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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

DNER, Public Safety Dept. budgets reviewed in Senate hearing

Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega

By The Star Staff

During a public hearing held this week by the Senate Committee on Finance, Federal Affairs and the Financial Oversight and Management Board, chaired by Sen. Juan Zaragoza Gómez, the current budget for the next fiscal year 2023-2024 of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and the Department of Public Safety was evaluated under Senate Resolution 66.

The measure seeks to investigate the administration, use and expenditure of public funds allocated and administered by public agencies and instrumentalities of central government in order to evaluate whether the economic resources provided are being properly used to meet the needs of citizens and to determine if it is necessary to take legislative or administrative measures that promote efficient operations and ensure appropriate budgeting.

DNER Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega said in her presentation that the budget requested by the agency for the fiscal year 2023-2024 is $341,381,000, of which the proposed budget for the department will be in the amount of $242,309,000.

“The budget we present is under discussion and evaluation, in accordance with the timeline established by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, and subject to the legal framework established by PROMESA [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act],” Rodríguez Vega said. “If approved, it is in accordance with the government’s public policy allowing us to strengthen quality of life and climate change mitigation initiatives, and maintain a balanced budget.”

The DNER secretary added that the agency has debts from previous years because of the consolidation that occurred in 2018. In response to questions from Zaragoza Gómez about possible controversies, the secretary said they are talking with the corresponding agencies to establish a payment plan. The DNER’s outstanding debt with LUMA Energy and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) totals $5,492,000, she said.

“I ask you because we had the people from PREPA and LUMA and it was a piece of paper, and we had several agencies simultaneously, and in front of us the agencies told each other that they had already been paid, but the Authority said no,” Zaragoza Gómez said.

Assistant DNER Secretary Ángel Meléndez, noted that the agency agreed to establish a payment plan with PRASA, because for years, the water authority did not verify which meters were being used by the DNER, since some are unused.

Public Safety Secretary Alexis Torres Ríos, representing the various bureaus that make up the agency, stressed meanwhile that the consolidated budget for the fiscal year 2023-2024 is $1,239,148,000, including state and federal funds, and special appropriations.

Among the agency’s initiatives, the secretary emphasized that after 19 years of accumulating debts for payout to civilians and rank-holding personnel of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, a payment of $25,000 was made for civilian employees. In addition, a payment of $9,000 was made to ranking staff and $19,000 was placed in reserve for future payout claims.

Torres Ríos also stressed that the agency complied with overtime payments for Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration personnel during the response to hurricanes Irma and Maria, the 2019-2020 earthquakes and the COVID-19 public health emergency.

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