and this Administration remains focused on that obligation even as we continue to maintain our economy from the financial ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Governor Bryan said. “We will continue to honor that obligation until we are able to bring the GVI current on what it owes the people.”

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Finance Commissioner Fired For Issuing $109,500 In Unauthorized Bonuses To Department Employees

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Virgin Islands Finance Commissioner Kirk Callwood, Sr. was abruptly fired this week after issuing more than $100,000 in unauthorized stipends to employees in his department.

Government House spokesman Richard Motta, Jr. said the governor asked for Callwood’s resignation on Monday after learning that the Finance commissioner used $109,500 within his allotted budget to recognize and pay 37 of his employees.

In an effort to recognize employees, the Callwood issued payment stipends to his rank and file staff without proper authorization, Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. said. While the amounts were within his allotted budget, the action was not previously approved. 

Bryan said Tuesday that he is “pursuing the implementation of updated procedures that will prevent the reoccurrence of this action.”  

“While all of our employees deserve to be recognized, we must do so in accordance with our established policies and procedures,” Bryan said. “We will examine all of our established policies as they relate to this type of employee compensation and make the improvements where necessary to ensure this does not happen again.” 

All of the “bonus” checks were issued by Callwood in the last two weeks, Motta said, adding that the government will attempt “recall” the checks the commissioner issued at his own discretion.

“I am grateful for Commissioner Callwood’s service during his tenure. He was a valued member of our financial team and an integral part of the success in fiscal management that we have had to this point. I wish him well in his future endeavors,” Governor Bryan added. 

The governor accepted Commissioner Callwood’s resignation effective immediately and named Assistant Commissioner Clarina Modeste as Acting Commissioner of Finance. 

Callwood’s background in the “connected” private sector of the territory. He worked as the chief operating officer (COO) at International Capital Management (ICM) and in a similar capacity at Viya telecommunications.

Viya two generations ago was the Virgin Islands Telephone Corporation (VITELCO) which then became Innovative Communications Corporation (ICC) which was heavily subsidized by the territorial government when former Governor Roy Lester Schneider and Lt. Governor Kenneth Ezra Mapp ran Government House.

Ann E. Abramson, the former Public Works Department commissioner for Schneider-Mapp was convicted of stealing at least $10,000 in FEMA funds earmarked for the territorial government. Abramson sat on the boards for VITELCO and ICC as a government employee and state-approved vendor.

She was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for a 1999 federal conviction and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and to make restitution to the federal and local government in the amount of $79,639.

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Governor Bryan Resumes Sending 2017 Tax Refund Checks To Lucky Taxpayers Awaiting Overdue Monies

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. announced today that the Virgin Islands Department of Finance has begun distributing $20 million of income tax refunds.

The refunds comprise the rest of the tax refunds owed from 2017 and a portion of those owed from 2018.

“Lieutenant Governor Roach and I sought this office with the goal of rebuilding trust in the Government of the Virgin Islands. One of the biggest objectives facing the government in that regard is fulfilling its obligations and paying what is owed to workers, vendors, creditors and taxpayers,” Governor Bryan said. “We are especially pleased to have found a way to put this money back into the pockets of hard-working taxpayers despite the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and public finances.”

This latest distribution of income tax refunds brings the total disbursement to $58 million for the current fiscal year.

The Governor said the Administration is able to provide the refunds because of the government’s true belt-tightening measures, and that it is not just lip service.

“There are many commissioners presenting budgets this summer before the Senate Finance Committee that are considerably smaller than they would like, but we have made a conscious decision to put priority on paying down the past due debts of the Government of the Virgin Islands and will take every opportunity to continue to do so,” Governor Bryan said. “I want to thank the members of my financial team for their hard work during the unprecedented and uncertain times. The fiscal management of this government is truly in good hands.”

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BRYAN: Tourism And Government Revenues Come First, Says He Has No Plans To Shut USVI Down Again

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Government House issued the following statement on Friday in response to information circulated about plans to renew COVID restrictions on businesses and other community activities:

“Neither Governor Albert Bryan Jr., Government House nor the administration’s COVID-19 Task Force have made any official announcements concerning beach closures, added restrictions to restaurants’ current operations or further restrictions on gatherings at funerals or other events in the territory.

