ST. CROIX – The 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands’ Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection, led by Carla J. Joseph, convened at the Frits E. Lawetz Conference Room. Lawmakers heard testimony concerning a measure honoring Lieutenant Colonel Leayle Gerard Galiber and a measure to enact the Public-Private Partnership Agreement Act. Additionally, lawmakers heard testimony concerning challenges with the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission.
In Block 1, the Committee received testimony concerning Bill No. 35-0116, a resolution honoring and commending Lieutenant Colonel Leayle Gerard Galiber for his leadership in the Virgin Islands National Guard and his dedication to his country and to the people of the Virgin Islands. Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. sponsored this measure.
LTC Beresford Edwards, Retired delivered testimony in support of the measure. Edwards spoke of Galiber’s service as a Vietnam combat veteran, retiree, and civil servant. Galiber served two combat tours of duty in Vietnam where he was awarded the bronze star with an oak leaf cluster, and the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal, first Class. LTC Dante P. Galiber, MD, FACC, delivered additional testimony in support of the measure. Dante P. Galiber voiced his support of the measure stating that “as the footsteps of time march on, it is important that we continue to honor Virgin Islanders, as we have, who have contributed positively to humanity.” Leayle G. Galiber’s military service lasted 21 years and he was promoted four times. He retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel in March 1979.
Brief testimony was read into the record from Major General Kodjo S. Knox-Limbacker, Adjutant General of the V.I. National Guard. Knox-Limbacker stated that Galiber’s actions cleared the path for federal recognition of the Virgin Islands National Guard by the National Guard Bureau and the US Army. Knox-Limbacker stated that he and a small group of service members laid the cornerstone for the Virgin Islands National Guard to create a legacy of service and excellence.
In Block 2, the Committee received testimony concerning Bill No. 35-0058, an act amending Title 29, Virgin Islands Code, by adding a Chapter 25 to enact “The Public-Private Partnership Agreement Act.” Senator Marise C. James sponsored the measure.
Dr. Stephanie Berry, Chief Operating Officer of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority delivered testimony. VIHFA does not operate under the procurement framework established by Virgin Islands procurement statues. The Department of Property and Procurement does not procure VIHFA’s goods and services. Additionally, as a recipient of federal funds, creation and revisions to procurement policies are guided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s procurement specifications, which the Housing Finance Authority must comply with. VIHFA’s authority as established in the Virgin Islands Code would not be changed by the proposed bill.
Derek Gabriel, Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works delivered testimony on the measure. According to Gabriel, the current legislation calls for an independent audit, a public notice and comment period, potential third-party evaluations, and other items, all before having an executed agreement. He voiced concern stating that this could be potentially dangerous to future agreements as qualified partners would have serious concerns about exposure.
Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority spoke on the proposed measure. Dowe stated that the Authority has had considerable experience with public-private partnerships, particularly with its airport and marine assets. VIPA is seeking a private partner to upgrade the territory’s airports. It also engaged in these public private partnerships to improve cruse facilities in St. Thomas and St. Croix. Dowe stated that the P3 process is a new and progressive method of developing public infrastructure, public facilities, and transportation projects. Dowe stated that if the legislation were made applicable to outstanding VIPA projects, it would result in the abandonment of projects and delay progress that had been made, which would be costly.
Kimo Smith, Deputy Commissioner at the Virgin Islands Department of Education delivered testimony on behalf of Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, Commissioner of the Department of Education. The testimony delivered mentioned that the Department of Education supported the measure. The Department recommended that the government only approve projects if the project addressed a public need, the estimated cost is reasonable compared to other projects, and the private entities’ plan will result in a timely design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the project. Testimony delivered stated that the bill presents a viable approach to addressing challenges faced by the department.
Both measures were voted upon favorably.
Finally, in block three, the Committee received testimony concerning the operations of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission, including but not limited to enabling law and district, current department challenges, and plan of action to resolve challenges.
Vernice Gumbs, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission delivered testimony. In delivered testimony by Gumbs, she mentioned that the Commission has struggled and continued to struggle, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Commission did not have and has never had a website to process online applications and payments. Gumbs stated that employees are not equipped with the resources to work remotely. The Commission requested funding for ten positions which included five existing positions and five vacant positions. The Legislature appropriated the sum of $650,383.00 to fund the filled positions. A supplemental appropriation of approximately $500,000 is required so that the agency can properly proceed with filling vacancies, pay rent, office supplies and fuel for enforcement vacancies. Additionally, the Commission hopes to launch an electronic management storage system that would fully automate its internal processes.
Loretta Lloyd, Chair of the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission Board delivered testimony. According to Lloyd, the Commission prepared and sent the rules and Regulations Handbook to then Assistant Attorney General Richard Davis, Esq, and hand delivered the same to then Governor, the Honorable John P. DeJongh Jr for promulgation on February 11, 2010. The same was sent to the Honorable Governor Albert Bryan Jr on November 2, 2023. Lloyd stated that the board has not received feedback to date. Lloyd stated that the agency lacked technological infrastructure and that quotes to create a proper website were received from three companies. The agency has been unable to proceed with the upgrades due to lack of funding. Both Lloyd and Gumbs have opposed recent efforts to reclassify the Commission under the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Senators Carla Joseph, Javan E. James, Sr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Ray Fonseca, Kenneth L. Gittens, and Milton Potter.
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