St. Croix–Chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, the Committee on Finance received testimony on several proposed legislation on Thursday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.
Bill No.34-0078 An Act transferring specific real property from the Virgin Islands Port Authority and requires the Port Authority to pay a certain sum to the Education Maintenance Fund. Senator Dinna A. Frett-Gregory proposed the measure which was co-sponsored by Senator Milton E. Potter.
In her proposal, Senator Frett-Gregory stated that the Bill intends to transfer the former Addelita Cancryn Junior High School to the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA). According to the Senator, since the property is no longer deemed appropriate for use as a junior high school, it will be utilized as a marine transshipment and storage facility controlled and operated by the Port Authority.
She added that VIPA would construct a warehouse facility of 25,000 square feet for the school lunch program and a parking area for the Department of Education upon receiving the property. She pointed out that VIPA will pay 50-percent of the net income into the Education Maintenance Fund to fund the maintenance of the schools of the Virgin Islands. She further indicated that the Act would be a vast economic boost for the Virgin Islands for a transshipment hub.
Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner of Education (VIDE), said that for decades, VIDE had requested a separate funding source for the maintenance and upkeep of their old schools; this Bill is a step in the right direction. It is a start towards securing such funding.
Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of Property and Printing at the Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) said DPP believes that the property in question is strategically located and the most valuable underdeveloped property currently in the Government’s property portfolio. He added that its location provides another advantageous opportunity for the Government to generate needed additional revenues for the Executive Branch
Carlton Dowe, Executive Director, Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA), said since the school site was deemed inappropriate for use, the Bill presents the opportunity to re-purpose the property and use it for its highest and best use. He added that the property will support the cargo activities of the Crown Bay Marine Cargo Terminal.
According to Dowe, there is a tremendous need to expand the Marine cargo terminal and extraordinary potential to establish St. Thomas and St. Croix as a significant transshipment for the Caribbean. He added the cruise lines depend on shipping companies operating in St. Thomas to move their supplies forward.
The Bill was amended and favorably voted out of the Finance Committee and sent to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
Bill No.34-0083 An Act making an appropriation of $1000,000 from the St. Thomas Capital Improvement Fund to the Department of Agriculture (DOA) for the Humane Society of St. Thomas to be used as matching funds for constructing an animal clinic. Senator Janelle Sarauw proposed the measure.
Hannah Carty, Deputy Commissioner, DOA, said they would first need to understand the extent of the facility and the role it will be playing in the community before they can describe the economic benefit it will provide. She added that to understand the role of VIDA clearly, the Bill needs definitive constructs to transfer funding and monitor any associated activity appropriately.
According to Carty, they cannot come before the Legislature and speak about funding without recognizing VIDA’s challenges in getting support in prior years when it came to payments to their Animal Services partners.
She pointed out that to date, VIDA owes a total of $518,324.66 to their three partners. Of this, $80 824.06 goes to the St. John Animal Care Center, $87,500.00 goes to Humane Society of St. Thomas, and $350,000.00 goes to the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center. She added that language must be added to the existing legislation to include “until expended” to ensure they pay their partners for the significant work and services they provide to the community.
Dellia Holodenschi, President of the Board of Directors of Humane Society, St. Thomas (HSSTT), said for a financial reference point, in 2020, HSSTT expanded $169,407 for outside veterinary services. Although it may be necessary to utilize limited external services in the future, from now on a Wellness Clinic will allow for most services to be performed in-house.
According to Holodenschi, the $100,000 Wellness Clinic appropriation should be granted annually.
Jenifer O’Neal, Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), said, they believe that this proposal does not meet the established criteria of using this source of funds. Additionally, this proposal would set a precedent that is not sustainable as the Humane Society is not part of the Government. There is no mechanism for the VIDA to administer funds or oversee the requirement this Bill proposes.
The Bill was favorably voted out of the Finance Committee and sent to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
Bill No.34-0084 An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code relating to the allocation of the Environmental/Infrastructure Impact Fee to allocate 85-percent of that fee to the Government Retirement System to pay annuities. Senator Dwayne DeGraff proposed the measure.
Jenifer O’Neal said while the intent of the Bill is understood, OMB is unable to support the measure.
Joel Lee, Director, Virgin Islands Internal Revenue (VIBIR), said that if the Bill becomes law, VIBIR and the Department of Finance will work collaboratively to ensure that the correct fund accounts are established so that the VIBIR’s cashiers will be able to deposit the funds appropriately.
Austin Nibbs, Administrator, GERS, said they supported the legislation which will generate dedicated revenues for the Fund. Another testifier who supported the Bill was Nellon Bowry, Chairman of GERS.
The Committee voted to hold the measure in committee pending further consideration. Chairman Vialet said “the Committee will be meeting in the month of September and will bring to the table all relevant matters pertaining to the GERS so a sound decision can be made,” concluded the chairman.
Senators in attendance for Thursday’s Finance meeting were Kurt A. Vialet, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Javan E. James, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Janelle K. Sarauw, Marvin A. Blyden, and Kenneth L. Gittens.
LAWMAKERS TOUR VIHFA TAX CREDIT PROPERTIES, CO-OPS, AND ST. THOMAS SENIOR COMMUNITIES
Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation and Telecommunications, led by Senator Marvin A. Blyden, toured the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority Tax Credit Properties, Co-Ops, and St. Thomas Senior Communities. Senators met with Virgin Islands Finance...