BRYAN: Tourism And Government Revenues Come First, Says He Has No Plans To Shut USVI Down Again

“The governor, along with members of the administration’s COVID-19 Task Force on Thursday, met with Tourism industry stakeholders and signaled possible future actions. However, that meeting and those conversations were intended to serve as a courtesy, and the actions mentioned during that meeting are contingent on the data received over the coming days.

“Governor Bryan and the territory’s COVID-19 Task Force continues to closely monitor data compiled daily to inform its decision-making process and determine the next steps.

“Further information will be made available during the governor’s next COVID-19 Update, Monday, August 10, 2020.”

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Governor Bryan Says $10 Million In Stimulus Checks Went In The Mail This Week

CHRISTIANSTED — During his COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. said that stimulus checks began going out from the Virgin Islands Finance Department on Monday and by the end of the week, 6,271 checks totaling almost $10 million will have been issued.

“Everyone who is entitled to a COVID stimulus check will receive a COVID stimulus check,” Bryan said. “I would also like to call your attention to the fact that no state in the union must go through this process. Only the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the territories must issue checks. The federal government issues all the checks without the states’ involvement.”

Bryan also said an assistance center will be opened to assist individuals in filling out a 1040 tax form for 2018 in order to help them receive a stimulus check quicker.

“It only requires basic information, but we realize printing resources and the fear of coming into offices may be a hindrance to people getting through this process,” he said. “Once again, there is plenty of money and everyone who is entitled will get a check.”

Stimulus checks

  • Checks began going out on Monday, May 11.
  • As of May 14, 2,595 checks totaling $3.9 million have been sent out.
  • On May 15, an additional 3,676 checks totaling about $6 million will be sent out.
  • The Lieutenant Governor’s Office is asking stimulus check recipients to use a banking app or an ATM, if possible, to deposit checks.

YES credits

  • YES Program credits began appearing on V.I. Water and Power Authority bills on May 7.
  • To date, 6,046 residential customers received a $250 credit and 1,654 commercial ratepayers have received a $500 credit.
  • All ratepayers will have received their YES Program credit by the end of May.

Unemployment benefits

  • Applications continue to be processed, and, to date, the Labor Department has received 8,074 unemployment applications since April 7.
  • 5,168 claims have been converted into new claims.
  • 4,672 checks totaling more than $3.3 million have been issued.
  • Almost twice the number of  claims processed in a typical year have been processed in 60 days.
  • The $600 additional sum through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program is scheduled to be implemented next week.
  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds are retroactive to April 4 and will continue weekly until July 31.
  • Unemployment benefit checks are a form of taxable income, and a considerable amount of money to be paid in taxes will be required on the next income tax filing for those who don’t opt to withhold taxes from the checks on the front end.

COVID-19 cases

  • There has been a sixth COVID-related death in the Territory: The 45-year-old son of the husband and wife from St. Croix who were the fourth and fifth victims.
  • Currently tracking 2 active cases
  • 1,278 individuals tested to date
  • 1,164 of those tests were negative
  • 69 tests came back positive
  • 61 recovered
  • 45 tests are pending
  • 6 fatalities to date
  • No COVID-19 patients are hospitalized at Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix.
  • One COVID-19 patient is hospitalized on a ventilator at Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas. The patient was aboard a vessel in severe respiratory distress and was allowed into the Territory for medical treatment and was immediately quarantined in accordance with strict medical protocol.

Recognition

  • In recognition of National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day, which is May 15, all flags are to be flown half-staff on Friday.

Special Thanks

  • The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Miami, with the assistance of USVI Special Economic Envoy to Taiwan Anthony Weeks, donated 20,000 masks to Luis Hospital on St. Croix.

VITEMA

Director Daryl Jaschen gave an update on the efforts of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency efforts in fighting the spread of COVID-19 and how those might be impacted by the approaching Hurricane Season.

  • VITEMA, the V.I. Department of Health and FEMA have operated as a unified command with 40 other territorial and federal agencies.
  • The unified command will have a tabletop exercise on Friday about setting up an evacuation shelter and a mass care shelter amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • VITEMA, the V.I. Department of Health, V.I. National Guard and Juan F. Luis Hospital will inspect the recently received federal medical station and plan to have all rooms prepared, all systems tested and all support staff trained by the end of May.